David Montgomery: The Quinault Indian Nation's Q-munity Roadmap

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Native Nations Institute
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In this interview with NNI's Ian Record, Quinault Indian Nation Budget Officer David Montgomery provides a comprehensive overview of Quinault's Q-munity Roadmap performance-based budgeting process, and discusses how citizen education and engagement has proven crucial to the success of this groundbreaking initiative. 

Native Nations
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Montgomery, David. "The Quinault Indian Nation's Q-munity Roadmap." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. February 22, 2012. Interview.

Ian Record:

"Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I’m your host, Ian Record. On today’s program we are honored to have with us David Montgomery. David is a citizen of the Quinault Indian Nation and has served as Quinault’s budget officer since 2009. As his nation’s budget officer, David is overseeing the development and implementation of what is known as the Q-munity Roadmap, an organization-wide transformation focused on strategic planning, budgeting and performance management. David, welcome. Good to have you with us today."

David Montgomery:

"Thanks. Glad to be here."

Ian Record:

"I’ve shared a few highlights of your personal biography, but why don’t you start by telling us a little bit more about yourself. What did I leave out?"

David Montgomery:

"Okay. No, you did a good job, but basically I’ve been with Quinault for a couple of years and I’m their budget director and we worked together in our organization to develop this transformational process that has since gotten the interest of governments all around the world, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, because they’re learning -- non-Indigenous governments, mainstream governments -- are learning that there’s actually a lot that they can learn from us: our tribalistic, our collaborative approach that doesn’t exist in many governments. So what we’re going to be talking about today has been shared with governments from as far away as Denmark, Canada, all around North America."

Ian Record:

"That’s great. We’ve seen a lot of that with the work that we do on Native nation-building, research that [shows] Native Nations are teaching governments and peoples around the world on how to do things and how to do things right.

So we’re here today to talk about the topic of tribal administration and program service delivery, specifically what the Quinault Indian Nation is doing in this arena. I’m curious, let’s begin talking about the Q-munity Roadmap, and just so people understand how it’s spelled. It’s the letter 'Q' and then 'munity Roadmap.' Why and how did the Q-munity Roadmap come about, what was it seeking to do, what was it seeking to change?"

David Montgomery:

"So basically what happened is maybe five years ago, we really looked at our processes and we were trying to decide what we could do better and after analysis we discovered that even though we were a self-governance tribe, even though we had sovereignty and self determination, year after year we were just doing the same thing and if you traced it all the way back 20 years it was the exact same thing that the federal government was doing more or less. So we realized we were not, we didn’t have the capacity to really change it and make our budget, make our government truly our own and that’s because of all the things that were set up by the federal government that were just carry over because it’s hard to change those things. If you do the same thing every year, that’s easy. But when you really want to make dynamic changes, that becomes very difficult, especially if you have a complex organization with lots of employees like we did. So we went back to the drawing board and said, how can we re-imagine all these administrative processes that we’re doing to actually become a truly self-governing nation that meets Quinault priorities."

Ian Record:

"So can you compare…you talked about essentially self-administration. That’s really what you were doing from what you’re saying that when you took over the federal government’s programs, you didn’t really change how things were done. Can you compare and contrast the Q-munity Road Map approach with how the Quinault Nation’s administration function before?"

David Montgomery:

"So before, we used what’s called incremental budgeting, which is where you just take last year’s budget and roll it forward, and almost every government uses this, so I’m imagining most tribes in the United States do. It doesn’t lend itself to making changes. You just…if there’s more money coming in you usually give a percentage increase to people. If there’s less money coming in you do across the board cuts. But as an example, if you do across the board cuts, it doesn’t make a lot of sense cause if you think about your household budget you might have rent and food and maybe you’re dining out and some entertainment cost. So if you all of a sudden got a demotion and took in less money, you wouldn’t cut all of your budgets equally by 10 percent, 'cause your rent’s still the same; you’d cut your entertainment budgets. And so as a government we wanted to think about it that way so we wanted to be able to fund our priorities and take money away from the things that weren’t important to us anymore, even though we’d just been carrying them forward for 20 years. So we got away from the incremental budgeting approach. And we also, another issue is we were doing a lot of strategic planning, which is a great exercise and a lot of tribes do it, but then what happens after it’s adopted and it becomes official is it just sits on the shelf and no one does anything with it. And the reason for that is not because it’s not a good plan, it’s not because people don’t want to, it’s because there aren’t the mechanisms set up to do that because the budgets themselves aren’t tied to what the strategic plan says. So if the dollars are appropriated X, Y and Z, but now you want to do A, B and C, X, Y and Z is still going to get done because that’s where all the money’s going. So we need to be able to shift that."

