Belfast is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland. Located on the River Lagan, it has a population of over 330,000 people. The city has undergone substantial economic growth and commercial development since the political unrest it has seen in the past.
I have worked with numerous organisations across Belfast and Northern Ireland. Here I want to look at how I helped to develop a strategic performance management system for Belfast City Council and more recently a plan for the entire city called The Belfast Agenda.
Belfast City Council wanted to be in a position to improve the quality of life in the city by improving both service delivery and the Council’s civic leadership role and a new strategic performance management system was seen as a core tool to help achieve this.
Belfast City Council hired me to help them map their strategy, develop meaningful performance indicators and put in place state of the art performance management processes.
Mapping the strategy onto a single page
The first step was to create a one-page map of their strategy. I started the process by interviewing the various chief officers, the party groups as well as external stakeholders to identify the key strategic goals. We then used internal workshops and a wider consultation to get feedback to refine and agree a final strategy map.
The strategic map has become a living document for Belfast City Council that has evolved through each annual planning cycle to ensure it remains relevant. In the figure below you can see an example of Belfast City Council’s strategy map.
At the top of the map is the corporate vision, followed by the key deliverables, which are grouped into 3 themes, and underpinned by key enablers of performance.
Aligning Projects and Prioritising Initiatives
Once the strategy was mapped and agreed, the process began to align and prioritise supporting organisational initiatives and programmes. To inform this process a heat map (a colour-coded strategic map) was created. Each strategic element on the map was colour coded using red, amber, yellow and green - indicating poor performance, significant performance problems, minor performance problems and good performance. All existing corporate initiatives, projects and programmes were identified and mapped against the strategic map. This proved a powerful process as it made sure that the right strategic initiatives were in place to deliver the strategy.
Developing Key Performance Indicators
In order to monitor and manage the delivery of their strategic goals, the Council required performance metrics. To identify the most relevant and meaningful measures, we first developed Key Performance Questions, or KPQs for short. KPQs are the questions the organisation needs to have an answer to in order to understand how well it is performing against their strategic goals. This process ensures that subsequently designed Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are helping to answer the most important questions.
For example, for the goal ‘Better Support for People and Communities’ the council identified KPQs such as:
• To what extent do people enjoy living in a vibrant, share and diverse city – measured by KPIs including ‘% residents who agree people from different backgrounds get on well in their areas’.
• To what extent are we reducing health and social inequalities – measured by KPIs such as usage of community and leisure centres, number of anti-social behaviour, etc.
Dashboards and Performance Reporting
With KPIs in place, the Council was able to create performance reports and dashboards to provide real-time insights into the performance of the organisation. Today, the dashboards are automated and provide an integrated and consolidated set of performance information to the staff of Belfast City Council. In the two figures below you can see screen shots of the performance reporting system.
Towards a city-wide agenda
Because of the success Belfast City Council saw from implementing their own strategic maps and performance management processes, it wanted to help facilitate the creation of a strategic agenda for the entire city.
I was again commissioned and this time interviewed stakeholders from across many organisations in the city and analysed a lot of citizen feedback from online questionnaires as well as social media interactions. We involved all key players in the city from health and social services, economic development, emergency services, education, and many others. We then drafted a first version of the Belfast Agenda and facilitated a series of citywide workshops as well as a wider consultation process. This was known as the Belfast Conversation and generated nearly 7,000 comments that helped shape the vision and aspirations for the city.
You can see the initial one-page strategic map outlining a draft vision as well as key themes to focus on plus a set of strategic enablers.
This draft has been fine-tuned into the current Belfast Agenda, with the following priorities.
Ideas and insights you can steal
Belfast City Council has created a strategic performance management framework that helps everyone understand the priorities by mapping them onto a simple one-page map. This helped to focus everyone on the things that really matter and allowed the Council to manage and measure what is most important. The process was so successful that the Council initiated the development of a city vision using the same process. If it is possible to map (and agree) the agenda for an entire city onto a single page (especially given the political diversity and different stakeholder interests), then this is something every organisation can do, too.
Bernard Marr is an internationally bestselling author, futurist, keynote speaker, and strategic advisor to companies and governments. He advises and coaches many of the world’s best-known organisations on strategy, digital transformation and business performance. LinkedIn has recently ranked Bernard as one of the top 5 business influencers in the world and the No 1 influencer in the UK. He has authored 16 best-selling books, is a frequent contributor to the World Economic Forum and writes a regular column for Forbes. Every day Bernard actively engages his almost 2 million social media followers and shares content that reaches millions of readers.