Category Archives: ICMA

Something’s Happening in Local Government

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5 Workforce Challenges in 2016

By Rick Dacri, Dacri & Associates, LLC

(originally published in ICMA’s Knowledge Network, 1/13/16)

“There’s something happening here; what it is ain’t exactly clear” are the opening lyrics to the Buffalo Springfield 60’s anti-war song. While protest is not our focus, something indeed is happening with today’s workforce and economy and town and city managers are being challenged to both make sense of it and address it. Local government is changing, our workforce is different, and citizens and elected officials have high expectations for results.

While there are many challenges facing town managers, workforce issues rise to the top. The Center for State & Local Government Excellence survey “State and Local Government Workforce: 2014 Trends” found that the majority of public sector managers cited their “top concerns are recruiting and retaining qualified personnel, staff development, succession planning, employee morale, competitive compensation packages, public perception of government workers, reducing employee health care costs and dealing with employee workload challenges.” Like a freight train screaming down the tracks, today’s manager must tackle these issues.

Let’s look at five of them:

  1. Aging workforce: the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) reported in their 2012 State of the Profession survey that 63% of municipal employees were 51 or older with nearly 24% 61 or older. A Black & Veatch’s strategic direction survey reported an aging workforce is among the top ten issues affecting the water industry. A 2013 Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) survey report that 62% of electric utility workers have the potential to retire or leave the workplace by 2020. Whether it is police, fire, librarians, or wastewater operators, aging baby boomers are beginning to exit the workplace in what some are calling the “silver tsunami” and the public sector, as a whole is ill prepared for the exodus. And to make matters worse, fewer young people are entering the profession. Volunteers are not joining the fire departments; electric engineers are choosing high tech over public power; and environmental professionals prefer consulting to wastewater treatment.
  2. Creating a performance based culture: The municipal, union mentality culture must end. Communities can no longer afford bloated workforces, crippling work rules, huge unfunded pensions, and pay plans based on length of service rather than performance. Today’s workplace culture must reward performance and productivity and encourage employee engagement resulting in worker retention and attracting the best external talent available. Union work rules that hamper operations must be replaced with those that support flexibility, and pay must be based on merit and include performance incentives. In addition, town managers should emphasize priorities and goal setting, measuring and monitoring performance and not just effort and activity. Employees must be flexible, customer centric, and engaged.
  3. Managing a multidimensional and changing workforce: Today’s workforce is changing and different. As boomers age out, we are seeing a different look than we have come to expect. Whether at town hall, public works, the water or fire department, we now find more women, individuals of color and youth. As the workforce becomes more diverse, managers must have the skills to lead this “different” workplace. Engaging a younger generation, with workers who have a different perspective and have distinct expectations of their boss and work, unlike other generations, will require significant adjustments, patience, tolerance and the skills to manage.
  4. Recruitment, retention and rewards: There is a new “3 R’s.” Finding individuals who want to work in public safety, public power, wastewater and any other aspect of local government have never been harder. Managers will have to find ways to make government careers more attractive to a younger generation, while competing with the private sector that may have deeper pockets and have shiner toys to dangle. Work/life balance, flexibility, career development and telecommuting will be needed to attract this new generation of worker. And to retain them, communities will have to reward workers with cash (merit pay, incentives, benefits) and non-cash (opportunities, training, titles). The lure of a job in government has faded. Competitive pay has become a minimum threshold to attract and retain talent. Money talks.
  5. A strategic approach to managing: Managers and elected officials must now make decisions about the direction of their business utilizing a strategic framework. No longer can they simply move from crisis to crisis, election to election. A big picture, business approach to government will be needed, discarding “how we’ve always done it this way” approach to a reinvention of government that addresses today and tomorrow’s realities. There will be a greater reliance on technology, creativity, innovation, best practices and benchmarking, and these require a new kind of leader to manage a new kind of workforce that can thrive in this new world. In the past, public utilities were lead by engineers, electrical engineers in power, environment engineers in water and wastewater. No longer. Today the need is likely for an MBA or MPA. Towns and their utilities are multimillion-dollar businesses and require a strong businessperson to run them. It is not a place for on-the-job training.

 

The 21st century leader and their elected officials must think differently. Successful leaders must have the skill to look around corners, while making bold decisions in addressing the changing market. Their mandate will be to:

  1. Develop a strong workforce that is energized, embraces change, is resident centric and strives for excellence.
  2. Create a workplace culture that sheds the municipal stereotypes of entitlement, bureaucracy and coldness with one that is productive, effective and efficient to one that is customer focused, friendly and helpful. Town hall must always be welcoming.
  3. Think long range and not just about today’s firefight. Managers and elected officials must understand the big picture and not just how it will affect this year’s budget. Maximum impact must be part of the new lexicon and that means taking a strategic approach to governing.
  4. Become a learning environment. Continuous education for all staff, elected officials and citizens are essential. Exposure to new and different ideas stimulates new thinking, creativity and innovation, challenging and questioning the previously accepted norms.
  5. Be passionate about government. Leading a municipality is a worthy profession. Show energy. Get excited. It’s contagious and it is essential in recruiting and retaining star performers; motivating staff; and engaging residents and ratepayers. But most importantly, it is crucial in moving people forward, persuading them and getting them to follow.