Ian Record:

"It’s interesting you mention this, and we’ve heard this from a lot of other tribes and tribal leaders that they really began to make transformative change happen and sustain that change over time when they got a strategic vision of where they wanted to head, and then the daily administrative decisions that they were making were viewed through that lens of where are we trying to head, what’s the long term picture we’re trying to create."

David Montgomery:

"Yes, that’s exactly correct."

Ian Record:

"So I was reviewing some of the educational materials that you prepared and discriminated to your employees and your citizens as you are unveiling this initiative and trying to get people behind it, and it mentions in these materials that the objective of the Q-munity Roadmap is to combat bureaucracy and align the government with the needs and wishes of its citizens, and it acknowledges that prior to the unveiling and the launch of this initiative that you really weren’t satisfactorily meeting the needs of the citizens. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you assessed and came to that realization that we’re not meeting the needs of our citizens, we’re not making the kind of change that they want to see happen."

David Montgomery:

"Exactly. So basically it’s no secret that almost all governments around the world have very little trust with their citizens. That’s just a constant and so that was the same with us. You had the federal system -- BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], IHS [Indian Health Service] -- that was running things. We were unhappy with that. Our citizens were unhappy with that. Then we took over and we do the same thing so why would our citizens be pleased with that. We were doing all the strategic planning, we were saying we were going to do all these great things and then nothing was happening so constantly we were building people’s hopes up and then we weren’t following through. And so that’s how we determined we really need to change what we’re doing because it’s not about what government wants to do, it’s not about what’s easy for us, it’s about what the people actually need and that’s ever changing. And so we were trying to set up a government structure that could be dynamic and could adapt with the changing needs and wishes of our citizens."

Ian Record:

"So the official statement from the Nation introducing the Roadmap to employees and citizens explains that the initiative is an ambitious quest and is 'more than anything we’ve done before.' How so?"

David Montgomery:

"Basically we turned our whole organization upside down. We really focused on strategic planning, which at first a lot of people said, 'Oh, I need to do my real job. I don’t have time for this sort of stuff,' but in reality, strategy, long-term strategy is what drives your organization. So we forced people to spend, the whole management team to spend a lot of time on strategic planning and really trying to figure out what our strategies were. Then we went through a budget process that was unlike anything they’d ever done before. They really had to quantify what they wanted to do, how it was related to our strategic plan and how you were going to measure it, which we’d never done before so there’s accountability. And then we went through a quarterly reporting process which again has performance metrics and measuring and checking progress against our strategic plan. And all of this had never been done before. Basically if you became a manager you could just do the same thing every year for your whole entire career without a lot of oversight or accountability and never really having to change. So if you think about our organizational culture being that way for 20 years or more and then all of a sudden you’re just making all these changes at once, then it makes everyone really uncomfortable and so when people get uncomfortable they don’t want to make these changes and so that’s why we really tried hard to put together these educational materials you’re referencing and get our organization onboard. Because you can’t generally make one of these changes at a time cause they’re all interrelated so you have to kind of do a big initiative all at once."

Ian Record:

"So you mentioned how you…you’ve used this word 'transform' multiple times already in our conversation about what you were trying to do with the Q-munity Roadmap, and reading the materials I think in many ways it’s revolutionary what you’ve been working to do in terms of how the Quinault Indian Nation government operates. And you mentioned turning the administration upside down, turning it on its head and really reconceiving for your administrators how they do their jobs. How have you worked to get the Nation’s employees onboard with this? How have you worked to cultivate their buy-in and get them to realize that you’re empowering them to really make lasting change?"

