The Weekly Staff Meeting
February 23, 2016 – Charlie Francis
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Note: All names have been changed to respect confidentiality.
February 23, 2016
There is a new emerging role for today’s Finance Director – the Service Level Delivery value creator! And today’s data-driven technology enhances business intelligence and operational analytics, enabling this role.
Finance Directors have always provided strategic financial management and leadership for the cities they manage. In the past, they typically they did this by simply maximizing revenues and minimizing costs. Today, however, Finance Directors help the city focus on creating and maintaining sustainable service delivery economic surplus, a new way of “doing more with less.”
This new role requires robust fiscal analysis of the options so that decisions maximize expected economic value. In addition, the fiscal analysis has to account for the CIty’s long-term fiscal stability, sustainability and resiliency. The focus on sustainable value creation and preservation requires Finance Directors balance coping with volatility, uncertainty, and short-term pressures and executing the long-term vision and objectives of the organization.
With this new role in mind, I walked into the City Hall conference room for our weekly Tuesday morning management team meeting. One of the department heads had brought donuts and coffee, something that we took turns supplying. My favorite department head always brought Krispy Cream donuts!
In the old days, I carried paper printouts of financial reports to the meetings. Cumbersome and bulky, we struggled through meetings laboring to find data and adding fiscal analysis to management decisions. Today a big screen monitor mounted on the wall gives us instant access to live and on-demand fiscal data, with visualizations, for ad hoc analysis.
In most cities, the City Manager and her/his Department Heads hold weekly meetings to discuss major items, issues, challenges and opportunities. These weekly meetings help unify the management team’s focus on results and performance in delivering the expected level of public services the city appropriates in the annual budget process.
These meetings are the management team’s meetings. No elected officials. No non-management staff. Management can discuss governance and organizational matters without fear of political or administrative filtering. We suggest strategy and tactics, and vet them interdepartmentally for feasibility.
Although these meetings focus on service level delivery, the Finance Director is an integral team member because regardless of what is decided, “sooner or later it always comes down to money.” And limited resources require service level delivery options to be cost-effective and constrained to the annual appropriated budget.
Today’s staff meeting had a lengthy agenda, including developing budget guidelines for the following year’s budget preparation. After emerging from the recession with minimal cuts to levels of service, the City now forecasted a surplus. A revitalized tax base that could absorb new levels of service while remaining fiscally resilient in the long-term. The discussion centered on either permitting budget packages that called for gradual increases in levels of service across the board, or holding levels of service steady and permitting a budget package with only a significant increase in public safety patrol and traffic enforcement, requiring investment in both human and capital resources such as additional personnel, alternative vehicle patrols (motorcycles, electric bicycles, SUV, etc.), LPR (license plate reader) technology, and body cameras.
Over the years, I had developed effective partnerships with other leadership team members, and spearheaded the annual strategic planning process. Our management team had a common vision. As Finance Director, I fostered information sharing across departmental silos, enabled by inter- and intra- governmental data-sharing technologies that gave a shared view of organizational (not just departmental) performance.
My role as Finance Director was as much outward facing as internal, through relationships with the City’s various stakeholders: council members, banks, service organizations, the Chamber of Commerce, community influencers and thought leaders, and our citizens. I was recognized as an effective and influential communicator and negotiator; and as a result, our senior management team regarded my role in these Tuesday morning meetings as a voice of reason and reflective second thought, and as provider of alternative options.
Turning to the big screen monitor, our team tested each scenario: ensuring compliance with the strategic plan’s mission, maintaining the resiliency of the long-term fiscal model/plan, building agreement with the impact on our reserve policy, and examining other financial resources that could be leveraged in the short and long term. The Tuesday weekly meeting was nearing completion, and we had purposed that we would make a decision on which budget direction to choose by the end of the meeting. The new budget policy course would be influenced by my final opinion…
Next week the Police Chief brought Krispy Kreme donuts to the weekly staff meeting!
Charlie Francis is a municipal finance expert. He has more than forty years of local government financial management experience in both the public and private sector, including twenty years of experience as a Chief Financial Officer. Most recently, he served as the Director of Administrative Services and Treasurer for the City of Sausalito where he earned the unofficial title of “OpenGov super user”. He has also served as a finance manager for the Town of Colma, CA and as CFO and acting City Manager for the Cities of Indian Wells, CA and Tracy, CA.
Questions or comments? Email Charlie at email@example.com.