 

The challenges of the 21st century will be great. Managers and elected officials will have to discard old notions and embrace new thinking. Continuous change and experimentation will be the norm. Town halls must be incubators of management best practices.

There indeed is something happening here and that’s a good thing.

Rick Dacri is a management adviser, president of Dacri & Associates, and author of the book Uncomplicating Management: Focus on Your Stars and Your Company Will Soar (rick@dacri.com; http://www.dacri.com)

Other posts that you might like:

  1. Municipalities: Top 10 Tips to Ensure the Board and Manager Maintain a Strong & Effective Relationship
  2. Succession Plan in Municipalities Assure a Steady Flow of Talent
  3. Retaining Workers Over 50
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A Manager’s Performance Appraisal: Prepare With Confidence

Feat1_Image(This article was written by Rick Dacri and published in the October issue of Public Management Journal)

Imagine you’re responsible for organizing the family vacation. It’s all planned, and everyone piles into the car ready to go. From the back seat, you hear: “I want to go to Disney.” “No, I want to go to the beach.” “No, we always do what you want, let’s go camping.”

Your partner gently leans over and says: “I want to go for a romantic vacation, without the kids, and by the way, we should fly, not drive.” And now, if things couldn’t be worse, you know they will all judge you, and the quality of their vacation will be based on your decision.

Crazy? Is this scenario all that unrealistic? In fact, for many, this resembles the life of a local government manager. As one city administrator defined it, “multiple conflicting priorities,” topped off with a performance appraisal.

POWERFUL TOOL WITH BENEFITS

As a manager, your job is to carry out the wishes of the governing board. But if you cannot find agreement on where you are going, who is driving, and who is in charge, you are on the road to dysfunctional government and a strained relationship with elected officials.

An evaluation of the manager—a process hated by most and ignored by others—should be an opportunity to both develop a manager’s knowledge and move a community forward.

If we are able to step back from the report-card aspect of most appraisal processes and realize that a performance appraisal is simply a tool used by elected officials to ensure that community goals are being met, then one can appreciate the power of this tool.

So why doesn’t that happen? Continue reading

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Filed under city manager, coaching, Employee Relations, government, human resources, ICMA, municipality, performance, performance appraisal, performance management, town manager

11 Tips to Dampen the Flames in a Crisis

5(This article by Rick Dacri was published in the Maine Town City County Management Association July 2015 Newsletter)

If it can go wrong, it will. While some municipal managers may prefer to take the tact that a crisis will never occur on their watch, the more seasoned professionals understand that unfortunately, Murphy’s Law trumps. It is never IF a crisis occurs, but more likely, WHEN will the crisis happen. Readiness must include anticipation, preparation, mitigation and communication. Not having a crisis intervention plan is like driving 80MPH in the dark without headlights and not knowing there’s a hairpin curve up ahead. The likelihood of a safe arrival is quickly diminishing.

So what should you do to prepare? Here are 11 tips:

  1. Accept the fact that a crisis will occur sometime: Playing ostrich is not crisis planning. Prepare for what could go wrong.
  2. Anticipate what could happen: Plant closings, major fire, drug bust, or economic calamity. All require a response. While you can never anticipate everything (think Zumba), know how you would respond in a crisis and develop contingencies.
  3. Decide who will speak: Whether it’s the town manager or the mayor, or the police or fire chief, know who will be the face and voice of the community. Remember, the first rule of crisis management is knowing who is in charge. Have a spokesperson ready.
  4. Know your audience: Understand that you have many stakeholders who want to know what is going on and they want answers fast. Your stakeholders include residents, employees, elected officials, media, regulators and more. Ignore them at your peril.
  5. Understand your strategy and message: Know what has to be said and say it. Don’t wing it. Gather the facts. Get your message out quickly and be honest and transparent. At the same time, there will be times when circumstances will prevent you from telling all.
  6. Prepare for the media; Understand they have a job to do and they are not your enemy—or your friend. Be straight with them. Have a clearly identified spokesperson ready. Get your message out before they formulate another one. Put out a clearly written statement. Obviously, if you have created a positive relationship with the media before the crisis, your job now will be a bit easier.
  7. Utilize social media: People get their information, good and bad, through social media. Residents, the press and employees quickly turn to twitter, Facebook and your website for instant information. Educate your stakeholders in advance that this is how you get immediate and reliable communication.
  8. Talk to your employees: be clear about your message. Remember, residents and the press will likely seek out employees to get the “inside scoop.” Make sure employees know what to say.
  9. Don’t ignore emotion: You’re not a robot. Depending on the issue, empathy, sympathy, remorse and even anger is appropriate. If the town made a mistake, apologize. If the community was harmed, a smile will not be the best expression to show.
  10. Have a presence: Show that you’re in charge; that you’re on top of the situation. Be truthful and in control. If you don’t have an answer to a question, let them know you’ll get it for them. And then do it quickly. Never be wishy-washy or reticent.
  11. Communicate well: Frequent, timely and with clarity—that’s how you must communicate. In a crisis, people demand information. Without it they’ll fill in the blanks, often with misinformation. Remain out front.

