“Like many organisations, we felt that we spent a lot of time talking about what ‘we thought the customer wanted’, rather than connecting more deeply with them,” says Allan Lightbourne, chief digital officer at Tauranga City Council.
The executive team also wanted to create a better culture of community and customer centricity within the organisation.
These, he says, became the backdrop of the first rollout of the Net Promoter Score at the TCC, the first council in the Southern Hemisphere to implement the tool.
Their initial concerns for the project were two-fold, getting organisational buy in, and its impact on the council’s BAU activities.
So rather than go straight to a big project or business case, Lighbourne says the digital services team worked with one of the business units that was struggling with customer feedback.
“Focusing on a small agile and MVP approach, in two weeks we had a prototype up and running, with minimal effort required for the business unit. This approach made it easy for the business unit to be involved and also for us to collectively back out if required,” he states.
For the prototype, they had three objectives: Understand if customers would provide feedback, understand if feedback was valuable and help the connect/improve the customer experience, and understand if the feedback levels were maintained over time.
After two months, Lightbourne says all objectives have been achieved, and even exceeded targets. Other business units were lining up to be involved, wanting to implement NPS in their respective areas.
By the time we had begun implementing NPS in our third business unit, we found a number of surprises, says Lightbourne.
The teams were becoming really focused on improving their processes, based on customer feedback. There was a healthy competition between teams, as they worked to get top NPS and biggest improvement in scores.
They also discovered issues that have been impacting customers were being resolved, he says.
Lighbourne says as part of the project, the digital services team also prototyped robotic process automation.
We wanted to speed up processes, where the high manual effort was impacting the customer experience, he says. “These small, but important changes, also allowed our people the time to focus on higher value activities.”
They then built a suite of NPS Insights using PowerBI that provided the executive and councillors with an understanding of where their challenges and opportunities were.
This insight was rolled out as part of a wider BI programme of work
It was designed to make information from across our 48 business units available in real-time to anyone in the organisation, says Lightbourne.
Over a year on, Lightbourne says the NPS project continues to go strong.
“Not only has it changed the way that the organisation thinks about customer feedback, but it has made improving customer experience more visible and something that everyone in the organisation can be a part of,” he says.
He says the initiative was a finalist for the ALGIM Innovative Project of the year award, based on the technology, outcomes and approach.
Sparking agile mindset
The NPS project is an example of how the digital services team and its leaders are impacting the culture across the organisation.
“The leadership role in our journey is to model behaviours, set a clear plan and lead from the front,” says Lighbourne.
His team has replaced long sit-down meetings with daily standup and fortnightly team standups.
The weekly meetings focus on people and processes, he says. They start with health and safety at work issues, then cover off development and training for staff, and share stories about how the team is going and where they need to offer support.
“We talk about how we can provide our people with more experience inside or outside the organisation and get feedback from the wider organisation about our performance and how we can learn from this feedback,” says Lightbourne.
They also opened their standup meetings to the rest of the council.
“Not only do we encourage others to attend, but we also coach other teams on how to leverage stand-ups and Kanban boards,” he says.
The digital services team, he says, has seen a significant uplift in performance and engagement of the last 12 months, says Lightbourne.
“But one of the biggest differentiators has been the way that the organisation sees us.”
These initiatives support his view that one of the main roles of the CDO is to support the 650 people across the organisation to be the best they can be.
“This extends into the community where we strive to find ways to continue to grow and strengthen our connection,” says Lightbourne.
“This is my first priority every day of the week.”
Within the Digital Service Team, we strive to be ‘the number one team’, he says.
“While this is not a competition, it is our collective call to action that reminds us all to strive for our best everyday.”
The digital services started a restructure over a year ago that was driven by a strategy that focuses on value, rather than cost, he says.
“Our strategy is underpinned by a set of behaviours that were developed collectively by the team.”
He ensures the team members have the right skills and environment to succeed, and extends this commitment to the rest of the council.
He spends time in local schools and businesses mentoring staff and students and is part of the NZTech Leaders, a group of technology and digital leaders that help address tech-related issues of national importance.
He is also on the advisory board of the Strategic CIO Programme at the University of Auckland Business School, and a board member of ALGIM, an organisation focused on moving technology, customer experience and digital forward across all councils.
“Tauranga is a city of opportunity and potential,” he says. “To realise that potential, we need to make sure that our people (of all ages) have the skills to gain the right sort of employment and in turn help our local businesses and economy succussed.”
In addition to his engagement with local schools, Lightbourne is part of the Tauranga Digital Enablement Programme.
This is a city-wide initiative, involving the council, big business and startups to plan how Tauranga and the Western Bay, can maximise the opportunities from digital technologies. These range from education through to implementation of smart city and IoT initiatives.
Like every council, TCC is a large and very complex environment, running 48 different businesses that cover everything from an airport, to animal control, says Lightbourne.
“While having a seat at the executive table gives you a level of influence, with an organisation of this complexity, real influence happens through engagement and understanding deeper in the organisation,” he states. Lighbourne.
“For me, this means that I make sure I’m visible across all of our sights, run drop-in and stand-up sessions across the organisation, attend social-club events, and most of all share my successes, failures, life lessons and learnings.”
“Remember to start and finish with people,” he says, on a valuable career lesson he can share.
Project objectives can vary; cost, growth or risk management, he says.
He admits early in his career, these objectives sometimes got in the way of his focus on people.
He recalls how a few years ago, he was a sponsor on a cost reduction project. Midway through the project, things appeared to be going well. It was on time, on budget and senior stakeholders were happy.
“What we hadn’t connected with,” says Lightbourne, “was the pulse of the people at the coalface.”
This project was directly impacting their roles and potentially leading to redundancies. Since this had been out of the scope of the project, we had really ignored the most critical success factor, he says.
“If people within the organisation don’t embrace the project, then it will ultimately fail.”
He says they overcame these challenges by fronting up to the affected business units.
“We provided them with a clear vision on ‘why’ this project was important to the customers, and how it would impact staff and customers, and why it was critical that staff were engaged on this.”
“This experience really changed the way that I lead and sponsor a project,” he says. “I’ve become focused on putting the people aspects at the heart of project objectives and critical success factors.”