Gaston County Builds Their Roadmap to Success

Local government aligns strategic performance with budget allocation to make data-driven decisions and achieve operational excellence.

ARTICLE | Sep 19, 2017
by Cara Ong, Chief Operating Officer, Envisio Solutions, Inc.

Gaston County, North Carolina has a population of just over 200,000 from thirteen incorporated towns. Existing planning methodologies were not providing the county with the relevant insights required to make informed decisions about the future of the county. Without a strategic plan and a meaningful way to track, evaluate and improve their performance, Gaston County realized that in order to move forward they needed a solution that would align their departments around common goals, cascade those goals down to individual actions and support their efforts to build an evidence-based decision-making culture.

The Gaston County Challenge

Gaston County used a management methodology called priority-based budgeting for assigning levels of priority to their programs to advise budget and resource allocation.  This methodology assigns each program a score based on a review of its contribution and impact over the course of the year. While priority-based budgeting was a significant step forward in helping allocate budgets to high priority programs, it only solved part of the problem.

Although priority-based budgeting identified the programs that were of greatest value to the county, it did not provide detailed insight into the performance of given programs. “A priority-based methodology can only tell you so much,” says Matthew Rhoten, Budget Administrator for Gaston County. “You don’t have any clue if you’re performing well”. If a high priority program was underperforming, the county not only needed to pay it greater attention, but they needed to understand why it was underperforming before they could get it back on track.

In addition, the county functioned without an overarching strategic plan to help guide them towards their vision. Without common goals and the strategies to achieve them, county departments operated largely in silos. The absence of a strategic plan also meant that the county had no tangible way to monitor overall progress. Performance was tied to individual workloads and tracking and monitoring was conducted using static spreadsheets and word documents. These disconnected tools fell far short of providing valuable insight for the county to adequately track, measure and improve performance.

Rhoten recognized an opportunity to bring in a solution that could take Gaston County’s existing budget prioritization methodology to the next level and provide them with greater insight into the performance of their programs. With the ability to better track program performance they could also make more informed budget allocation decisions. Rhoten envisioned a performance management solution that was user-friendly and cost-effective but needed to meet these key requirements:

  • A planning system that aligned with and supported their existing prioritization methodology
  • A reporting engine that enabled departments to provide updates to senior managers and to the Board of Commissioners
  • The ability to integrate and align departmental plans and objectives with county/board’s goals and key priorities
  • The ability to intuitively visualize progress and status and help managers and senior leaders to drill down to make more informed, evidence-based decisions

Developing Gaston County’s Strategic Plan

What attracted Rhoten to Envisio was it not only allowed the county to track and manage performance, but it gave them the capability to build their strategic plan from the ground up.  

With their strategic planning templates, county departments came together to develop the key goals and strategies required to elevate the performance of the county. According to Rhoten, achieving buy-in from county staff was never an issue, and staff was quick to get onboard. Upon recognizing the benefits of a strategic plan, ten different departments were inspired to develop plans of their own.  The easy-to-understand planning frameworks in Envisio ensured that the departmental plans were aligned with the overall goals and strategies of the County. It wasn’t long before Gaston County’s strategic and departmental plans were fully optimized and structured to allow for the greatest possible insight into overall and program performance.

Gaston County Departments Empowered to Achieve Common Goals

Using Envisio to activate their strategic plan, Gaston County soon began to experience all the benefits of their all-in-one performance management solution. The county has been able to take their performance to the next level, while still maintaining their commitment to priority-based budgeting. The shift from reactive to proactive performance management has been nothing short of transformative.

They are now able to easily identify key performance indicators and visualize their performance over time to develop the best understanding of progress. These visual insights are driving the shift to data-driven budgeting decisions that allow the county to achieve the best possible results by focusing their attention on the areas that need it the most. “Emergency Medical Services is just one example,” said Rhoten, “we are consistently tracking response times as well as the steps that are being taken to decrease times, and evaluating the success of the actions being taken”. Envisio allows Gaston to make decisions based on what is working and what is not, and continually strive to provide better services for their citizens.

One of the most significant improvements that the County has experienced has been an internal shift amongst the county staff: “Everyone is on the same page and we’re all working towards the same goal -- the department plans align with the county plan, which aligns with the priorities set by the board”, says Rhoten, “People are unified and they want to do a good job”.

When asked what advice he would give to other local governments looking to develop their first strategic plan, Rhoten recommends to “Start small and work up to include all departments -- do not attempt to rush the process because a good plan takes time to develop”. After several question and answer sessions and team building exercises, the county was able to create greater cohesion within their organization. Gaston County now looks forward to operating as a more transparent and proactive local government for their citizens.

About Envisio

Founded in 2012, Envisio is a cloud-based Government Performance Management (GPM) software that empowers local governments to accomplish goals, achieve greater transparency & accountability, and enhance the quality of life for citizens. Envisio saves time with easy to generate stakeholder reports, increases staff engagement and collaboration and provides a framework for building trusted relationships with staff, elected officials and the public. To learn how Envisio can help your local government provide a streamlined solution to align, track and report on the progress of your strategic plan email us at, call us at 1.888.371.4800 or visit our website.

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