Performance and Strategy Innovations at the City of Durham

ClearPoint & The City of Durham

The City of Durham is an organization that is advancing the state of the art in performance management.

Shari Metcalfe, Strategy and Performance Manager at the City of Durham, provides a fast-moving 30-minute overview of how Durham uses modern performance management/strategy reporting techniques and technology to align budget with goals, prioritize among initiatives, monitor progress towards core measures and outcome measures, communicate both internally and externally – and improve the quality of life of those on the reporting team.

Shari is interviewed by Ted Jackson, strategy reporting and performance management expert and co-founder of ClearPoint Strategy.

The recording of that interview is above in video format and a condensed transcript is below if you prefer to skim through it – we hope you enjoy!

TED: “Hello, Shari! I know you’ve been in your role at Durham and I’ve been over here at Clear Point for quite a long time, why don’t you give us a a short history of how performance management has been working at the city of Durham.”

SHARI: “Of course! I came to City of Durham about nine years ago, and when I got here we were already with ClearPoint – we were managing our city wide strategic plan, the public-facing dashboard, and our highest-priority things, but everything else related to performance, meaning metrics and charts and all that kind of good stuff was all being done on Excel spreadsheets.

I was a budget analyst back in the day, so I do love a good Excel spreadsheet, but this these were a LOT of spreadsheets. Every department had their own and there were tabs for each work unit so you can imagine for the larger departments, we’re talking VERY large spreadsheets. We had hundreds and hundreds of performance metrics, so it’s was very hard to manage, if not really impossible. We’d ask for monthly and quarterly updates and was my job when I first got here – to manage all this, and I was like, how do I? I couldn’t tell you who did what and when and we used to use the data all over the place, which is great, right, what you want to do, we used the data in budget books and in presentations to the City Manager and City Council but it was really cumbersome to move that data around and keep it current and accurate.

A big turning point for us here in Durham for our performance management was getting a system that we could use to manage all of that data. Once we had a system, we started doing things that were impossible to do before – I mean, let’s be honest, we had things going on that I’m sure are common for a lot of organizations when they start looking at their department measures. We had too many measures – and when I talk to people that seems to be a common issue, and that’s where we were at that time. We probably cut down our number of measures almost in half over nine years, just because at that stage we were measuring everything.

TED: When you started there, I feel like the departments were being told what to measure, and in some areas, and there was some resistance to that. Do you remember how that process turned around, or how you manage to get buy in across your departments to make changes?

SHARI: So when we were using those spreadsheets, one of the big challenges that drove people crazy was that we would tell them to put their data in these Excel spreadsheets, and then we tell them now we need you to take that data and put it into a Word document for the Budget book, and now we need it in a Powerpoint for the City Council – and by then, of course, the numbers wouldn’t match and it was just, you know, frustration for everyone.

When we moved into ClearPoint, everyone could start putting their updates all in one place and only had to do it once – we don’t need to ask them for a budget book because we just get it from one system, right? We don’t need data re-entered for presentations because ClearPoint produces those for us. Just tell us what you want to show and we just grab it from the same place.

People really appreciated that – and then we went department by department looking at everything being measured and we discussed it with them – you know you’re measuring this, but what are you doing with it? And a lot of times we heard “I don’t know what you’re doing with this metric, I don’t know why I’m measuring it.” We cleared out a lot of measures and we made sure people understood what the heck they were measuring, and why.

The net effect was that everything was just easier, with less time, less time putting numbers in a system and more time actually looking at the numbers and making decisions based on those.

TED: You have a three-year planning cycle at Durham. Can you explain how that works overall, like what happens?

SHARI: I love our three-year plan. But, as we all know, things can happen over three years. Our three-year plan is we do a citywide strategic plan in one year, and then we go right into department business plans which, of course come from the city-wide plan. Then that third year is really about performance measures and cleaning up things and evaluating kind of what we’re doing. That third year is really a deep dive evaluation of those performance metrics – and we do all of this in ClearPoint, the measures and the methodologies – and I know we’re not alone in having had some staff turnover in the past year, and so having everything in a central system, including the methodologies of how information is collected, has been so important for our continuity.

Everything is in there – department business plans, the overall strategic plan of course, and we all use the same measures in the department business plans and the strategic plan, so they are all in the same place and that makes it very convenient for everyone. One of the best things is that we can run a report and instantly know who’s missing a methodology, it’s an easy way to know who we need to contact.

TED: You mentioned earlier that you’re using the same data in multiple places so you don’t have to, I’ll use the word harass your departments as much about those reports. Can you tell us a bit about the internal dashboards that you’ve created and use across the city?

SHARI: Yes! So we have our outward-facing dashboards for the strategic plan and right now one of the big ones is related to our sustainability plan and it’s been simple – we set up the dashboard in ClearPoint and we just link it to a page on our website. It was nice that we created it ourselves and could do it very quickly.

Internally, a number of departments have created dashboards for their staff meetings and these have been important, especially when they were all happening virtually – having that one place everyone could find what they need, across the board. We also have a few super users in different departments that create and use dashboards on the division level, set up for their supervisors – they’ve built those themselves and done a great job. We also have big plans for dashboards with our new strategic plan next Summer and are really excited about that.

TED: I know that Durham, as a city that’s inside of a county, how much information do you share with the County of Durham and how do you all work together?

