This is an open letter to members of the Common Council, Mayor Harry Rilling and Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King.
Harry Rilling’s suggested reorganization is one of the most exciting ideas I’ve ever heard as a Norwalk resident. He has made good on his election night commitment in listening to both supporters and detractors and has correctly identified that there are a lot of things that we could be doing better. Not only that, he’s doubled down by suggesting that we can also save money while creating a better, sleeker more effective City Hall.
Increased efficiency should be the goal of any organization but particularly a government. For Harry Rilling to have correctly identified this shows not only real reflection and maturity but a true commitment to putting Norwalk and the tax payers first!
Now, Harry must take every opportunity to position himself for success. If he does, not only will it be a win for Norwalk, but it will be a personal win for him. So, in the true spirit of partnership, now is the time to agree that this is too important and potentially impactful to be handled “in house.” This shouldn’t be read as the typical “Norwalk trouble-maker” moan of, “I don’t like these people so I’m going to challenge their intelligence and call them incompetent.” It’s the opposite of that; it’s a plea for the drivers of this reorganization to demonstrate the wisdom and sophistication of being coachable. They’ll need to put their egos aside for the greater goal. That’s a big ask and will take real leadership from those involved. We need the clarity that will come from the confession that if we had the ability to solve these problems from within, they probably wouldn’t exist to start with. Put more quaintly: The patient shouldn’t be diagnosing themselves.
Traditionally, there are two types of management personalities: “do-it-yourselfers” and “delegators.” Harry Rilling has been accused (by myself included) of being a delegator. Typically, this is meant as an indictment but it ignores that, usually, the most successful leaders and managers are those with the ability to delegate effectively. We can’t all be experts on everything, always. Anyone who would suggest such is being unreasonable at a bare minimum. Delegation is powerful but ONLY if it is done effectively. It is in the pursuit of effective delegation that Harry Rilling and the members of the Common Council must chase this reorganization idea to its highest evolution. They should not let it fail.
Why do reorganizations fail?
Reorganizations fail because organizations attempt to re-org themselves and they “wing it.” This never works. It especially never works if the desired result is increased efficiency at a lower cost. The best map in the world will not help you if don’t know where you’re starting from and can’t tell where you’re going. If we haven’t clearly identified our departure point, how to we plan our route? If we haven’t clearly identified our goal, how will we know when we get there? If we don’t have a clear and honest report card, how will we know how we’re doing? Even “GoFundMe” pages have a little summary about where the money is going and why and a goal tracker that lets all the stakeholders see when they’re 25% or 75% to goal. These are really important when one of the major reasons that the reorganization is needed to start with, is that the lack of these attention points has created an inefficient organization in danger of being crushed under its own weight.
What should happen instead?
The proper way to do a reorganization is to engage an outside consulting firm. Specifically, one with municipal experience in EXACTLY the areas we’re looking for. That this hasn’t been suggested yet can only be for one of two reasons. The first is that this reorganization isn’t really a reorganization which seeks to make City Hall more effective at all but is instead, as some would suggest, simply a way to shuffle money around to give certain existing employees raises and lighten Harry’s workload. The second is that Harry Rilling, having spent his active working years outside of corporate America, just doesn’t know the right way to go about this, yet.
I’m going with the second. Does even Harry Rilling’s harshest critic imagine that given the choice between creating an exciting, measurable impact on Norwalk for long after he’s left office or just coming up with a silly, elaborate way to give his assistant a raise; Harry Rilling is going to pick the second? It’s worth noting that suggesting Harry Rilling isn’t aware of how to do this isn’t a character judgement. I don’t know anything about law enforcement or criminal law. That doesn’t make me a bad guy and it doesn’t make me dumb. If I got into legal trouble and decided that I was going to “wing it” and go to Google law school and defend myself, Harry Rilling would tell me, “You don’t know what you’re doing. Not only is this the WORST way to do this, it almost guarantees that you’re going to get the worst possible result” and he’d be right. If, however, even after he told me this, I decided to do it anyway, I could never be accused of being the brightest bulb out there. Forewarned is forearmed.
