Finding Savings within the Public Sector: Getting back to basics on people and data
By Kathy Roy and Kellen Greenberg
Regardless of a public sector organization’s intent to cost-reduce, realize efficiency gains, or improve effectiveness, Managers are being asked to find ways to do more with less. So the time is right to get back to basics and discuss some key steps that all Managers can take to identify cost savings opportunities.
There are many different approaches that an organization can take to reduce spending year-over-year. Some approaches involve new technological improvements, while others include innovative ways to streamline and consolidate processes. However, in times of fiscal constraint, many organizations are looking for zero cost solutions. And even more in demand are zero cost solutions with quick implementations.
Many of our Clients are applying some ‘go-to’ solutions to achieve quick results. One is to simply ratchet down discretionary spending like travel and hospitality. Another is to find specific functions or lines of business that can simply be stopped. No wonder these are the ‘go-to’ solutions – they have quick returns and results that are tangible. But we’re writing this blog with the idea of adding yet another ‘go-to’ approach to the repertoire, and its’ application lies within the authority of each and every Manager. It is the Manager’s ability to truly leverage their staff’s involvement and their available data and information to identify opportunities for cost savings.
The role of management and their associated work environments has certainly changed over the years. The increasing role of technology and the movement towards functional org structures (and matrix structures) have certainly contributed to that change. As a result, Managers today are less responsible for making decisions that directly affect their people. So when it comes time to identify areas for savings, the process seems to have become more complicated and complex.
But let’s not mistake complications with barriers. Many Managers are exploring new ways to involve their staff and leverage data and information to identify cost savings opportunities. They believe that a more engaged and involved workforce will collaborate to uncover the ‘right’ areas for cost savings. And they further believe that those ‘right’ areas for cost savings can then be validated and tested with data and information. By working with their team, and in spite of the many ‘obstacles’ and ‘unknowns’, they can deliver innovative solutions to do more with less. This should also be the goal for Managers that have become overwhelmingly fixed in their resource allocations.
So what exactly do we mean by leveraging staff involvement and available data and information?
Leveraging staff involvement
Staff are experts in the daily flow of work. They know what works well/what doesn’t, which work arrives on-time/which doesn’t, and where the delays/expediencies exist. Yet in many cases, they are either not asked or are not offering up this wealth of knowledge for consideration. Engaging the staff in the process is not just an expedient way of pinpointing the bottlenecks and backlogs, but also allows Managers to find hidden gems of opportunities. Further, this is something that both Managers and staff should be excited about, despite our knee-jerk negative reactions to reducing costs. Finding the ‘right’ types of efficiencies does more than just save money, it makes the work and the workplace more enjoyable and satisfying for everyone.
Leveraging available data and information
All work environments are full of activities and outputs. These activities and outputs are currently being overseen with varying degrees of formal documentation and discussion. Ideally, a Manager would have the right data and information to validate the potential opportunities identified for cost savings by their staff. Or, at the very least, they would be continually identifying ways to better document and define the work that is getting done. The forbidden fruit appears to be the data that speaks to resource allocations for many `non-measured` functional tasks. Despite the challenges in having data in this area, having detailed knowledge of `at work` days for all team members would go a long way to determining the total capacity of a team or division.
Managers that leverage both staff involvement and available data and information are in a much stronger position to not just find efficiencies by putting a hold on functions and spending, but by making precise decisions about the daily work of staff that optimize gains and minimize impacts.
But first, how does one go about leveraging staff involvement and available data and information?
- Involve key staff in the opportunity identification exercise – i.e. tell me where the frustrations lie
- Track both activities/outputs and frustrations – i.e. what got done this week and what got in our way
- Analyze financial information and understand its conversion to functional organizational structures – i.e. how many FTEs does it/should it take to deliver work/outputs
- Map current work processes to validate major opportunities/delays and their associated costs
- Identify major functional rubs and gaps in the flow of work and their associated costs
- Identify major areas of administrative burden and their associated costs
- Require more detailed reporting of `at work` days to understand the team`s total capacity for any given week – i.e. ensure they are ramping up for peaks and are all hands on-deck when required
- Review and understand the team`s available data and information, and share findings back with the team on a regular basis – i.e. here`s what the data tells us
Armed with increased staff involvement and available data and information, a Manager can then make the necessary decisions to deliver savings both within their own team and across their broader division. For example:
- They can understand not just the ‘peaks and valleys’ of workload, but also how resources affect service delivery and subsequently make decisions to adjust resource levels in the ‘right’ places, minimizing impacts to staff and service levels.
- They can share the right data horizontally and vertically across the organization to ensure that savings measures from across the organization are aligned in the broader horizontal process of a department and don’t end up finding savings in one area while propagating greater inefficiency in another.
When Managers leverage people and information effectively, they will not only deliver savings, but their day-to-day operations will be more effective. They will be in a position to continually align expectations and resources against tasks, and as a result, there will be less organizational friction and frustration in the workplace; the benefits of which are simply too many to list.
Finding savings and efficiencies is never an easy task, but it can be made less painful. Success will require that Managers both embark upon and embrace the journey!
Hear more about during Kellen’s and Kathy’s presentation on Finding Savings: Back to Basics at GTEC 2011, October 18, 10 a.m., at the Ottawa Convention Centre.
Kathy Roy has implemented business transformation and change management projects in complex organizations for over two decades. She has worked with major companies, both public and private, and with numerous business sectors in both Canada and the United States. She is part of Systemscope's Strategic Business Consulting practice.