Helicopter View

Helicopter View

22.1.2016 Admitting to mistakes: Weekender Column 98


Newsflash! Humans are fallible. Some may like to think otherwise but it has been proven a few times in the past that we all make mistakes. Organisations, including Government organisations, are made up of humans. It would therefore stand to reason that organisations make mistakes. As nice as it would be for that not to be the case, we have to accept that it is.

The next part is where it becomes interesting. It is how we deal with mistakes that makes all the difference.

Steve Waugh (Australia’s equal highest capped Test cricketer and former Australian captain) once said: “When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it. 1. Admit it. 2. Learn from it. 3. Don’t repeat it.” I go a step further and Rule 20 from Small Business Ru!es says that you should “Admit mistakes and fix them immediately.”

The first step in both of those statements is where many people struggle. By admitting to a mistake, it enhances that feeling of fallibility and, dare I stretch it, our feeling of mortality.

Where people miss the point is that research clearly shows that we all have a great deal of respect when a mistake is admitted and a solution is suggested. In fact detailed research shows 96 percent of clients who experienced a problem and had it resolved will use that business again compared to only 89 percent who experienced no problem. As you would expect, the figure drops dramatically (23 percent) for people who experienced a problem without effective resolution.

As everyone in the State is aware, NSW is currently in the middle of 35 different merger proposals. Unfortunately Dubbo is more involved in this than we want to be as there is a proposal to form Dubbington from the existing Dubbo City Council and Wellington Council areas. Leaving aside the fact that our community and our Council are against such a merger for the time being, the most disappointing part is the mistake-ridden and therefore flawed process that is currently being undertaken.

The centrepiece of the merger is a merger proposal document that was published on 6 January. This twenty page document was supposed to spell out – in great detail – all of the reasons the State Government was recommending these two Local Government Areas (LGAs) for a merger. It talks about the “four years of extensive consultation, research and analysis” that has been undertaken to create this proposal and goes further to say that “this merger proposal sets out the impacts, benefits and opportunities of creating a new council.” Forget the pros and cons – this document is designed to convince the public that this is a wonderful idea and we should all just sit idly aside and let it happen.

I am not sure if they expected people to be convinced after they read the opening page or just hoped people wouldn’t read any further, but the document is riddled with errors. These errors start with simple mathematical errors where the new population of the combined LGA does not equal the two current populations added together. They used KPMG no less – the fourth largest professional services firm in the world – yet they still couldn’t add together two numbers. The errors move further onto simple copy and paste errors where Dubbo – almost five times larger than Wellington – apparently has an identical number of houses as Wellington. Then you start to notice that the population of Wellington changes in the document. You start to question what numbers were used to make population predictions when numbers seem to be rubbery in the document. Then it goes further to the fact that the operating revenue of the two organisations was wrong in the main table summarising facts on each LGA. Not just a little bit. It was wrong to the tune of $7.2 million. In my experience, when you start to spot small errors then it shows a lack of attention to details and it brings into question all of the information. Philosophically the statement that the two LGAs “have a common heritage in both agriculture and mining.” Given the fact that Wellington last had a mine in 1908 and Dubbo has never had a mine, they may as well have said we have a common heritage in flying saucers because neither LGA has flying saucers (that I know of). Agriculture is incredibly important to Wellington with 24 per cent of rating assessments coming from farmland and it is the LGA’s largest employer with 21.7 per cent. Dubbo, on the other hand, had only 4 per cent of farmland rating assessments and, at 2.8 per cent of employment, agriculture is number 12 in our list of employment sectors.

All of this is frustrating and annoying and particularly disappointing – but it could be fixed. The State Government needs to create a new – accurate – document and start the consultation process again asking people to attend meetings and make submissions with correct information at hand.

Unfortunately this State government is passing off the “minor errors” as simply “printing errors” and asking the public to instead, look at the big picture. It is hard to see the big picture past the litany of errors – in particular when no detailed information is available to demonstrate how the big picture has been calculated.

I think the public is much cleverer than the State Government gives them credit for. I hope our public lets the State Government know – at public meetings and with submissions – what they think of the mistake riddled concept of amalgamation.

#NoDubbington