SHARI: So luckily they use ClearPoint as well and that makes it REALLY easy to share information – and that helps especially because we have some departments that are controlled by both county and city. We split the cost, but, the city may manage this one and the county may manage that one. There’s a way in ClearPoint to share across all kinds of different organizations – and even though we have different definitions and measure for some things, we might show things a bit differently at different times, we are all using the same data in one central location.  We can see it the way we want to and they can see it the way they want to. It works out very well.

TED: We have a question from the audience about your KPIs, are they operational or strategic?

SHARI: It’s a combination – a couple of strategic plans ago they were much more outcome-related, then we became much more specific and operational. As a matter of fact, we think we went a little too operational in our last one, so we’re talking about how this is going to look for us in the new plan. The challenge, of course, is that departments want to be able to own their measures – they want to be able to say “We influenced, this, 100%” when we know that they definitely impacted the measure, but might not have been the only ones to influence it – so it’s a challenge for us and why we feel we need a hybrid approach.

TED:  It follows a little bit the original Norton & Kaplan thinking about leading and lagging indicators – your operational items are things you can measure on a monthly basis, and your strategic measures might be things you can only get a glimpse into annually or every few years. You might have a whole department in Durham working on homeless problems, for example, but they’re not the only thing that impacts that – they need to look at their operational measures while they’re trying to impact those longer-term strategic measures.

SHARI: I think with our new plan we’re looking at more of those macro kind of measures for the plan and when we start talking about initiatives we want groups to put more of those operational measures in there – when we talk about initiatives in the meetings we have with the City Manager, we want to show the data, and that’s more of the monthly operational measures showing how they’re progressing.

TED: You mentioned having all of your data in one place and not having to create other reports – so what are a few examples of other things do you do with the information that you have?

SHARI: Sure, so one example is we built pages in there for the Budget book – every year, the budget team tells me when they need it and the ClearPoint system emails everyone to let them know it’s time to update their measures. The system also builds the pages needed and I just make a PDF straight from ClearPoint, and that PDF just becomes part of the Budget book. That’s a big deal, because there was a LOT of work that went into our performance page in the book before that.

Another example is our City Manager budget presentation – it’s not a PowerPoint, this is another thing that comes straight out of ClearPoint. That way, when the city manager asks questions about methodology or history, we can drill right into the measure and all that information is right there. So that’s been really that’s been great.

We also use it for work plans – a lot of department work plans are in there which makes it nice because a lot of their department Initiatives are part of the work plan, so it’s all linked. I mean, really, the linking is the best part right? Because everything is related. Further, people have built individual work plans (my work plan in there), so work plans are fantastic.

We’ve also gotten into milestones, which we didn’t use until the last couple of years. We’ve been using a lot of milestones and Gantt charts on the initiatives and we find that really helpful, We’re actually going to bring that in a lot more in this next plan, because people found it so helpful to have these milestones listed, and who owns them, and we put in targets and I love seeing them in Gantt charts – the charts are easy and simple for these initiatives – it’s perfect. It’s easy enough for people to get in, do what they need to do – They color code it, they do a timeframe, and it works perfectly.

One of the areas where people find the most benefit is in the fact that we’ve linked Performance Measures to Budget Requests – people have to make a case for why they want more money and why they want to make a change and the City Manager has been clear, saying they need evidence in the form of data to prove why the budget is needed. This is where we get a lot of people appreciating the system because they have single place to go to get the data they need. Then, as the next step, our Budget Analysts go into the system to do their analysis or whether or not they are approving different things, they look at the same data, they ask questions about the data and this is where we have the best conversations with departments – they see the value in it, they get it. Overall with ClearPoint, there’s the huge benefit that our reporting is just easier this way, it’s faster this way, and that’s great. Then there is this other side of what ClearPoint brings, and it’s that better understanding of the data itself and helping people get on the same page. People get it, they understand the issue being examined and they also understand why the Strategy and Performance team collects all this data and reports the way we do.

TED: So it sounds like strategy reporting is more integrated in with your essential processes versus the way it was before, where it was like a separate item.

SHARI: That’s right, and I think that anyone who does strategic planning knows integration is SO important, because if your reports are separate, that’s where they collect dust off to the side. One area where we want to do more of this integration is with our employee evaluation plans where we have smart goals and that kind of thing – in our upcoming strategic plan we’re going to link evaluations to various business plans.

Question from Audience: How Do you define a business plan versus a work plan?

SHARI: We used to call them “Department Strategic Plans” and that would drive me crazy, because then you’d ask for people to update the strategic plan and they would get confused and ask which strategic plan? Now each department has Business Plans and they are like miniature strategic plans for the department, so something that looks out over three years – what are going to be your priorities and your focus? The Work Plans are then the fiscal year work plan. What do you hope to accomplish in the next twelve months, or by the end of the fiscal year.

TED: You were talking a little bit about how you’re at the beginning of your new Three-Year cycle, so what are you excited about there?

SHARI: We want to do more defining of our initiatives than we have in the past. We’re at the brainstorming and post-it notes phase of it, but we know we will build all of it out in ClearPoint because it provides a template for people to just to go in, put their information in, we get what we need and we can find out so easily what’s missing. We’ll be using ClearPoint to collect data on the measures that are going to be related to those initiatives and so that’s what I’m excited about – using ClearPoint to help us with definition of initiatives and all the information that needs to come around that, which is SO much easier than a bunch of documents and spreadsheets all over the place.

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