Overcoming Challenges to Shared-Services Success


At the Alliance for Innovation’s recent Transforming Local Government conference, Virginia Beach was awarded a 2015 Innovation Award for its shared-service plan with Norfolk and Chesapeake. Too often, people weigh the cost savings and efficiency of shared services against the risk of job loss and political difficulties and conclude it’s just not worth it.

In working with governments like Virginia Beach that have successfully implemented initiatives, we’ve found there are ways to maneuver around or through these roadblocks. They may not be quick or easy, but it’s worth the effort to help governments run more efficiently and effectively.

Enlist the private sector. Business and non-profit leaders understand shared services because many of them embraced the approach years ago. They can jump-start the conversation by providing examples from their own businesses, and elected officials often find their point of view persuasive.

Involve elected officials early. There are political risks to sharing services that include potential job losses and changes in the way jurisdictions do business. Even if the long-term benefits are worth it, there’s good reason for political leadership to be at least a little nervous about the idea, and they may fear they’ll be blamed if anything goes wrong. Enlisting their involvement early in the process, and keeping them updated on the efforts, can help make them effective allies.

Survey the options. The possibilities for sharing services can seem endless, which makes it hard to know where to start. That’s why it helps to launch by empowering a committee to make a list of all the options, no matter how big or small. As ideas are considered by a diverse group of interested parties, a list of important projects often emerges. Tackle a few manageable ones for quick, early wins, but make a plan to tackle the harder projects once the effort gains some momentum.

Be transparent about jobs. Doing more with less can make leaders and residents happy, but it can also lead to a smaller workforce. Handle this challenge by open communication. Let employees share their feedback so they know what’s going on and have a chance to offer their ideas. Attrition and not filling open positions can lessen the negative impact on employees. Being honest about the process and keeping people informed will go a long way in easing fears about the future.

Make a plan for implementation. It’s dispiriting for everyone involved to go through the effort of identifying changes, only to see their ideas die on a shelf somewhere. Make sure all that hard work doesn’t go to waste by creating an implementation plan that includes tasks both immediate and long-term, along with the people charged with carrying them out. Make sure the priorities are included in the performance reviews of managers and staff. Come back to the plan at regular intervals to check on progress, and update it on a regular basis as the organization evolves.

Jerry Newfarmer is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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