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So I'm really excited today we have a great guest from achieve it, which is a really cool strategic planning tracking software platform we're going to explore a bit. And someone from their organization, Amanda Cyr is with us say hello, Amanda.
Hello, thank you so much for having me. Yeah, it's great.
It's great to have you with us. And again, as I said, I'm excited about this topic, because every city county and probably department listening has got a strategic plan, or they got to execute on one. And so Wow, what a great topic. I do want to share a bit of your background for those that are listening, I know that you have been in private business for many years now you worked at NTT cloud services. I take it that some type of, you know, cloud software system, which is sounds wonderful. I see kind of now your technology track. You were also with worldwide Express, as I understand it for a few years. And before that you were at the University of Auburn. So I know some of our listeners, like from Tennessee or Georgia might might want to argue about football probably right.
I've never lost an argument in football or sports. I know my stats. So you're welcome. You're welcome to try.
Oh, that's good. And I know also, for the most part, you're from Georgia, and you were born in Maine, and also know that you like to travel. And so before we get into all the technical stuff about strategic planning, I want to ask you, where have you traveled, you know, in the last several months that you've really enjoyed it maybe someplace special that you've been to recently?
Yeah, so my parents definitely instilled the travel bug in me. So I feel like if I'm going to live where I'm from, I need to be gone for as much of the month as possible. In December, I spent about two weeks in Hawaii. So most of my time was spent on the island of Maui. But in the summer as well, in July, my significant other and I we took a trip to Belize, and we hadn't been there before. And we stayed at one of their their little islands off the coast. And it was very cool, because they don't really have cars there. They mostly drive golf carts. So we had a really great experience stayed right on the beach. So I cannot recommend Belize more. And that's probably been one of my favorite trips in the last few years.
Oh, wow, that sounds wonderful. Yeah, I've got to get out more. Yes, that's thanks. Wonderful.
I've learned I'm not a very good golf cart driver, but it was still nice that he let me drive most of the time, so I can get it out of my system.
Oh, that's good. That's great. Well, you know, we want to dive into this topic of strategic planning and really more so I guess strategic execution, right. And so that's kind of topic and I got a couple of questions I wanted to run by you because I know this is the world you live in. And you do this for local governments. So in at achieve it. I know you all serve lots of markets. But of course, one of them is local governments, cities and counties. And so as you think about strategic planning, Amanda, what are some of the elements of a strategic plan that you often see cities and counties that use or include in a plan? And maybe what are some things that you don't often see in a strategic plan? So kind of at a high level? What's involved in a strategic plan? You know, from your experience?
Yeah, that's a great question. So I see that most cities and counties will have, you know, a mission and vision, which is great, because most of your goals, initiatives and objectives are going to stem from that. But really, where I see them struggling and having a challenge is when you get down to either task management performance measures or KPIs. So they're able to put together the this is what we want to do. And here's my goal, but then they really struggle with Well, how am I going to achieve that goal? So it's great to say that we want to increase something by 10%. But what are the tasks activities that are going to stamp on that goal to really help us achieve our goal. So I see them being really great at the high level objectives and goals. But we also need to get a bit more granular to really describe how we're going to achieve those goals.
Yeah, and that's where the work comes in. And that's where we have to put in the time and the effort, the energy to actually make something happen. What has been your experience, that when you engage and talk to cities and counties and you talk to a lot of different cities and counties around the country, as we do at leader gov? How do most of them track their strategic goals? Is it like on a cocktail napkin or Word document? What What are most of them do from your experience?
Yeah, that's a great question. So you'd be surprised some don't have a strategic plan. So we'll be meeting with them. And it's great because we can have those conversations. And they do start to think of strategic planning and say, maybe this is something that we should have. Others are further along in their journey. So they've either had a comprehensive plan, a strategic or operational plan for years. But they're still tracking it in very manual disparate tools like Excel, PowerPoint, and SharePoint. And the issue with these tools is that not only are they really manual and burdensome, but they don't get you the high level visibility that you need. And we find that it can really make government work in silos. So finance will be doing their own thing Public Safety's over here, when a lot of times we can bring those together and integrate them and make sure that it's one government not working in silos.
