ChattaData's Performance Sandwich Method

September 09, 2019 by Melissa Crowe

ChattaData's Performance Sandwich Method

How do you build a vibrant community?

You remove barriers that prevent people from living the life they want to live. At least, that’s the approach Chattanooga, Tennessee, Mayor Andy Berke takes. You must first be data-driven, and second, relentlessly focused on people.

This approach, rooted in performance management, is the force behind dozens of success stories in Chattanooga.

For example, the city reduced the time to fill vacancies by 46% from 2017 to 2019. It improved responses to emergency calls for invalid assist by connecting the calls to existing agencies for help, rather than responding unnecessarily with an entire fire unit. It developed a machine-learning algorithm to forecast employee turnover risks so department heads could create smarter succession strategies.

Tim Moreland, director of the Chattanooga Office of Performance Management and Open Data, affectionally called OPMOD, is leading the charge in the city’s performance program. OPMOD focuses on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the city’s services delivery by crafting real solutions backed by data. Moreland’s three-person team includes himself, Ryan Wedell, an open data specialist, and Andrew Sevingy, a performance analyst.

“A lot of what we’re trying to do is about culture change,” Moreland said. “We’re trying to drive that citizen-focused, data-driven effort.”

The Big Lessons

Chattanooga’s performance program, powered by Socrata, includes 86 departments with 209 measures and 55 agencies with 175 measures.

“We’re interested in the departments using data to continually improve and figure out how they can do things better,” Moreland said. “We’re going to hold people accountable for that, more than just, ‘You didn’t meet the target,’ but we’re going to have a conversation and encourage people to say when they need help.”

Along the way, Moreland has learned some valuable lessons applicable to government performance programs of all shapes and sizes.

  1. Get your data house in order first
  2. Focus on the user and their needs
  3. Build with your users, not for them
  4. Prototype in quick iterations
  5. Use momentum from wins to build support
  6. Failure is an option.

One of the biggest challenges was getting access to the data itself — from the mayor saying it and later the chief operating officer saying, “Give them the data,” Moreland said.

“It’s about building relationships and people trusting and knowing us before they gave us the keys to the kingdom,” Moreland said. “It wasn’t enough just to have the top-down folks say give them the data. People want to see are you legitimate, do you understand the data, are you smart.”

Moreland needed a scalable approach to get people at all levels of the organization on board with the performance program.

The Sandwich Method

The city of Chattanooga employs 2,600 people, and Moreland’s quest to turn “that big juggernaut of culture” is a challenge many in government can appreciate.

Moreland takes the “sandwich method,” a top-down and bottom-up approach.

“You need to be hearing the message from the leadership at the top, but sometimes it doesn’t get all the way to the bottom,” Moreland said. “And sometimes, the best solutions come from the bottom.”

The top-down approach starts with the city’s budgeting process.

“We budget for outcomes, which we stole from Baltimore, where we try to think strategically about what we want to achieve in the coming year,” Moreland said.

The goal is to align the budget to those outcomes and measure them throughout the year. This work sets a strategic framework for the whole city.

The work involves department heads from across the organization, who meet monthly for a city stat meeting called the Mayor’s ChattaData Meeting (also inspired from Baltimore). The city hosts one-on-one performance management meetings involving Moreland’s team, Chief Operating Officer Maura Black, Deputy Chief Operating Officer Tony Sammons, and each department head to review their team’s performance and how OPMOD can support them.

Coming the other direction, the focus is on training and supporting front-line staff through Peak Academy, a program inspired from Denver. In addition, the city launched a data academy this year to upskill the staff and ensure they have the skills to do the data work they need. It also implemented a departmental jam session — a Chattanooga original.

Working in the Middle

While he’s seeing progress, a top-down-bottom-up approach can squeeze middle managers and create resistance to change.

“I think sometimes mid-level managers have the most to lose,” Moreland said. “They have the most to be impacted by some of this work, and so they can be territorial. Our method tries to address that.”

Rather than keep work on a need-to-know basis, Moreland focuses on addressing deeper motivations for this segment. At the heart of it is pinpointing what’s in it for them.

It’s not about restricting decisions, but rather, keeping the team moving in the same direction.

“Shaping the path is really about how we make doing the right thing as easy as possible,” Moreland said. “How can we use choice architecture to make it easy to make the right decision?”

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