Rotorua’s seven deputy chief executives: Seven months in, no job descriptions

Rotorua’s seven deputy chief executives have gone more than seven months without job descriptions – a situation an employment lawyer says is ‘unusual’.

Rotorua Lakes Council has also created 10 new director or manager roles at tier three – the level below deputy chief executive.

A local government change management expert says he cannot see the justification for the organisational realignment or why it has taken so long to develop job descriptions.

The deputy chief executives were appointed on March 29 as part of an “organisational realignment”, which the council says is ongoing.

On October 21 council chief executive Geoff Williams said the job descriptions were “nearing completion” and the process had been delayed by the most recent lockdown.

In June, Williams said the job descriptions were “finalised to the point where they’re mostly done”.

On Friday, the council confirmed the job descriptions were still not finalised.

Williams said the deputy chief executives were clear on what they needed to achieve and he would not have “a debate in the media with external commentators” who had not been part of the internal process.

The council directed Local Democracy Reporting to documents laying out the “final functional groupings” of each deputy chief executive area and said these would provide the basis for the incomplete job descriptions.

Holland Beckett partner and employment law expert Christie McGregor said in her opinion the functional groupings documents were not job descriptions as would be expected, as they did not contain descriptions of the duties and individual expectations, rather the measures of success for each deputy’s team.

“This does not provide good parameters of individual expectations or performance to manage the deputy chief executives.”

She noted the Local Government Act stated a local authority should act as a “good employer” and said normally a job description was crafted at the time employment was offered, or when an employee changed roles.

“It would be unusual to have someone work for seven months in a senior role … without having a position description in place.”

McGregor said employment agreements should ideally have a description of the role’s duties and responsibilities as “a matter of good practice”.

These provided clarity around the role’s requirements and authority, and reduced risk particularly if performance questions or disputes about expectations were raised later.

She said while position descriptions traditionally outlined duties and responsibilities, those could be found outside of a purpose-built document, such as what the role had traditionally done, or in policy.

An employer wasn’t required to set key performance indicators or performance expectations but it was good practice.

“For a larger or more sophisticated employer, this is relatively standard, with performance being reviewed on regular occasions and feedback being provided on performance.”

McGregor said in her experience the absence of a position description created uncertainty.

“The situation could be salvaged, provided the employer is clear in its communication and engages in good faith with its affected employees around the responsibilities and duties that have not been discussed/agreed or being performed.”

She said job descriptions for the deputy chief executives’ former roles were “comprehensive”.

Local government change management expert Dr Andy Asquith said, in his view, the organisational realignment changes “didn’t do much good” for the public’s trust in the council and he couldn’t see how it would improve council performance.

“It beggars belief. I can’t see any justification for what they’re doing. It doesn’t stack up.

“Stunts like this in Rotorua undermine all the good will.”

Regarding the lack of job descriptions for the deputies, Asquith said: “So much time has passed. What are they doing?”

“Why do they have to be called deputy chief executive to do their job?”

In September, deputy chief executive Craig Tiriana said the cost of the organisational realignment had not changed from June, when it was almost $52,000. This was mostly made up of consultants’ fees. The council previously stated the cost was expected to rise to about $75,000.

Williams said the 10 new tier-three roles were proposed to “support the delivery of outcomes” and details for recruitment were finalised. The roles would be advertised.

He confirmed the “organisational realignment” had not resulted in any redundancies.

Williams said the realignment’s aim was to ensure the council was “in the right shape” to deliver on the direction set by the 2021-2031 Long-term Plan.

He said the plan focused on addressing significant and unprecedented local challenges including housing, infrastructure, economic recovery and climate change.

The council was asked and expected to “do more and deliver more”, which he said required a “different approach”.

“For example, as in housing, where rather than just enabling housing through planning and consenting we are working directly with central government, iwi and other landowners, developers and property owners to address Rotorua’s complex housing challenges.”

He said the new structure was based on six outcome areas, aligning with the deputy chief executive titles, and the deputies lead those to delivery.

“The deputy chief executive titles reflect the high level of accountability and responsibility for delivering significant outcomes and provide the mandate to represent our organisation in leading this important work with our partners and stakeholders.”

He said the model to change from group managers to deputy chief executives was set by him as chief executive with guidance from an organisational change human resources expert.

“We have had guidance from both internal and external human resources expertise every step of the way to ensure everything is done properly and that the process is robust. It has been a highly consultative process, with every level of the organisation having input.

“I’m incredibly proud of the work that is being done by our organisation for the betterment of the district and the people who live here.”

Local Democracy Reporting also asked what “manages the political interface” meant as the phrase was used in documents relating to the chief executive’s office deputy chief executive role.

Williams said it was “about helping the chief executive maintain the relationship between the organisation and the mayor and deputy mayor” and was “not a political function”.

Local Democracy Reporting also asked the council for comment on why the deputy chief executives were appointed before internal consultation began, why the deputy chief executives received and processed staff feedback on the changes and whether the council viewed this as a conflict.

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