By Jason Lawrence, Finance Manager, City of Lake Helen
It’s the all the rage in local government management. It’s the newest buzzword thrown around in the City Commission Chamber. It’s the dead horse beaten in the City Manager’s suite. Department heads live or die by it.
But what is Strategic Innovation, really?
At its core, Strategic Innovation is the ongoing practice of service improvement through the implementation of redesigned or reimagined business processes. And it can achieve a range of objectives depending on an organization’s goals.
For local governments, this means prioritizing areas of service and program delivery perceived as notoriously deficient by the public – or creating new programs and services in which the organization wishes to brand itself.
That’s the crux of it. How strategic innovation really takes shape is a bit more complicated, because it requires cooperation and engagement both within and outside the organization. It may also come with administrative hurdles. Success in strategic innovation for local governments is unique because public organizations face inherent legal and fiscal constraints unheard of in the private sector. Overcoming these constraints, however, means local governments can become the standard by which state and federal partners measure themselves, and perhaps even private organizations providing similar services.
The process of strategic innovation starts inside City Hall with a forward-thinking, human-centered City Commission, and a results-driven, self-accountable Management team. These actors embrace political fallibility, risk and are shrewd investors of fiscal and human resources. They are also wholly invested in creating a culture of continuous improvement. They also understand the political and economic environment in which they operate. And they carefully craft organizational messaging, keeping tight rein on the narrative. They know, based on past experiences how their actions may be received.
In their journey toward successful strategic innovation, the organization practices self-inquiry. Managers ask themselves questions such as:
What are the primary complaints of citizens (customers)? An answer arises when examining the business processes resulting in the delivery of a service, finding the deficiency, then improving or altogether (legally) removing the inefficient or unnecessary parts. In some cases, this exercise may result in reassigning individuals involved in one process to another that matches their skillset. It could lead to a large, one-time investment in technology being made to increase efficiency in the long-run.
How do other organizations of similar size and scope perform while delivering this service? How does the organization replicate their successes or avoid their failures? This can be accomplished through simple benchmarking and cultivating relationships with organizations offering similar services or programs.
In the case of new services or programs, what is on our community’s wish list? And how can the organization realize these visions with existing resources or those forecasted in the immediate future? Answers arise when elected officials and managers take every opportunity to engage with citizens, listening to their ideas, and taking seriously their grievances.
Strategic innovation, when done right, can lead to many proud moments for citizens in their communities. It can also result in a management leaving a lasting legacy in City Hall.