Consider this case study of Fremont, California featured in your textbook and answer the following questions:
When Jan Perkins became city manager of Fremont, California, in 1992, Fremont like many other California cities, was suffering from both economic difficulties and the state’s efforts to pull back the property tax as a source of local government revenue. Yet while city employees were being laid off and services were being reduced, citizen demand for quality public services remained high. More important in Perkins’ mind was the fact that citizens had lost confidence in their government. For both of these reasons, Perkins and other city officials in Fremont recognized that something dramatically different had to be done.
The change process started early in Perkins’ tenure, as one of her council members proposed bringing in an outside consultant (at a cost of $500,000) to diagnose what might be done. Especially because a neighboring city had just done the same thing and failed to adopt a single recommendation, Perkins believed that greater benefits could be obtained by working with those within the city to figure out how the quality and productivity of the city might be improved. A facilitated workshop session involving top elected and appointed officials was devoted to understanding “what we do, how we do it, and why we do it.” From there, the question became, “How can we do it better and how can we become fast and flexible, customer oriented, focused on results, and engaged in important partnerships internally and externally?”
During the 5 years following the workshop, Perkins led a dramatic change in Fremont’s city government – a change built around delivering high-quality services to citizens, creating an internal culture built around continuous and employee-driven improvement, using a highly collaborative approach to decision-making and problem-solving, and building partnerships within the city and with surrounding communities.
The city’s interest in customer service was given initial priority as complaints regarding service quality were heard loud and clear. Perkins and her senior staff began to concentrate on developing a serious philosophical and practical commitment to service quality. The message to employees was that if they saw a way in which the citizens of Fremont could be better served by city government, then they should take action. In addition, the city’s capacity to innovate was aided by a much more collaborative approach to decision-making and problem-solving which cut across traditional organizational boundaries. Whatever their positions, employees were encouraged to think of themselves as representatives of the city and to do what was necessary to provide citizens with the answers they need. This attitude was also supported by a strong emphasis on partnerships and collaborations at many different levels in the organization. Early in the process of labor negotiation, Perkins created joint labor-management committees to consider “quality of work life” issues through a structured problem-solving process known as interest-based bargaining. This collaborative process encourages participants to identify their basic interests (before jumping to solutions) and then to engage in collaborative problem-solving to find a way of accommodating the varied interests represented. Interest-based bargaining was so highly successful in labor-management relations that the same approach has been encouraged throughout city government. Training in the process has been offered to all employees of the city, and interest-based bargaining has become a standard way of doing business in Fremont.
The same approach to building partnerships through collaborative efforts is used as the city relates to citizens and to other nearby governmental entities. City employees do not just inform citizens about what is going to be done to them. They also go out and ask citizens what they want and then balance those interests with those of the city. Beyond that, city employees and citizens engage in interest-based problem-solving even around issues of how to design a process to involve the public. The city engineer commented, “We do more than tell them what we are going to do. We go out now and involve them in the design of the process itself. The process is laid out by the people involved.”
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