Crises will always occur. How you handle them will either dampen or fan the flames. Preparation will minimize the potential chaos and will often generate you good will during a difficult period.

Other posts you may like:

  1. Municipalities: Top 10 Tips to Ensure the Board & Manager Maintain a Strong & Effective Relationship
  2. Succession Planning in Municipalities Assure Steady Flow of Talent
  3. Managing Your Career: 9 Musts for Continuous Success

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Filed under city, communications, crisis management, ICMA, media relations, municipalities, social medai, town

The Critical Relationship Between the Town Manager and the Board of Selectmen

UnknownPost was written by Rick Dacri and was published in the New Hampshire Town and City, May/June, 2015

The job of the town manager or an elected official is not easy. But, when things are operating well, people are working cohesively, residents are happy, and results are being achieved, then it’s good to be in local government.

Results begin when three elements are in place: a positive working relationship between the board and the manager, a shared mission about what the town wants to accomplish, and a commitment to move forward together. The relationship ensures that a collegial rapport occurs based on trust and shared values. The mission guides the town’s allocation of limited resources: money, talent and time. And commitment pulls everything together. Absent any of those components, everything collapses like a two-legged stool.

That collapse often occurs when priorities become unclear, the manager becomes unsure where the board is headed, or individuals are moving in different directions. Therefore, a comprehensive or strategic plan is necessary to provide focus to both the board and manager. The key is to get the manager and the board members on the same page.

So how do you forge an effective relationship while meeting the town’s mission?

Set clear expectations and accountability standards: After all, if you want the manager to drive the organization where you want, develop a map. Be clear, specific and direct.
Understand your manager’s needs and expectations: Boards need to take time to get to know what makes their manager tick. Know the individual’s personal and professional goals, objectives and stressors and what can you do to help alleviate them.
Provide a timely performance review and know the market for executive compensation: Late reviews and salaries that fall below their peers are two areas that cause the greatest resentment, resulting in breakdowns in the relations and turnover. In a market with a shortage of good municipal management talent, this can be a catastrophe.
Set realistic performance goals: the strategic direction of the town will only be achieved when this is done well. The genesis of all goals should be the town’s strategic plan.
Provide ongoing feedback on performance: It’s lonely at the top. The manager needs input from the board. An ongoing dialogue is essential.
Support the manager’s development: Grow your manager. The world is constantly changing and your manager must be able to keep up. A stagnant manager with last year’s ideas is not going to move your organization forward.

There is a fundamental, almost systemic tension between the roles of the board of selectmen and the town manager. Who is in charge? Absent clear guidelines and a process to address roles, responsibilities, and strategic direction, conflict arises. Struggles for power and control emerge. As with any conflict, the solution is to get people talking and listening. Regardless, embracing the collective belief in the mission of your town is a powerful magnet to draw people together, allowing them to rise above ideology and personal agendas for the collective good of the town. A strong commitment to this belief and a passion to make it work allows most to make the relationship piece work. It happens everyday in well run communities.

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Municipalities: Top 10 Tips To Ensure the Board & Manager Maintain a Strong & Effective Working Relationship

UnknownPost by Rick Dacri. Originally published in the City & Town Magazine of the New Hampshire Municipal Association, May/June 2015

