When Mecklenburg County, N.C., faced budget cuts in 2010, 12 IT positions were on the chopping block. But rather than conduct layoffs, we created a plan to save three positions by sharing IT staff with other public-sector agencies. The cross-staffing arrangement has worked so well that other governments with staffing challenges would be wise to consider such an initiative.
The Mecklenburg County Information Technology Department has an established project management office and business process management services. Our project managers hold the Project Management Institute's Project Management Professional credential, and our business process management staffers are certified as Six Sigma Black Belts. We thought we could leverage our expertise and gain revenue in the process.
Under our job sharing initiative, full-time IT staff members are assigned to neighboring agencies such as the city of Charlotte and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. One senior project manager helped the city with its enterprise resource planning project, while another helped the school district transition a system to a statewide application. The county also assigned a senior process consultant to the city to aid Charlotte's IT consolidation initiative. In effect, the arrangement for our local partners is like outsourcing with a contractor you already know. What's more, the collaboration strengthens partnerships with other organizations.
Finding new ways to avoid slashing staff has preserved morale within the IT department. Workers have told me they really appreciate IT leaders coming up with strategies other than just cutting IT jobs. When times are tight, think outside the box and show your staff you care about them. This will also give your staff a chance to learn new business and technical skills.
Share and Share Alike
To launch the cross-staffing initiative, we created a memorandum of understanding to document the scope of services being offered by the Mecklenburg County IT department and the appropriation of funds received. The agreement documents the grounds for termination by either party and stipulates how long the agreement will last.
Once per quarter, our IT department invoices the city and school district for services rendered by the county IT staff. Managers report each employee's hours to the fiscal administrator on a monthly basis.
We're now in our second year of the job sourcing program with two workers still being provided to Charlotte — a senior project manager and a senior process consultant.
Because our fiscal outlook has improved, we were able to bring one IT worker back into the department. We generated approximately $400,000 in revenue from the city and school district during the first year of job sourcing, allowing us to funnel a net profit of $40,000 to extra training funds.
Steps for Success
Several factors have contributed to the success of our cross-staffing strategy. For starters, it's critical to communicate the benefits of the arrangement openly and honestly to your staff. When I told my service unit we have an opportunity to strengthen our partnership with the city and school district to save jobs, generate revenue and funnel additional training funds back into our budget, staff eagerly agreed to help.
Pick the right employees to outsource. When you're trying to strengthen your partnership with other government agencies, choose some of your best, most senior staff for the job sourcing arrangement.
Finally, continue to meet with the other leaders on a monthly or quarterly basis to ensure the sourcing arrangement is still on track. Consistent, open communication with the city of Charlotte and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has helped maintain a great partnership.
I encourage other government agencies to consider the alternative of staff sourcing. This new approach will help maintain morale, expand skills and strengthen your partnership with other government agencies.