When Pam Syfert began her career as a city research analyst in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1972, she was quickly convinced by managers that performance measurement was the key to a city’s success. In the early 1970s, this was remarkable: Many other cities regarded performance measurement as some kind of time-wasting bean-counting exercise.
Some 27 years later, Syfert is city manager of Charlotte, the nation’s 25th-largest city and one of the fastest-growing communities. You might expect Syfert would be inclined to let Charlotte rest on its laurels as a famously well-managed place.
Not Syfert, an energetic 57-year-old with a gift for plain speaking. Although she remains committed to performance measurement, she has become more aware of and concerned about its shortcomings. “Over the years, city staff measured everything from workload, response time and cost per unit to efficiency and effectiveness,” Syfert says. “One unintended result was information overload. There were lengthy reports with data generated that few people read.”
That’s why Syfert is moving the city toward a form of performance measurement known as the “balanced scorecard,” which, Syfert is convinced, will give managers better tools. Charlotte is the first major municipality in the country to try it out.
The key, Syfert explains, is to highlight just four critical indicators of success: customer service; financial accountability; internal work efficiencies; and employee learning and growth. Each indicator is then broken down into various goals. For example, success at customer service citywide is defined, in part, as increasing citizens’ perception of public safety and making convenient transportation available. Balanced scorecards can be used at every level of city government.
Agency leaders seem excited by the effort, Syfert says. “Building a scorecard helps managers link today’s actions with the achievement of today’s priorities. It encourages accountability. And, today, we define accountability by results.”
It’s certainly hard to argue with Syfert’s track record when it comes to results. Charlotte is a national leader in neighborhood revitalization, promoting public-private partnerships, keeping service costs down, and cutting the size of government bureaucracy. The number of non-public-safety, general fund employees there has decreased from 2,150 to 1,313 since 1991. Charlotte’s managed competition program, in which city units and private-sector concerns compete for city contracts, is saving the city about $9 million a year.
One Syfert innovation particularly visible to Charlotte’s citizens is the city’s Customer Service Center, a single phone number that citizens can call if they have any questions about city or county government. It got its start a decade ago, when Hurricane Hugo hit North Carolina. Syfert, then assistant city manager, set up a Hugo Hotline, and it proved so popular that Syfert moved to expand it to all city services.
Over her 27 years in Charlotte’s government, Syfert has held a series of jobs, including stints as budget director and deputy city manager; she was named to the job she now holds in 1996. In a day when so many government managers are hired guns, moving from city to city in search of more money and responsibility, Syfert is a refreshing throwback. “Charlotte is my home, my community. My family is there,” she says. “We’re part of the community, we pay taxes, go to church there, sent our kids to school there.”
In fact, after 31 years living there, Syfert sometimes sounds more like a professional resident than a professional manager. And that’s been a very good thing for Charlotte.
— Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene
Photo by Roger Ball