David Montgomery:

"That was a big issue for us. It was a really top-down, command-and-control approach, and so when we conceived this new Q-munity Roadmap, we decided that we wanted to get our employees involved from step one and so we hosted an all employee launch party -- which I worked with Human Resources to do that -- and we did fun employee morale-boosting activities combined with this launch of our initiative because we wanted employees to associate this initiative as something positive for them, because it’s not going to lead to layoffs, it’s not going to make their jobs harder. That’s actually going to make their jobs easier in the long run and then we invited them all to participate and to be involved because we said, 'It doesn’t make sense to us that only senior managers are doing the budgets and being responsible for performance when it’s the frontline staff that are doing the job and actually interacting with our citizens and our customers.' And so we feel if we are going to be a responsive, effective government we have got to get their buy-in, we’ve got to get their knowledge and input into our process. Otherwise it’s not going to work. It’s going to be kind of more of the same. And so we had this launch party and then we also passed out logoed apparel so jackets and T-shirts and even bags, pens, pencils, all these different things with our brand on it and even though the employees didn’t at first maybe know what all this was about they all like free stuff most employees do. And so then the next day you could see employees walking down the hallway wearing this stuff, using the pens, using the pencils and so it gave the appearance of buy-in in our organization which helped push the momentum forward."

Ian Record:

"And do you think those sorts of efforts while seemingly maybe small efforts taken as a whole really send a message to the employees that this is something we’re doing, we’re not simply doing something that the feds have done. We’re taking ownership and claiming our own future?"

David Montgomery:

"Yeah. We wanted them to know that this is us, this is our process and that they actually get to be involved. They’re going to be decision makers. So one thing that we did in our budget process is we required every employee of a program to sign off on the manager’s proposal, which doesn’t necessarily mean they agree with everything but it’s saying that they were given the opportunity to provide input, because all too often managers would come up with the game plan and the employees wouldn’t know what it was. So then how is the employee supposed to be working towards this common goal if they’re all just kind of doing what they think is a good idea? So if they get together and they talk about the direction, they look at the strategic plan, kind of see our vision and then they as a group come up with what they want to do and how they’re going to measure it then the performance increases exponentially."

Ian Record:

"So pretend for a moment that I’ve just been hired by the Nation, the Quinault Nation, to work in one of its social service programs. Can you explain to me what this Road Map is and what it means for how I’m supposed to view and how I’m supposed to do my job?"

David Montgomery:

"Yeah. So first what we would do is we’d talk to you about the strategic plan, because that’s our foundational document. We’d say, 'As a social service employee, this section of our plan -- which would be wellness -- has to do with you. We want you to be familiar with this. This lays out where we want to be in ten years. This lays out our long-term and intermediate goals and we need every employee, and in this case you as a social service person, to be helping us to achieve this goal.' Next we’d say, 'This is your actual budget proposal, work plan, offer for your program. This is where we took the strategies in the strategic plan and your program manager and staff came up with these goals and objectives and this is how they’re measurable.' Then I’d let you know that we are going to be checking in quarterly and we want to see progress against these, so if you’re going to be a successful employee in our organization, you really need to stay focused on these things that we’ve identified or that actually you’ve identified as things that you want to work on. And then I’d also tell you that these are dynamic, these are ever changing. What’s a problem today may not be a problem ten years from now, and in fact it shouldn’t be. If we’ve done our job, we are making some progress on these things so always be thinking about what we can do differently, what we can do better or how things are changing and then when we come through a rewrite of our budgets then we want your input. And then I’d explain to you that every quarterly we do quarterly reporting, which is where we take those same goals and objectives and we ask you to report your progress. And then the last thing is for a 'job well done' programs we take that quarterly reporting information and we translate it into a magazine format that can go out to our public so they can understand full circle how it went from their strategic plan vision all the way through our government organization and came out the other end with a positive impact. And so as a…and I’d tell you as an employee you should be really wanting to be featured in that magazine as a 'job well done,' because that means that you have done what we have asked you to do in the strategic plan."

Ian Record:

"Isn’t that real important? And you see this as an issue in all governments -- whether tribal or non-tribal -- where there’s not enough recognition for a job well done, that these administrators, these frontline staff were toiling in anonymity for their entire careers without any sort of recognition or acknowledgement of the change that they’re making."