Well, and so that kind of leads me to my next question, which is, what is the effect of that lack of a common sort of unified system like city council people, and you know, county commissioners probably need to see some of this stuff, right. And yet, what have you seen is kind of the downside of not having a bit of a streamline sort of process?
Well, I recognize that we're working with a time limit here. So I won't get into all the consequences. But I'll get into some of the biggest ones that I see and the ones that I speak to the most. So the first one being is impact. So imagine you've spent, you know, sometimes it can take a month to build a strategic plan, because you need to get input from counsel, your commissioners, you need updates from the public. So what we find will happen is that you're spending all this time to put together the strategic plan. But when it comes time to actually execute across that plan, you don't have a process in place to do that. So most will just rely on what we know best, which is, well, we have these Microsoft tools for free. So let's use them and put everything in Excel. And what happens with that is you don't have alignment. So it's very hard to see, okay, well, we're working on this goal and this goal lines to this objective. And here's this initiative. So there'll be so many strategic plans that I look at where I'm on spreadsheet, number four, looking at a goal, and it tells me to go back to spreadsheet 1.2. To see which goal we're actually impacting. So it's very hard to see, you know, are you getting your city and county to where you want it to be? isn't having the desired impact? Or do we need to pivot and spend our time elsewhere. So that would be one of the biggest items that I see, as well as context. So it's very hard to build updates on top of one another in something like Excel or Word document. So you're really just relying on the latest information. But that doesn't give you a full story. So you really can't see, you know, where did we start with this initiative? Where are we going? And where's our end result? So it can be really difficult to see where are we on this? Which is the favorite question that we all like to ask, it can be hard to see how you've progressed? And of course, you don't know if you're having the desired impact that you hoped it would.
Yeah, you know, I wonder sometimes too, if we don't lose some connectivity between departments, you know, public works is working on the new EMR system, the meter reading system and doing their part and finances sort of connected to that goal, but sort of in a different way. And can we see each other's progress, even on certain goals, if we're not in the same building, using the same systems, I assume you see kind of disconnect, even within departments, right.
And also a lot of repetitive work. So you don't know that departments might be even working on the same initiative, but they either don't report to each other, don't connect to one another, and don't have that cross functional visibility. So that's a big challenge that we see as well. And it's amazing how much repetitive work happens when you do work in silos.
So you know, the word dashboard comes to mind as we're talking. People love these nice circle charts and bar charts and graphs and Gantt charts. And, you know, many of us are visual people, we like to see progress and a progress bar like we're 32% finished with this goal of doing a roundabout or you know, whatever the project is, and I assume that your system and other systems like yours that are out there, offer a kind of visualization of progress is that how would you characterize that?
Yes, we offer a visualize a visualization of progress. So there's never just one report that everyone's going to be able to utilize because we all intake information in different ways. So department heads I really see as being more tactical, so maybe they want something in a nice list where they can quickly see how the items are progressing. And other members such as council, city management and county management and commissioners, they're likely more visual and they want the high level 30,000 foot view. So we do offer a vast array of different types of reports whether you're a visual learner or tactical. And then there's also the public facing components. So Many are striving these days to be more transparent government, which is great. So even displaying information, like the potholes that you've covered in the last few weeks is something that the public is really receptive of. So just the ability to make that public facing as well.
Yeah, yeah. And well, you're right, with with all of the communication, social media tools at our disposal, we have become a very, I think visual society. And, and we expect transparency, you know, we expect to get details of how our government monies being spent. We don't get it at a federal level, probably like we should, but certainly at a local level, we could I think that's a really good point, I want to ask you about the task level activities. And you mentioned this whole idea of, we did a strategic plan, yet, we ended up kind of, it loses its its value in the execution. And that's so sad, because we do spend a lot of money getting people together to do this planning. But do your tool, do other tools also allow me as an employee to be assigned a task or a goal? Does it get down to that kind of granular level where I can be held accountable for a portion of the goal completion?
