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Council Transition Support Expert Interview: Alan Rushbrook, local government finance expert

LKS Quaero is offering a complete package of Council Transition Support for amalgamating NSW Councils. This is part of a series of interviews in which our transition expert team members pass on some key nuggets of advice.

Alan Rushbrook is a local government financial specialist whose experience goes well beyond financial management as he has sandwiched his financial career with managing community service activities. He brings a strong reputation for leading teams and providing robust policy advice. His varied experience in local government, both in senior management roles and as a consultant, in large city Councils and small rural Councils, has provided him with many skills, particularly in the financial management, corporate support, and community services functional areas. Alan is a Fellow of the Australian Society of CPAs, qualified in Myers Briggs administration and Juran quality management. Here is his advice for CFOs and other leaders of amalgamating Councils.

What opportunities are there for finance teams during an amalgamation?

Amalgamations are the time when finance staff need to shine. It is when our skill sets can provide enormous value to the new organisation.

Why do I say this? It is a time of change. Often inertia and conventional wisdom dominate Council decision making, making change hard: not just difficult to do, but hard to get started. So when there is a changing environment, your first impediment to change is overcome!

It will be a time of immense work, but be sure to take time to think strategically for your Council, your team, and yourself. It can be too easy to get caught up in the focus of moving systems, people, registers, etc, etc. and not raising your vision beyond your desktop. Take time to think beyond the next meeting.

Be clear about what you want to see change, whether it be the strategic financial direction of Council, the structure of your department, or a particular process. The favourite for me in the past has been to challenge some of those areas of waste or inefficiency that have just been accepted or have been protected. Even if many of the players haven’t changed, sometimes they may not be so passionate or committed about their programs or activities as they once were. When things don’t have the usual balance, it might be a good time to get some things changed.

Also, there will be some untied dollars around. Have a think about what you or your team could use that you haven’t been able to get funding for in the past. Set systems up for the future as best you can.

How can you ensure the right financial decisions are made for the long term?

This is easy. Mediocrity is your enemy! It is too easy to look for and take short cuts. If that is not your style, make sure it is not how your teams work or what you accept from those above. If you accept “that will be good enough,” it will come back to bite you later. Whether the issue is a temptation to rush data cleansing or not provide enough analysis in a strategic plan, it has to be done properly.

What is most important thing CFOs can do now?

Planning will be critical. The last thing you, your team, or your Council need is confusion and lack of focus. Planning will help avoid that. Apart from all the usual project management tools, there is one word it is worthwhile keeping in mind: participation.

Ensure that all relevant staff are involved and remain involved and informed about what needs to happen, how it will happen, and what has happened. Also, make sure that you and your staff are involved wherever decisions are made that will impact Council in the future. They need financial expertise to make the right decisions. Make sure you have the right people sitting around the right tables.

What is your advice for leaders as the amalgamation process begins?

If you are in a position of leadership, you need to be ready to lead.

Be clear in your own mind what want to achieve through the amalgamation, with not more than 5 goals.

Be clear about how you are going to lead your team. There will be uncertainty and work – mountains of both. You have to be more visible and provide stronger leadership to your team, your peers, and your bosses. Plan how you will do that.

Be clear about how you will remain fresh and maintain a balanced life, whatever that is for you. Work will demand more; be clear about how much of you it can have. Talk to those closest to you about this.

How can you help you with the current transition?

At LKS Quaero, we work with transforming organisations every day. That is what we do. We can help you manage the process you are going though. We can provide strategic guidance for you and your team, keep asking you the right questions. We can also be the external project managers to help you stay focused on what you need manage. We have been through what you are experiencing and have a number of tools and checklists to assist you. If you need assistance developing financial strategic plans, we assist with that as well.

At LKS Quaero, we offer support to new Councils across culture and leadership, strategy development, financial analysis and advice, industrial relations, structure and recruitment. Transitioning to a new entity represents a massive opportunity. It’s a chance to re-set the vision, strategy, and culture for a new organisation. At the same time, there are pitfalls to be avoided across all areas of operations. See our Council Transition Support page for more information. If you’d like to know more, visit us at lksquaero.com or follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

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