With the service review completed and the new reality of less finance and fewer skilled staff, your next steps are vitally important. What you focus on and how you deliver those priorities by involving the full range of internal and external stakeholders has never been more important. Parks and open spaces still exist; quality services and standards are still an important consideration and will continue to matter in the future.
Importantly though, how these priorities are achieved is about to undergo further dramatic change. So far you will have focused on the knowledge of your staff, their skills and their attitude to providing services. It is now time to step up a gear and focus on people, techniques, activities and doing things differently. The team you have is far more important than its collective knowledge, it requires nurturing, providing with new techniques to help prioritise its workload and to have fewer aims and objectives. It is time to do more by doing less.
This is not a contradiction. It is obvious from what many of our colleagues are now saying that the 'to-do' list of those people who have survived the budget cuts is getting longer. In some cases, far more effort has been given to those leaving the organisation than the survivors. It is time to rebalance the service, look again at the team and begin the task of equipping them to do more with less. And that means, doing less to do more. If you are to be successful it is vital to identify where that additional output will come from and to write your new strategic and operational plan to achieve that objective.
Four major innovations in management approach are called for:
1. The 80-20 rule, the rule of the vital few;
2. Identify the important five to seven priorities;
3. Develop a communications strategy; and
4. Advocate through demonstration of service value.
To ensure that you have the right focus and priorities and before we consider how the above can be applied, it is necessary to review your strategic plans, the green space and parks strategies. Most, perhaps all of them were written when you had more staff and finance. The action plans were also prioritised with a greater depth of expertise than you have now and conceivably will have in the future. Time spent reviewing and revising those documents will help you to identify your focus for the next two to three years.
To make them more effective add two further columns to the action plan. The first is headed, Benefits and the second Demonstrated by. These two matters strike at the heart of what parks services provide and excel at. We also have to ensure that we clearly and effectively communicate them to internal stakeholders before we take then out to the external stakeholder. The benefits column should have a brief statement of the precise benefits that the initiative will deliver and when, and who is responsible for ensuring that it happens. The demonstrated by column must then state how this will be recognisable to the stakeholders, what they will benefit and how it will be communicated to them.
Once the review of your strategic direction is completed and the timeline redrawn, the next step is to apply Pareto's principle, the 80/20 rule. Pareto recognised that 80 per cent of successful outcomes come from just 20 per cent of an organisation's activities. Identifying that important 20 per cent of activities and priorities within your strategic plans requires persistence and lateral thinking. Think about and list those vital few actions that will make a substantial difference to the users of your parks.
At this stage it is not necessary to restrict your list other than to apply the principles of benefits and demonstration by. A table with three columns is all it takes - Action, Benefits and Demonstrated by. Once you have this list, identify those five to seven actions that will make the most difference to your service's delivery and that you have the people and the techniques to deliver. Why five to seven? It has long been acknowledged that most of us can only focus and act on five to seven issues at any one time. Any more and we lose out ability effectively follow-through. Inevitable what we deliver is a lower quality service.
Having resolved your action list of top five to seven priorities, a communications strategy is required to make sure that your stakeholders know about your priorities, the benefits that they will get and how this will be demonstrated to them. The strategy should have five stages.
Finally, and most importantly, remember that being an advocate for your service requires far more than just telling users and other stakeholders what it is you are doing. The most effective advocacy is to demonstrate its effectiveness. Advocacy that is most effective is targeted at those stakeholders who are not entirely convinced about the value of parks and who you can assist to understand. Those that are already convinced of the services value require a different form of support, and those who are either not interested or not convinced at all are probably best left to another time.
As for my five messages, they can be summed up as, just do it. That is, proving to yourself, your team and your stakeholders that you really can do more by focusing your efforts on the all important 20 per cent of activities that will deliver 80 per cent of your success.
Sid Sullivan is a parks consultant.
- Revise your strategic plans to identify Benefits and how they are Demonstrated.
- Use Pareto's 80/20 rule to identify priorities and where to allocate scarce resources.
- Devise a communication strategy to get your messages to the stakeholders that count.
- Advocacy involves demonstrating the value you create.
- Just Do It!