Yep, exactly. So our goal is to not only have a top down approach, but also a bottom up approach. So where the tasks will not show how you're impacting the goal and the top level objectives. So yes, certainly anyone within the city or the county can be assigned a specific task or goal, they'll be sent an automated email and they'll provide the update. One of the things that I think is really helpful is a lot of times our viewers and our staff can feel like strategy is busy work. And the only reason they think that is because they can't see how they're impacting goals, objectives, top level strategy for the city or county. So if I get a task that says, hey, Amanda, report on the KPIs for trash pickups, this week, I'm gonna think why am I doing this, when maybe we're trying to get a I'm just using my own city that I live in. In Atlanta, for example, maybe we're trying to get an automated trash pickup where they don't even have to get out of the truck to pick up my trash. And that's something we're trying to fund. So we need to look at trash pickups, but I don't have oversight to see that. So I think that's a really important thing to tie these tasks, these KPIs performance measures to strategy. So I know that you know, it's not just busy work, we're being strategic.
Yeah. And what what about if there's a roadblock in my so I'm an employee, I'm working on my part of the goal. See now how it connects to the bigger picture. And I experienced a roadblock of some sort. Is there a mechanism in these sorts of systems where I can sort of flag it? Or I guess, is there a review process where things sort of bubble up that are past due? Because the city manager in the department manager is going to want to know, you know, what, where are we in? Are we are we held up? And you know, what's going on? Can you speak to that a little bit?
Yeah, so a few different areas of focus here. One is that you can pair the qualitative with the quantitative, so you're always going to be able to add context and narrative, whether you're doing a data update, or just flagging a project is on track, off track or at risk, you're always going to have that narrative component. And that way, leadership can quickly see where these initiatives are, just because it says off track, that doesn't look bad on you, it just truly where the initiative lies. Another item that would like to help with is really helping leadership become more strategic versus reactive. So a lot of times with these manual tools, they're getting updates and seeing them for the first time during these leadership meetings. So they're just reacting, versus actually spending time discussing how to get items back on track, or why they might be off track. So our goal is to get those updates in that narrative over ahead of time. So those leadership feelings can be as productive as possible.
Yeah, that is a really, we really resonate with that leader, because we are constantly reminding leaders, don't turn your meetings into update meetings. If you have to, you know, that's fine. But I mean, send an email out before the meeting or have everybody go look at the dashboard before the meeting, get get your update, kind of general update done before the meeting. That way when we're together, we're talking about roadblocks. What's in the way, what's keeping us from making progress and maybe using some creativity in the meeting, as opposed to listening to 17 Boring updates from department heads that, you know, we don't like?
Yeah, my favorite mug that I have is this meeting could have been an email. So think about it, getting all those updates truly could have been an email. So now we're hoping to avoid that. So you're really setting the meeting in a meaningful way.
Yeah, your time is so valuable. And so I like this idea of using our meeting time to really get to something important, as opposed to just those updates. Now, I did want to ask you, again, systems like yours that are out there in the marketplace, yours is called achieve it. Most of them, I assume are cloud based systems. So implementation is not terribly onerous, because it's not like you have to load a bunch of software in my system. How, how fast can people get up to speed on these types of modern online systems?
Yeah, great question. Because the first thing that I'm going to think about if someone gives me a software or a project that I need to implement, I'm going to say, Okay, this is going to take more time out of my day, I'm probably going to be working extra hours, how much time is this going to be for me? So certainly understand that. The other objection is it is going to say, well, how much work is this going to be for us, because they're working on things daily for the cities and counties like broadband projects, Microsoft upgrades, office 365. So we want to make sure we're not time burdensome, and it's not a big time commitment. So for us, our average implementation is just over 30 days. And during that process, you're really only time commitment is 30 minutes to one hour status call once a week, we're essentially doing all the customization for you the loading of the plans for you, really, we just need your input on what looks good in the software, what doesn't look good. And from it, there's very minimal work as well, the only thing we really need their help with is if they wanted to set up single sign on. So very minimal work. And once achieve, it is up and running, it is self sufficient. So a lot of my city managers, assistant city managers, county managers will ask Will, once it's going, you know, do I need to hire someone to maintain this? And the answer is no, the updates will just start going automatically as well, the reporting. So it's just a nice tool that you have and not something that's too burdensome.