David Montgomery:

"Yeah. Exactly. That’s a big problem, and actually in Indian Country people are afraid of failure because there’s a really high expectation for success, but what I’ve observed is if you’re trying so hard to study things and consider them and make sure you’re doing the right thing, then you’ll almost fail by default because the program just continues and you’re not doing anything about it. So what we did when we started this new process is we said, 'Don’t be afraid of failure.' Do what you think is right because there’s very little that we can do that would be such a catastrophic failure that it would bring down our whole organization. In reality, it’s just a small failure and if your managers are always looking at things then you can just correct and it’s like a blip on the radar screen, nobody even notices it. But you have to create the culture where people feel like they can make mistakes."

Ian Record:

"Yeah, and we don’t see that everywhere in Indian Country. There are many tribes that -- and a lot of whom have those old federal systems -- that they’re just simply self-administering now where you make one mistake and you’re gone."

David Montgomery:

"Yeah, exactly.

Ian Record:

"And then in the process you’re not building up any of the institutional knowledge that you need to make change last over time."

David Montgomery:

"Yeah. And you wipe out innovation and creativity, because if you’re being innovative and being creative, you’re probably doing something new and if you’re doing something new, you’re not going to get it 100 percent right on the first try."

Ian Record:

"So you mentioned performance budgeting. You mentioned that a new employee -- as you’re explaining to them how their job works -- that they have to essentially follow what’s dictated in the budget proposal for their department. Performance budgeting and the process that you’ve put in place, the bottom line is the Nation has limited resources, you’re going to have more proposals come in requesting more money than you have. So how do you as the budget officer and how does the Q-munity Roadmap, the people charged with carrying out that plan, how do they I guess vet those proposals, how do they rank them, how do they prioritize them, then how do they distribute the funds?"

David Montgomery:

"So basically what we’ve done is we’ve created results teams which since we...that’s what they were called when it launched, and since then we’ve morphed them into our strategic-planning teams, but what they are is they’re frontline employees mostly, some mid-level managers and community members, and they’re organized by domain in our strategic plan, which is kind of functional areas. So for example we’ll take wellness from the social services example earlier. There’s a wellness team that’s responsible for the strategic plan, but then also when it’s time for budget, they review all those proposals and provide recommendations and do an analysis of how closely those proposals align with our strategic plan, because at the end of the day that’s the document that we look to to make those hard decisions."

Ian Record:

"So give me an example of how the performance budgeting process works for say law enforcement, kind of from the beginning to the end."

David Montgomery:

"What we look at is we look at outputs and outcomes as our performance measures. A lot of governments they don’t do any performance measures at all, the rest that do mostly focus on outputs. And so just to get the terminology straight, an output would be like number of tickets issued. So it’s a measure of productivity, which is good, but as an example if you’re a government decision-maker, the number of tickets that you issue doesn’t necessarily correlate with any sort of positive impact on your people. Instead you need to focus on outcomes. So if we’re trying to eliminate drunk driving, for example, then maybe we would look at the number of citations for drunk driving issued or maybe we would look at something else, maybe a measure that goes to the court system. How are those being resolved that are being prosecuted? All those things are great, but what we really want to see is a measurable outcome, which is a decrease in drunk driving-related deaths. And you can go through that exercise for almost any program, and you want to come up with both because you want measures of productivity, those are short-term that you can really keep track of, but you want the longer-term measures of outcomes. Are you making a positive impact in the lives of your people?"

Ian Record:

"So where do…we talked about where the employees fit in in this process, particularly those maybe below the level of a department head or senior manager. Where do the citizens of the Nation fit in this Q-munity Roadmap process? What role do they play and what has been your challenge, I guess, and how have you addressed the challenge with getting their buy-in?"

David Montgomery:

"Basically, the citizens, we don’t expect them to be experts on our government process, on our bureaucracy if you will, so we engage them at the very beginning which is strategic planning. We want them to tell us where they want to end up and how they think we should get there. Then we go through our process and our own internal accountability and the next main point where they get engaged is when we send out this magazine. It’s kind of a first-of-its-kind publication because it takes anecdotal information which you’d see in a normal magazine, lots of pictures, things that are easy to understand, but it combines the performance data and the strategic-planning initiatives. So we’re trying to translate this highly technical and complex government system into something that the citizens can understand with the thought being that once they get this magazine and they read about our progress and they also experience the services and they observe what we’re doing, then the next time we go into a strategic planning cycle they’re more informed and educated about what we’ve done and then as they give us their feedback it’s real relevant and up to date and so we just keep…it’s like a feedback, we just keep going through this cycle."

