Year

2011

Degree Name

Master of Management - Research

Department

School of Management

Abstract

The objective of this study is to analyse the ways in which different councils in NSW local government have attempted to improve their strategic and operational capabilities, including restructuring of their organisations in order to facilitate the development of innovative operational methods aimed at more economical and coherent infrastructure management. No unanimity exists in how to reform local government in order to ensure the achievement of these objectives. The legislative frameworks as it exists in NSW has placed greater emphasis on the nature of individual council management itself as a critical aspect of local government reform and attribute substantial weight to the capacity of management at the individual council level to adapt and adjust to changing external expectations. The non-prescriptive approach adopted by NSW state government in this regard has resulted in councils adopting a larger variety of reform routes because of the greater flexibility to experiment with different models. What has been the strategy behind such models? What are the principal factors inspiring different change approaches? What degree of success has been achieved in different cases? Can performance improvement be achieved without radical change or restructuring? If so under what conditions? Taking inspiration from this research theme, this study of reform methodologies attempts to address the following research problem:

“Through what processes have local councils in NSW Australia attempted to manage the transition from traditionally bureaucratic organisations to organisations that efficiently and effectively meet the need of their customers, provide democratic governance and supply competitive and value for money services to their respective communities?”

This study is based on a multiple case study design in which each council is selected in consideration of its dedicated pursuit of a focussed and identified reform route and on the grounds of that council’s ability to adequately represent the phenomenon being investigated. The suitability for selection as a case study council is also based on the features like balance and variety it may bring with the opportunity to learn of primary importance. The data is collected through the triangulated approaches of personal observation, interviews and document analysis. The process of collection, analysis and coding continues till saturation is reached and the information so obtained is categorised under the headings “content”, “context” and the “process” of the reform path at each case study council in their respective chapters. This is followed by a paragraph on ‘discussion’ which is a narration, largely within case analysis based on seven principal elements pertaining to the reform process considered and analysed in this study. Further discussion of the seven principal elements in the context of local government reforms, along with a cross case analysis, is done in the last two chapters. The answers to the research problem emerging from this analysis suggest that:

1. An accurate analysis of the prevailing situation at a council and a correct estimation of the gap between the existing and target situations within a specified time frame has played a major role in deciding the approach to be followed at that council. This includes the type of organisational model and the reform path. In addition the General Manager’s personal characteristics especially the ability to walk the talk (resembling a missionary torch bearer) along with his/her senior team also plays a pivotal role in choosing the nature of the reform path and the type of organisational structure. Skilful implementation of this strategy has made the General Manager feel confident about being able to apply the necessary controls when required and be able to fine tune the proceedings as and when required.

2. Combination of factors like convergence of the General Manager’s own career objectives with a council’s organisational objectives and possession of a right mix of personal characteristics and leadership abilities will pretty much furnish the embryo of the change approach to be pursued. Once this has been identified and achieved, it is then up to the elected council, the General Manager and his senior management team to get together and give final shape to the change approach.

3. Viewed from this combined perspective of historical functional expectations and also the new challenges, it can be said that case study councils:1 and 4 (CSC 1 and 4) could achieve their targets of the reform process meritoriously. While the experience at CSC:4 tells us about the visionary intellect and the competent manner of the application of a large scale frame breaking approach; CSC:1 is a case of strong, smooth, streamline, simple yet professionally competent pursuance of the reform path. The ripples of the unsettling impact of the manner in which the reforms were applied at CSC:3, took time to heal; CSC:2 in much the similar fashion could reach its goals albeit at the second attempt. The excellent planning for the reforms and visions of the General Manager could only see the dilution of the targeted goals due to the difference in the capability, consistency and the type of leadership available to the different divisions at Council:5.

4. No particular organisational model emerges as a necessary prescription for the desired degree of success. It is more like a racquet that a tennis player feels comfortable with at the time of playing and it does not substitute the player’s skill or abilities. It is the dynamic leadership at the top and a sense of belonging / pride experienced by others in the organisation which facilitates the accomplishment of goals. The leadership of General Managers at CSC:1 and CSC:4 are examples of this even though both councils had different organisational models and different approaches to the change management process. This also proves the fact that performance improvement can be achieved without radical change or restructuring if there is a General Manager who in addition to being a dynamic leader has the skills comparable to conducting an orchestra, the timing, rhythm, speed and tuning as well as the precision of a surgeon well informed about the minute details and in complete control while the operation is being carried out.

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