This case study explores how Basildon Borough Council developed a positive performance management culture based on transparency, ‘no blame’, and ownership of the process across all levels of the organisation.
Basildon Borough Council’s approach to performance management is based on the ‘plan-do-review-improve’ cycle (outlined below) which is based on the ‘plan–do–check–adjust’ (PDCA) design and management method.
The ‘plan do review improve’ cycle
- Plan – develop a strategy or plan
- Do – implement the strategy or plan
- Review – monitor the implementation of the strategy or plan
- Improve – revise the strategy or plan
Basildon Borough Council’s performance management framework outlines how the council will ensure that it achieves the vision and priorities set out in its corporate plan. The framework recognises both the diversity of the council’s business, and that services already respond to a wide range of other performance management requirements (such as statutory returns, partnership working arrangements, and different legal, regulatory or policy frameworks). As such, it builds on what is already in place.
The council’s policy decisions are taken through the established committee system. The chief executive then identifies how and when these decisions will be delivered and the resources needed to do so, and structures the council accordingly. The council’s strategic leadership team (SLT) drives the importance of performance management from the top, ensures that the organisation is clear about its aims and that priorities within the corporate plan are delivered.
A process of change
The performance management culture at Basildon has changed and developed significantly over recent years. Starting with an outcomes-based accountability approach, it was considered important for managers and teams to be part of the process of change rather than having it imposed upon them.
Workshops were held by the programme and performance team (working with directors, managers and teams) to change the way the organisation looked at performance.
In particular, they looked at 'exceptions' – incidences of particularly good or poor performance.
The council is creating a transparent reporting system in which services are more assured of sharing areas of under-performance. This is supported by a ‘no blame’ culture, and support is made available in order to prevent problems or provide intervention, as needed.
The council continues to develop its existing performance management system, Pentana, as the main tool for performance management data and reporting. This enables users to view and update performance in one place and be able to monitor and manage performance on a wider scale. The system is further linked to live reports held in alternative systems (Microsoft Power BI, Microsoft Office, and so on).
The council takes a 'balanced scorecard' approach to performance management. The corporate balanced scorecard is broken down into four themes as set out in the corporate plan:
- fit-for-purpose organisation.
Under each theme, an outline is provided listing:
- project and performance indicators supporting the delivery of the outcomes within the corporate plan
- any associated risks.
The scorecard also includes an overarching section on governance and assurance.
Additionally, a service-balanced scorecard supports service-level reporting. This is broken down into finance (budget position and compliancy, contract management), customers’ correspondence (complaints, compliments, member enquiries, tracker information when available) and our people (workforce information).
Directors, supported by the programme and performance team, are responsible for ensuring the balanced scorecard intelligence is collected, maintained, managed, challenged and reported.
Various different reporting formats and frequencies are used, for example:
- the scrutiny committee receive quarterly performance reporting on corporate plan deliverables and key performance indicators, while the audit and risk committee consider governance matters
- joint strategic leadership team (SLT) and service chair performance meetings are held in advance of committee meetings, to provide chairs with full transparency of the status of activity – and the leader of the council receives a monthly update
- the SLT meets as a performance and governance board every six weeks to provide challenge, review exceptions, address under-performance, identify any need for early interventions, and celebrate achievements
- monthly directorate team meetings are chaired by directors and attended by service managers – the balanced scorecard for service delivery approach is used to drive discussion and challenge, and it is here where improvement actions are identified and where success is celebrated.
Individual performance management is a key element of the council’s performance management framework. Service managers are responsible for managing their teams to ensure they are equipped to deliver services and the corporate plan outcomes. Service managers hold one-to-ones and team meetings with their staff, to ensure all staff understand how their work contributes to the outcomes and priorities the council seeks to achieve.
The new approach is having a positive impact. There is alignment across the council, both in terms of delivering performance against the corporate plan outcomes, and in ways of working. The council recognises the importance of communication across departments to ensure joint working and to prevent duplication. Therefore, the programme and performance team has been working with and across all services to identify the issues and appropriate resources required that will enable delivery, acknowledging that not all performance management styles are the same.
Any organisation going through change experiences some challenges and this is particularly true with the frequent levels of change that occur in local government. The new approach adopted by the council is a cultural change, and bringing officers on the journey has been critical in ensuring successful delivery. Ensuring effective communication with managers (and their teams) throughout the entire process and providing them with the opportunity to participate in the development of the performance management framework has been key.
The new framework initially involved a lot of ‘hands on’ support. It aimed to embed a culture where performance management is led and owned by appropriate officers across the organisation, including being held accountable for any challenges that arise directly. Having a ‘no blame’ culture across all levels of the organisation has been important and this started at senior leadership level.