Ian Record:

"Have you seen their view of government improve as they’ve seen that loop come back to them and they’re seeing progress being made on their wishes, what their long term vision of the future is?"

David Montgomery:

"Yeah. Right now, we’re admittedly only three years into it, so we have a lot of improving to do, but basically I’ve heard almost nothing but positive feedback. At first, in the first year and a half it was rough because we were changing the organization and when people don’t like change they want to bad mouth it. But now that they realize they can’t get away from it, they’re actually, employees are starting to like the accountability because they can prove to the citizens and other people, 'This is what I’ve done for you. This is what I’ve done to earn my paycheck.' And so I’ve had managers and staff tell me, 'Thank you for implementing this. This is keeping us on top of things, this is making us more productive and this is making us feel better about our jobs,' which then that message is spilling over into the community, so even though the community still maybe doesn’t totally understand what’s happening, they know the government is making an effort to improve, to be more effective and to be more responsive."

Ian Record:

"So this is a good segue into my next question and it deals with the fact that you mentioned at the beginning: that you’ve been presenting the work that Quinault’s been doing to audiences from all over the world. And in those presentations you quote a U.S. Navy Admiral who said, 'Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must be driven into practice with courageous patience.' Why do you site this quote in your presentations and how is it relevant to the Q-munity Roadmap process?

David Montgomery:

"Basically because when you do a big change like this, it requires a lot of courage. It does. But when you think of courage, normally you think of charging into battle or something like that and that’s not what this is about. If you come into it and expect a success in six months, in a year, even in two years, you’re probably not going to see it. So what you have to train yourself to think about is it’s courageous patience. To make a big change in a complex organization with lots of engrained systems, you’ve got to stick with it and you’ve got to fight those battles, those small battles every single day until it becomes part of the organizational culture and then it’s sustained that way."

Ian Record:

"So you mentioned that it’s only been, this Q-munity Roadmap has only been in place about three years now. But can you talk from your perspective in terms of how the Q-munity Roadmap and this new innovative approach to governmental budgeting is improving the Nation’s provision of programs and services to its citizens?"

David Montgomery:

"Number one, we’re just more effective and accountable for how we spend our money, because before we didn’t really know and we didn’t know the difference between success and failure because we weren’t really measuring it. And so what gets measured gets done and so now we’ve identified these are the things we think are important, we’re going to measure them and now they’re getting done at a higher rate, because all of a sudden managers are having their attention directed at that. Another benefit to our citizens is we are becoming much more competitive for grants and so we’re tracking all this data, we’re following our own strategic plan and at the present time those are really big concepts, important concepts with federal funding agencies and private foundations. They want to see a community vision that you’re following with performance metrics. So that’s why I always encourage other tribes to do that, because as federal funding is becoming more tight, we have to become more competitive to get a share of that money, and then we can stop competing with each other and start competing with cities and others..."

Ian Record: "So following up on that, how is the Q-munity Roadmap enhancing the Nation’s ability to achieve its long-term strategic goals and is it realizing its desired effects?"

David Montgomery:

"Yes. When you look at a long-term goal, you can’t really assess that in three years of course, but it appears to be trending in that direction. We had done -- this last strategic plan was our fourth strategic plan, and by all accounts the first three were abject failures and now people are saying, 'Wow, this is actually leading to something.' And so we feel that in ten years, when we look back at this, we are going to be much closer to our desired future condition than we’ve been with any of the other plans over the last ten years. So we are excited, but only time will tell."

Ian Record:

"Well, David, I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts, wisdom and experience with us."

David Montgomery:

"Yeah, thank you. It’s been a pleasure."  

Ian Record:

"Well, that’s all the time we have on today’s program of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit the Native Nations Institute’s website at nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us. Copyright 2012, Arizona Board of Regents."