Yeah, well, that's good, I sort of had this suspicion that the implementation was not a really significant lift. A lot of these tools like yours are, you know, so well built, they're really easy to use. And I think you all have done a good job of making it sort of simple to use. I, you know, we add leader. Gov, we act, one of our services is to provide strategic planning services for a large department or a city or county, and we love doing that work. And if people listening right now have a need in that area, give us a call, we would certainly be happy to help. But as we kind of wrap up here, I wanted to ask you, as you you know, think about cities there something 22,000 City, the United States, 5000 counties, as people listen to this podcast, and even even a department you know, think about maybe even a small department. When you think about execution, when you think about getting things done, which at the end of the day, we're here, we have to make progress, right? We have to achieve certain goals. When you think about that, what sort of advice as we kind of close out here, what what advice would you give to a leader, a department head that's maybe struggling with? Okay, I think I know what my goals are. But I'm after that I'm kind of stuck. What would you say to them as a some advice?
Yeah, so a few a few points of advice here. And they're really easy. So the first that I would say, as if you are going to be tracking your strategic plan, you know, the question could be changed management, are people going to make updates? It starts with you. So if you are regularly reviewing reports, and these updates, most of my cities and counties will do either monthly or quarterly, just depending on the initiative or goal. If you are regularly reviewing these reports, and having these discussions, the doers and the staff across the city or county are going to know, hey, they're going to be reading my updates, I need to put some thought into this. And I also need to regularly make my updates because it's not going to look good on me. If they get together for a council or a leadership meeting and my updates, the only one not sitting there. So I would say that accountability and change management begins with you. It's a top down approach. The other thing I would say is that I see cities or counties relying too much on either qualitative measures, or they rely too much on data. And what we need to do is find a happy medium where we can pair the two together. I'll use my trash pickups example again, oh, we want you know, to increase 100 trash pickups, a weak Okay, well, what is that going to help with overall, what's the qualitative goal over here that this is going to drive us to? So really being able to connect all those together. And the last item I would add is really the idea of integrated plan management, which is really where we specialize. So we know that a city or county is never going to have one plan going on at one time. You'll have your comprehensive plan. You'll have a strategic plan or you have what some of my city's called work or operations plan. In some way you can connect all of those together. So Those aren't siloed plans. And that way you can see how they all intersect. And what you'll find is that it's going to be very easy to get a high level overview of progress across your entire city or county, and you'll get a really good idea of where you stand and the improvements that you need to make.
Yeah, thank you. You know, I'm thinking back on the sort of the main theme of this talk, we're having Amanda and we, at the very onset, we said, it's about execution and accountability. And I love what you just said about cadence, a meeting a regular rhythm, a regular cadence of getting together and making this a priority. And I've noticed that when, when my manager says it's important, and it's on the calendar, all of a sudden, it becomes important. And I have to sort of snap to, you know, I have to pay attention. And I like this phrase, you know, you can't expect what you don't inspect, right? So so we need to, we need to have a regular cadence of updating and focusing on this, or else it just becomes kind of the latest fad. And a year later, we're like, why did we buy that software. So I really appreciate that, that comment about about meeting. And I think that's so important. So if people want to get a hold of you, it's achieve att.com Is your website and ice and your email is
a Cy are at Achieve it.com. And if you go to my LinkedIn as well, I do have a link to my calendar there. So you can feel free to schedule time at your leisure. And if you go to the state and local page and achieve it and requested a demo, the likelihood of you getting paired with me is pretty high. So that's also an easy way to get in touch with me. Yeah,
so achieve it, achieveit.com Great, great service, they provide Amanda's very friendly, and very responsive individual, We've certainly enjoyed getting to know you over the last several months and learning about your business. And you know, we just at the end of the day, and you said this earlier on actually at the end of the day we we act we truly want to help local government agencies and their leaders achieve we want them to perform well and make life easy for them. And we do that on the leadership side right getting along with people and handling conflict well, and you kind of do it on this, this whole planning side of the business. And so I know you have a real heart for serving those in local government as we do. And so thank you very much for being with us today.
Yes, thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate it. Um, should anyone have any questions, feel free to email me and since we talked about travel, I'm off to Puerto Rico in the next few days. So really looking forward to that.
Nice, well enjoy your trip. And I did want to say at the very end here, if you those of you listening, if you have any suggestions for topics for these podcasts. If you want to reach out to me, it's pretty simple. It's bill at leader gov.com. Let me know we'd love to hear from you. And as usual, thank you so much for investing your time in this podcast and in your effort to become a better leader. Serve your team better and to serve your community better. So thank you so much for joining us, and we'll see you next time.