January 3, 2022

A Consensus Vision for Organizational Alignment

I’ve always looked forward to the beginning of a new Council term as an opportunity for a fresh start.  To candidly assess what we’ve been doing well and what we could be doing better.  For me the biggest takeaway from the last term is that we as a Council never quite managed to coalesce around a consensus vision and policy direction.

In fairness we were substantially hindered by all the disruption of the pandemic, which took hold only a few months in.  We were unable to conduct our spring pre-budget planning sessions, which in a typical year is when that vision and direction are established, or even just to meet face-to-face on a regular basis for much of the term.  But still, there was more to it than that.  Consensus building requires a deliberate effort, and for whatever reason it simply didn’t happen.

So applying that lesson learned, the new Council will kick things off with a planning session later this month, a primary focus of which will be the development of Council Priorities for formal adoption.  The existing document has not been updated since 2019 (now two Councils ago), so it’s admittedly long overdue.  And it matters, because it’s through the Priorities that Council expresses the vision and direction that have been missing.

To be clear, consensus building and Council Priorities are not about unanimity.  We’ll continue to have our differences of opinion, which is healthy and through robust debate often leads to the best outcomes.  Instead, the goal is alignment.

As illustrated by the interrelational arrows of our Strategic Planning Model, the Council Priorities provide policy direction to the city staff and (along with the other planning elements) help them ensure their day-to-day efforts are in alignment with Council objectives.  Also, the consensus approach fosters acceptance and buy-in of the product as reflective of the will of the body as a whole.

That alignment between Council and staff is going to be all the more essential when we hire our next City Manager in the coming months.  Not only for him or her to get started off on the right foot, but also because of the number of staff vacancies to be filled, many of them in key leadership positions.  We’ve got some organizational rebuilding to do, and Council can best support our next City Manager by providing greater clarity of direction moving forward.  We must do our part so that staff can do theirs.

As the new Council takes office this evening we no doubt have our work cut out for us.  Getting the organization back on track starts at the top, and our upcoming planning session will be an important first step.  We’re eager to get underway, and are committed to working together in defining our consensus vision for the future of Bellaire.