If you have come to the conclusion that changes are needed to improve customer service in the development process, there are some key questions to think about.  For example:

  • Based upon initial research, are you expecting the changes to the development process to be significant?
  • Do anticipated changes involve multiple local city or county departments or agencies?
  • Have previous efforts to improve the process failed or did not achieve adequate improvements to service?

If the answers to any or all of these questions are “yes”, then defining who will sponsor the next set of changes is crucial to achieving any kind of success.  From experience, most local government development services improvement programs fail if a clear “sponsor” with authority, or at least influence, over all involved “stakeholders” is not appointed by decision-makers.  Let’s take a look at those two terms of consequence…..”Sponsor” and “Stakeholders”.

Sponsor – This is the individual (or a key designee) that is directly responsible to ensuring that improvements are identified and implemented in a timely fashion.  This person, in essence, has their “neck on the line”.  They also are expected to wield a tremendous amount of influence…..so things get done.  However, they also feel the unfettered pressure from development community members and elected officials to make things happen quick.  The buck stops here….so there is substantial priority for this effort in this individual’s day-to-day work!

Stakeholder – These are city/county departments or agencies that are part of the development services sphere of service delivery.  They have a piece of the action when it comes to providing permits/approvals or sign-offs for aspects of providing customers with information or authorization for a development-related project (e.g. – a new commercial building, subdivision of land for sale, adding a kitchen or deck to a residential structure, etc.).  Frankly, these folks have “turf” related issues with changes.  The mantra is….”we have always done it this way, why change.  Is there a problem?”  Some departments/agencies see the need to change and are proactive to make improvements.  Others are less motivated and more entrenched in the status quo.  However, since the “system” is so integral, changes in one area and not another won’t yield the required level of improvements. It is better, but not good enough.

The problem, or opportunity as it might be, is that someone has to take the customer’s point of view and bridge the various disparate parts of the process to understand issues and opportunities.  Individual departments or agencies usually can’t.  So by default, this is usually the Sponsor’s job….take the bigger view.  If a consultant is involved, they assist the sponsor with this task.  The role and the need for a sponsor should not be underestimated.

So who is this sponsor and what qualifications should they have?  From experience, there are a few key traits I look for:

  1. They have an executive-level status with the ability to control stakeholders if needed through direct reporting or implied authority.
  2. They are well respected and stakeholders understand that they will push an issue if needed.
  3. The improvement effort is a priority for them and they recognize that to be successful they must invest time in the effort.
  4. They can be approached with ideas and accepts input willingly.
  5. They delegate easily and can empower teams and/or staff to develop ideas and recommendations.  They don’t have to be involved in every discussion to be comfortable with progress, but rely on key staff members for updates (change agents).
  6. They make decisions when needed or when asked to.
  7. They expect results and keep people accountable for them.

Ok, this person should not have to walk on water, but they must be willing to pull out the “big stick” to keep the process moving and ensure that people involved are accountable. Bottom line is, success depends on sponsorship.  Successful sponsorship depends on the individual and their abilities to lead.  Do you have this person in charge of your improvement effort?  It is best to question these points before you start an improvement effort.  If you wait you will suffer loss of time and results.