  1. Establish a clear, mutually agreed upon mission for the town and define values from which to operate. Take the time to discuss vision, strategy and policy. If your focus is simply surviving today, you’ll likely stagnate. Effective boards understand the importance of strategic planning as a means to steer the organization.
  2. Identify clear, annual goals and needs along with a time frame to complete. Develop a vision for your community. Dream big and move forward, one step at a time.
  3. Establishment a clear division of responsibilities and accountabilities for the board and manager. Be specific about boundaries and control. Governance must be clearly delineated and understood. You can only have one town manager at a time.
  4. Establish a forum for ongoing open communications and planning. Build open discussions into your calendar. Set up formal times to meet, both formally and informally with the manager to maintain focus and to nurture the relationship.
  5. Establish methods to resolve conflict in a respectful, open and honest manner. Conflict will occur. Set up a process to address it, and, if that doesn’t work, bring in outside professional help.
  6. Establish priorities with the understanding that they must be reviewed on an ongoing basis since the town’s challenges are ever changing. We live in a rapidly evolving environment. The board and manager must be nimble. The strategic planning process helps to anticipate the expected challenges, threats and opportunities before they emerge, but external and internal changes can occur that will change the picture.
  7. Develop methods to establish trust and support, where everyone adheres to the plan and each of you “has each other’s back.” Trust is a critical element in any healthy relationship. Without it, things fail. Work to continuously build trust and get help when repair is required.
  8. Develop and implement an effective annual performance evaluation system that is an ongoing process. There should be no surprises in annual evaluation if communication has been healthy, ongoing and honest. No business relationship can occur without clear accountability standards. A performance evaluation can be an excellent tool for this. Establish a formal process. Provide each board member an opportunity to contribute. Focus on the future and avoid creating a “report card” system. And encourage informal feedback throughout the year.
  9. Develop a process to bring newly elected board members up-to-date on what has been established and agreed upon amongst the current board and manager. Board orientations bring new members up to speed quickly, allowing them to make an immediate contribution.
  10. Create a board of selectmen self-assessment. This is a tool designed to help clarify roles and responsibilities, assess board performance, seek ways to improve and plan for the future. Outside professionals are often engaged to help boards develop such a mechanism.

Other Posts You Might Like:

  1. How to do Quality Manager Evaluations
  2. Recruitment: Landing Your Next Manager
  3. Succession Planning in Municipalities Assure Steady Flow of Talent

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Managing Your Career: 9 Musts For Continuous Success

MTCMAThis article, written by Rick Dacri was originally published in the Maine Town City and County Management Association March newsletter 

Manage your career. That’s the advice I received long ago and the advice I give to anyone who will listen. Manage your career or someone will manage it for you and you probably won’t like his or her plan.

Jake wowed me. As an executive recruiter with years of experience, I’m not easily impressed. But everything pointed to him as the one. He did everything right to get himself hired.

I was engaged to recruit a new Town Manager. When I search for executive level individuals, my success in finding candidates comes from networking. And that’s how I found Jake. Yes, I placed ads, but individuals looking for a job never see them and passive candidates are often the best.

So let me tell you about Jake, how he positioned himself as the perfect candidate, and what you can learn about managing your career from him.

To begin, Jake never applied for the job. He didn’t know the position was open and frankly, I didn’t even know Jake existed. But others did. As I networked, individual after individual recommended I contact him. He was considered a rising star among town managers. I knew I had to meet him. And, when I finally found him, I had to convince him to apply and sell him on the job.

It gets better and from the perspective of the recruiter who only wants to present solid candidates to the client, Jake continued to do everything right. When I Googled his name, there were countless articles about him and the work he had done. He had his degree and had done more. He continued his education, was involved in the community, and actively participated in MMA and ICMA, which included leadership roles. But most importantly, he was a high performer everywhere he served.

So what can you learn from Jake that you can apply to your career? Here are 9 musts to ensure a successful career:

  1. Develop credentials: Embrace continuous education. Speak before professional groups. Take positions, write op-eds, and never simply regurgitate the same old stuff and espouse the latest fads. Be an object of interest and command a presence.
  2. Produce results: Have a long track record of results. Have a history of providing value to your communities and have a strong reputation within the industry. Your reputation must be sterling.
  3. Sets the standard: Don’t just fix things. Help your city or town move forward. Provide different perspectives and innovative thinking. Always be formulating new ideas and concepts. Set new standards. Help to grow your community, not just by doing the things you are doing better, but by providing a broader perspective.
  4. Command attention: Dress, speak and present yourself well. Command attention, exuding well-earned confidence. And it goes beyond personal appearance. Be impactful.
  5. Be responsive: Show up early and leave late. Return phone calls and emails within hours, not days. Deliver what you promise.
  6. Be passionate: Believe in what you do and most importantly get excited about helping your community.
  7. Formulate strong relations: Work with your councils, staff, business leaders and residents. Be approachable, listen and respectful. Value differences of opinions, and having a sense of humor is a good thing.
  8. Develop stature and firepower: Become an expert. Do your homework. Invest in yourself. Fine-tune your skills. Get a professional coach to guide you.
  9. Mentor others: Enhance your career by growing your staff. Develop bench strength. Create a culture of learning.

Effectively managing your career means continuous success for you, your staff and your community. Manage your career.

Rick Dacri is a workforce expert, management consultant, and author of the book “Uncomplicating Management: Focus On Your Stars & Your Company Will Soar.” Since 1995 his firm, Dacri & Associates has helped municipalities achieve dramatic improvements in individual and organizational performance. He can be reached at rick@dacri.com and http://www.dacri.com

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