Why should we use an outside firm?
A consulting firm will help Norwalk’s City Hall to clarify what the objectives are. It will conduct a system-wide audit to determine both what’s not working and what IS working. It will help Norwalk City Hall define, like a laser beam, the monetary benefit that will be realized from the reorganization. It will use a tool called “Lean Six Sigma” to help Norwalk design systems and processes for things that we currently handle by the seat of our pants. What’s Lean Six Sigma? It’s a customer oriented efficiency process. It focuses on making the customer (tax payers) the top priority, makes the organization self-aware of wasteful activity, and is “results oriented” to eliminate waste and make work processes repeatable and quicker.
How do we know it will work?
In 2000, Fort Wayne Mayor Graham Richard suggested and implemented a reorganization for similar reasons and goals to Norwalk. He used Lean Six Sigma to aggressively increase Fort Wayne’s efficiency while decreasing costs. The results? Building permitting time was reduced from 47 days to 12. The number of roads paved per cycle doubled. An almost $2 million waste water problem was avoided. Most importantly, from 2000-2008, during Mayor Richard’s terms, Fort Wayne tax payers were saved over $31 MILLION as a direct result of a correctly executed reorganization. That’s real money. It doesn’t only work in Fort Wayne, either. Houston, Miami-Dade and Bakersfield counties have all seen significant improvements and cost savings because of reviews like these. Isn’t that more exciting and impactful than combining redundant jobs and increasing the scope and compensation of the Harry Rilling’s assistant and calling it a day?
This shouldn’t be misconstrued as a simple objection to the Mayor’s assistant getting a raise just for the sake of being contrary. I’m more than happy to give everyone a raise if it’s demonstrated exactly how and when I will benefit as a taxpayer. Will my taxes go down? Will my experience with City Hall be improved? Can you demonstrate it? When the demonstrable answer to these questions is, “Yes” not only would I not oppose appropriate raises, I’d advocate for them.
How much will it cost?
It doesn’t matter. Here’s why: Any outside consultant that you bring in will be tasked with not only helping us meet our goals but in finding a way for them to get paid. Why would we hire a consultant that wasn’t going to create an impact AT LEAST significant enough to cover their own costs? We wouldn’t. In fact, this should be noted in detail in the request for proposals.
The Pain Funnel.
I have occasionally met with clients who will ask for advice which they know they need and then not take it. Why? Occasionally, people don’t address issues which they know will require deep examination because they already know what they’re going to see when they look more closely. And they don’t want to see it. They know that once they do, they will have no real reasons to not address the issue. Like the person who smokes, doesn’t exercise and won’t go to the doctor. They know that they shouldn’t smoke. They know that they should exercise. Most of all, they know that if they go to the doctor, she’s going to tell them, “You need to stop smoking and start exercising.” But if they don’t go, they don’t need to hear that. In the meantime, it’s no surprise that their health will continue to deteriorate, regardless.
Part of this reorganization process needs to be a “ripping off the band aid.” It will probably be uncomfortable for some folks and it’s likely not going to be a surprise to those people that the reorganization is not in alignment with their personal objectives. But that’s not a reason not to do it. If the goal is to take your commitment to public service and the City of Norwalk seriously, then you know that personal objectives are easily of little importance in comparison to a good faith effort to doing the best job you’re able for the tax payers of Norwalk.
There is an objectively right way to go about this reorganization. The benefits could be great. The impact could put your names on a plaque somewhere in Norwalk for decades to come. There’s also a wrong way to go about this reorganization. The proof of the intent will be in the pudding, I imagine. Do we do bungle this and slap together a Rube Goldberg contraption that just helps make the problem worse? Or do we do it the right way and take a proven method and model that other cities have used to knock the cover off the ball? I guess it depends on how serious you are about showing that you love and put Norwalk first.