Monday, November 18, 2019

The Architect of Southlake’s Strategic Management System

A quick look at Assistant City Manager Ben Thatcher’s office bookshelf tells the story.  This is a man interested in business performance initiatives, an interest — and talent — that has put him front and center in Southlake’s efforts to achieve transparent, efficient and accountable government through strategic management.

“We knew we wanted to change the way things operate inside Town Hall,” says City Manager Shana Yelverton about the first steps taken by the city.  “We wanted to focus on understanding the cause and effect of our service delivery approaches and make informed decisions to get the results we want.”

She notes that the City started by developing standard vision and mission statements and identified some priorities.  But she is quick to point out that Thatcher took the early work and fleshed it out, and that he has since been the catalyst for breathing life into the process and ensuring its development.  Working with a corporate mentor, Ben has been able to evolve the initial ideas into a full blown strategic management system for the city, based on the ideas of the Balanced Scorecard.

“Without Ben Thatcher the system would not be as robust as it is today,” says retired Police Chief Robert Finn.  “He has quietly, but steadfastly, worked with the operating departments to understand the system and align our efforts to it.  The organization is more focused now, more attentive to the needs and wants of our citizenry, more capable of defining and delivering high quality services.  This is true even within very traditional operational areas like Police Services.”  Finn embraced the system so thoroughly he was tapped to chair a staff team around the city’s priority of high performance management.

The system has been built from the ground up and city leadership has had to make adjustments along the way to make it work well for the organization.  The details of the process are interesting, but the bottom line is the bottom line…Southlake is more focused on getting the right results than ever before.

Using tools like citizen surveys, strategy maps, focus area cabinets (teams), data, and key accountability indicators (or performance measures), city staff has been acclimated to the idea that the system is there to ensure that efforts today move the city in the right direction for tomorrow’s success.

“You have to start with the result you want,” Thatcher explains.  “Then you make sure to align resources like money, time and people to make it happen.  It’s really pretty simple, but taking the time to proactively plan and then measuring your progress along the way is essential.  Otherwise, you’re turning your outcomes over to chance.”

“No significant organizational progress is ever made at the hands of a single individual, but it’s been clear to me and the rest of our team that Ben’s leadership has been essential for making the transition to a formal strategic management system,” Yelverton adds.  “For all the great things he has done as an employee, building our strategic management system has been the defining aspect of his career in Southlake.”

In Southlake, performance matters.  For Ben Thatcher it has been and continues to be a personal quest for himself and for his organization.  “Who knows what we can accomplish?” he says. “We just have to stay focused on doing the things that will get us where we want to be.”