3 Ways Local Government Leaders Can Improve Staff Efficiency & Better Serve Residents

Many communities, large and small, struggle to meet the changing demands and expectations of internal and external forces. In this article we highlight three ways to help you evaluate and improve how your local government does business.

Best practice #1: Ensure the process fits the need and don't be afraid to change

Have you ever heard "We've always done it this way"? This statement embodies status quo and is the number one thing holding organizations back from evolving. To ensure your community thrives, now is the time to start thinking about how to create a more effective government.

  • Review the tasks and processes conducted most frequently by staff
  • Map the processes you currently use and identify how much each step takes
  • Analyze steps where processes could be automated or streamlined
  • Determine change agents within the organization as well as those who will push back
  • Establish ideal processes for your organization; do not limit these by current staff, resources, or tools currently available to the organization

Uncovering Inefficiencies

Regardless of population size, communities often experience challenges in a few common areas:

  • Communicating with the public
  • Accepting and posting payments
  • Operations and infrastructure management

So where do you start? Begin by mapping both your current and ideal processes. You can see in the example below how the process of accepting a building permit was mapped. Next, locate redundancies and places where paper processes are present that could be instead digitized and automated, thus saving you time, money, and reducing frustration for your staff and citizens.

Accepting a Building Permit (example process)

Actual example of a municipal process that caused homeowners, contractors ,and city staff frustrations, delays, and extra expenses.

Map of a building permit process

Best practice #2: Embrace change

The key to ANY change is to envision the future. Embracing the idea that results are more important than processes will lead to positive changes in the way your organization operates.  Change is necessary to ensure a city is managed and maintained in a way that supports growth with a thriving community.

Start small and don't try to change everything at once. Pick the most impactful process to optimize first, especially if it has the possibility to positively affect staff, residents, and local businesses.

  • Deploy the ideal process you mapped in step one; set the metrics you want to achieve and the timeline for a short-term evaluation and longer stretch view.
  • Determine the tools you need to support the desired process change.
  • Create excitement around the change! Let people know if it affects them or if staff will be impacted
  • Gain buy-in through a focus on faster responses to urgent problems, reducing stress levels and saving time.
  • Remember, changes may not always stick. Evaluate and iterate as necessary. Changes should not add more frustration for staff and residents.

Change is difficult, but when managed correctly, can have a positive impact. 

Be a champion of change. Processes in government are often well-defined, but it doesn’t mean that they are optimized for your organization or your community. According to Forbes, the highest ranked leaders are the best managers of change. Who leads change in your organization? If the answer is everyone, you might as well say no one, someone needs to own the change you want to make.

So, how can you be a champion of change? Joseph Folkman, a behavioral statistician, shows there are 5 things needed in a leader for effective change (source):

  1. Innovation: Change for change's sake rarely accomplishes the goals of a project. If change is effective, it normally is associated with process innovation that is lead by a sound rationale for the change.
  2. Speed: When making a change it should happen with swift action. Slow process evolution is painful. This doesn’t mean you need to change all processes at once but choose one at a time and make it happen.
  3. Strategic Perspective: What is your north star, or key goal? Change should always be focused on achieving that outcome.
  4. External Perspective: What are residents demanding? Other agencies offering/doing? These things need to be evaluated in regard to your strategic goals. Making a change for staff could have a significant impact on residents, look inside and out when planning.
  5. Inspire and Motivate Others: Not everyone likes to adapt, this is the push and pull of change. This should be through motivation, showcasing the positive parts of the change, and encouraging people to follow.

Best practice #3: Invest in technology to support efficient processes and operations

If you follow the first two best practices, this one should make perfect sense. Unfortunately, local governments will sometimes choose a technology to support their immediate needs and not where they want to go.

Things to consider when choosing new technology:

  • Take real-life data and/or use cases and ask the vendor how they would handle them. Give them bonus points if they can demonstrate how they would help you achieve your goals.
  • Can the software evolve as you grow and need to change? Don't remain stuck with an outdated and ineffective process if the reason it is not being adjusted is due to the limitations of your technology.
  • Build an adoption plan for internal users and residents. Just because you launch a new technology solution does not mean people will use it, or use it well. Promote usage, focus on the benefits, and drive adoption to see your desired results!
  • Verify the solution is designed for local government and not for private business use. Your requirements are different than a business so your technology solutions should be designed to fit your needs!

Customer success story: Denver, Iowa transforms to digital with gWorks online forms and payments

Deb, the Utility Billing and Deputy City Clerk for the city of Denver, Iowa, faced the same challenges as many other small cities. She used paper and Google Docs for registration forms and permits, and payments were managed by phone, email, or in person, with each payment needing to be entered manually. This process required hours of work and was not efficient.

The gWorks Solution

After implementing FrontDesk from gWorks, Deb used the Forms Builder feature to create online forms. Residents can now access and submit their registration forms and payments online, saving time and effort for both residents and staff. The form submissions are received and stored in FrontDesk for easy access.

Since transitioning to online forms with FrontDesk, the city of Denver has received roughly 320 registrations and saved nearly 7 hours on just that batch of registrations. Deb and her staff have created additional forms for Camping, Shelter & Community Room Reservations, Tree Service & Disposal Permits, Peddler's Permits, a Sedimentation Application, and more.

"The forms in FrontDesk are a time saver for us and they don't take very long to design! It took about 30 mins for the first one, and it was easy to copy forms and then change their design. One of the benefits of having our forms online in FrontDesk is getting all the requested and required information the first time." - Deb Manross, Deputy City Clerk/Utility Billing Clerk, Denver, Iowa

By using FrontDesk, Deb and her team have been able to save valuable time and reduce processing errors, leading to a more efficient and modern way of handling registration forms and payments.