5 Ways Austin Creates Performance Buy-In

December 26, 2019 by Melissa Crowe

5 Ways Austin Creates Performance Buy-In

Photo credit: aaron_anderer/Flickr

The city of Austin's performance management program is the engine behind creating a culture where learning is emphasized, even if it means talking about where things could be going better.

With a focus on collaboration and transparency, teams are now working together to leverage data to identify challenges, develop solutions, and improve service across the board.

Continuous Learning Through Performance Management

Chief Performance Officer Kimberly Olivares wants to create a culture where learning to improve is key.

"We envision a city of Austin where continuous learning and improvement are in our DNA," she says. According to Olivares, that vision guides every action that the Office of Performance Management does.

To get buy-in from city staffers on having their performance "measured" through the performance management program, Olivares focuses on creating trust with teams at every level of the organization, including empowering and educating teams so they can access and use data and performance information to help drive improvement projects.

That collaborative approach has had positive impacts across the city. Case in point: the Office of Sustainability launched a performance tracking tool that uses open data to monitor how Austin is performing across 10 key performance indicators, like reducing their carbon footprint and potable water use in city buildings.

The Office of Performance Management is currently developing a new strategic plan to align all departments in achieving city goals. To do this, Austin has committed to including staff from throughout the organization and at all levels in the planning process to ensure everyone has a voice and is invested in improving performance across the board.

Getting Buy-In

Based on what Olivares and her team have learned at the city of Austin, she shares her top tips below for getting buy-in on a performance management plan.

1. Invest in Program Performance

While the city of Austin has long had a performance program and a desire for continuous improvement, the Office of Performance Management (OPM) was launched in 2015 to further that focus through an official channel.

"Previously, a piece of our office existed within the budget office," Olivares says. "When OPM was created, it extracted that piece from budget and expanded it to be a true performance management framework as opposed to just a performance measurement program."

For Olivares, performance management success begins and ends with the city's employees. She notes some of the office's biggest successes as, giving employees a rallying point and getting them excited about performance management. They didn't know what performance management was before. It's the pieces of the puzzle that we make up, and getting people excited about those pieces and the partnership that creates, she says.

2. Use a Flashlight, Not a Hammer

Austin's OPM has worked hard to create a culture where teams can feel comfortable sharing how things aren't going well to figure out solutions.

"Accept it, embrace it, and feel comfortable with it," says Charles Purma, IT Project Manager. "As Kim says, use a flashlight not a hammer. Shine a light on areas where we need to improve. People don't shy away from it or take it personally. It's a very friendly, approachable, accessible philosophy of performance — not scary or oppressive. We're here to enable you to perform better. The open data component helps people embrace it easier."

3. Anticipate and Answer Questions

For the city of Austin, transparency and follow-through go hand-in-hand. The performance management office recognizes that it's not enough to just share what the challenges are — it's also necessary to share the plan and progress to solve those challenges.

"If we're having challenges we're not just going to put them out there and not talk about how we're going to fix them," Olivares says. "Instead, it's, 'Here is the issue we're dealing with and here is how we're going to address it.' Never leave it open-ended."

The OPM is also dedicated to being transparent in every step of their strategic plan development process and posts everything online as they go for the public to access. It's a way for everyone to be involved in plans to overcome current challenges, and understand what the city is working to solve in the next five years.

4. Senior Leadership Is Invested and Trusts Program Leaders

Olivares credits the dedication of the city's senior leadership to positive working relationships — something she says boils down to trust.

"Developing positive working relationships and mutual trust is key," she says. "That is particularly important with the senior leadership of the organization. Their support is crucial to the success of the work we are doings."

5. Include People and Ask What They Care About

The city of Austin's performance program does not take a top-down approach. Instead, it's inclusive of people who are boots on the ground to ensure they are addressing issues that are important to all employees. They even drew upon organizational talent among its employees in forming the teams tasked with developing the strategic outcomes within the city's strategic plan.

"We immediately saw that all the employees were hungry for priorities and having accountability," says Olivares. "As we move forward, I have a huge focus on involving employees from all levels of the organization in everything that we do. Period."

This plan is not being developed solely at the executive level. The staff are huge drivers in its development.

"I feel very strongly about the value that our staff provides and the skills and the great ideas that they can bring to the table," Olivares says. "Folks are also seeing the value in pulling together cross-functional teams from within the organization."

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