Tuesday, November 18, 2014

municipal control dance

Too many systems too little control  

Dear Mr Mayor

The ailment of systems and more systems and even more systems lead to less and less control. This is one of the biggest management disasters in modern large companies and especially municipalities.

The system is normally designed to create a sense of control, through reference numbers and report writing. These brilliant reference control systems deteriorate normally quickly into a window dressing affair, when employees rebel against the super control, without management realising it. It became easier and more important to create a paper trail than to actually resolve the issue, resulting in unproductive remediation of real issues. The beast in the system is normally a high ranking official or manager who has implemented the system, and therefore defends it sometimes even autocratically if needed. In large companies the fear of failure becomes the very enemy of effective communications and controls, resulting in rather the implementation of extra systems than the abolishment of the current failure.

If one look at call centres for multi departmental institutions, training and understanding of all the departments become so crucial , to the operator, that the level of training often need to exceed that of the general manager, such an educational intervention is normally not viable and remain untouched. With a lack of total understanding of all departmental functions the operator frustrate clients and rate payer by referring them to the wrong departments. In municipalities like EThekwini the call centre forward the problem or issues to a department, once the department arrive on the scene they realise that the work is that of another department. The exercise if deemed to be unproductive and costly to the rate-payer. To resolve such issues the call centre need to ask certain questions, or the municipality need to have inter departmental budgets, which might empower the respondent to attend to the matter.

To deal with municipalities is a painful experience, when you get referred from department to department, each with its own manager sitting behind a desk with an empty inbox and a computer on the corner of an oversize table. Once you bring you problem to the large wooden table, the manager call down the corridor and his deputy manager run in with a thick alphabetical ordered file, before the two start searching the file, and then shout again down the corridor for the deputy of the deputy manager who now run in with yet another file, shortly they bring a neatly typed rapport out and tell you that they have attended to the matter, and it was caused by a sewer blockage. If you now enquire to when this matter will be resolved the answer is normally, this is not for our department, and I will refer it to the correct department, who will send you a report on the matter.

When will the public service understand that their neatly typed reports, is a controlled management tool with no interest to the public, not solving our problem creates a larger frustration problem.

EThekwini municipality is no exception to this phenomenon, and the denial of inter departmental communication problems. There seems to be no one that can or will take accountability and responsibility for different departments, leading to a hide and seek and pass the bug experience. After a few years they do not even realise that they are window dressing, because it became the norm of work done. I have monitored a sewer leak, reported to the authorities over a period of three months the report was done on a forum meeting by one of the municipal officials. Three months later they responded urgently, only after I used extensive pressure through social media and reported the window dressing affair to the Mayor of eThekwini.  

The hiding behind inter departmental issues and communication or lack thereof soon become a norm, causing unnecessary paperwork and frustration towards the ongoing pollution, due to a lack of accountability.

The Bird sanctuary and rivers in Amanzimtoti need to be discussed, the lack of accountable communication should become a priority on council meetings and a result driven approach should be implemented [in place of paper driven] to eradicate slow or no service.

We must remember that we cannot do the same thing every day and expect a different result. Innovation is the only method to change and improvement.

We anticipate your speedy resolution to these matters, and the commitment that the city manager will take the accountability for unnecessary pollution of natural resources.

Willie Beetge 

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