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Something’s Happening in Local Government


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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Workplace Trends & How Employers Must Respond

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 11.23.43 AMThree critical trends are emerging in today’s workplace: 1) the traditional full-time, 40 hour worker is being replaced by part-timers, Independent Contractors and gig-workers; 2) the ability to attract and retain workers is going to require different strategies and those employed in the past; and 3) workforce loyalty has a new look.

Rick Dacri & David Ciullo discuss these trends and how employers should respond in this Mind Your Own Business TV interview with Debi Davis.

To view the interview, click Workforce Trends.

Post by Rick Dacri, August 18, 2015.

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Market Basket, Unemployment & Immigration

Unknown(This article, authored by Rick Dacri, originally was published in the Coast Star, October 30, 2014)

The cheering has subsided and now it’s time for Market Basket to begin to heal. It’s going to be a long haul. Much has been said about how the “little guy” was able to bring a corporate giant to its knees, and how this was proof that when managers take care of their employees, employees will remain loyal to them. Well, it was proven true here. Arthur T. DeMoulas was loved by his people because he cared. He believed in people over profits and chose to share his wealth. People loved him. But what was so extraordinary about this event was that management and employees, along with customers and vendors, banded together to exert their will over the ownership. Never have we seen anything like this. Yet, lost in the celebration and high fives is the realization that many were hurt by this family squabble. We know DeMoulas lost millions of dollars in lost sales over this 6-week boycott, but little is heard about those hourly employees who weren’t working and therefore went without pay. And what about those vendors whose products were not needed? That business is lost forever. And what about the local businesses abutting each of the 71 Market Basket stores that depend on the Market Basket traffic to fill their shops and lunch counters. Think about their lost sales, wages and tips. And now the big question: with all that debt and the costs Arthur T. incurred to buy the business, will he be able to continue his generosity to his loyal workers? Yes, the Market Basket boycott was a big win for the workers, but it came with an equally big cost. Let’s hope it was worth it.

And speaking of wages, the minimum wage debate continues without any clear resolution in sight. In one of my earlier columns, I advocated for an increase. I felt then, as I continue to believe now, that it makes good business sense to raise people’s wages. I got some heavy-duty pushback from my professional colleagues about my position, as expected, but I also got comments from others who felt we shouldn’t be giving “hand outs.”

The issue of wages often boils down to value, worth and fairness. Each year, this newspaper publishes the names and wages of the highest paid municipal employees, and the community buzzes. Much of the chatter is whether the school superintendent or town manager or police officer should be paid what they receive. And much of how we feel depends on how much we personally are earning. We compare our wages to their pays even though the jobs are not comparable. We say “why do they make that much when we only make this much?” It becomes a fairness issue. We also wonder if their pay means higher taxes for us. Pay is personal, and that’s why it is hard to have a rational debate about raising the minimum wage.

While minimum wages remains a hot topic, the debate about immigration reform is hotter. Again, in a previous column I outlined the business reason on why Congress and the President should address this issue now. I believe we should secure our borders and we have a right to control who is allowed into this country. I also know that a managed influx of immigrants is good for our country, society and economy. We are a richer nation because of immigrants. And frankly, we need them. Ask most business owner who are struggling to find skilled labor. Immigrants fill this void.

I think about whether my grandfather would have been able to enter this country today. He came to America at the beginning of the last century and yes, he legally entered the country through Ellis Island after a long voyage across the Atlantic from Italy. By the time I was born, he had lived in the U.S. for 40 years, spoke broken English at best, but he had a good factory job, paid his taxes, married and supported my grandmother and 7 kids, owned a home, and he placed FDR just a step or two below the Almighty. And, he was never on welfare, as these immigrants took care of each other. He loved his adopted country and was tested when he sent his three sons to fight against his native land and people in WWII. However, today, some might think this non-English speaking immigrant would be stealing good paying minimum wage jobs from “real” Americans. Sad.

Our beliefs, actions and votes have a ripple effect. When you toss a rock into a lake, it creates a series of ripples well into the water beyond our view. There are consequences to our actions. Boycotting, suppressing wages, building a bigger wall. Be mindful of the ripples.

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 organizations dramatically improve the performance and productivity of their workforce. He can be reached at rick@dacri.com and http://www.dacri.com.

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NFL: “Abusive and Unprofessional Behavior”

Richie Incognito & Jonathan Martin

Richie Incognito & Jonathan Martin

(This post was written by Rick Dacri and originally distribute in the Dacri Report on March 1, 2014)

Americans love football. I am not sure if it is our national pastime, many think its baseball, but Sundays, it seems, are reserved for church and football. We revere our teams and players.

Football has been dominating the news and not in a good way. The NFL came out with its long awaited report on the Miami Dolphins. They found that Miami player Richie Incognito and two other players engaged in a pattern of “abusive, unprofessional behavior”-bullying against player Jonathan Martin, another player and a trainer. Martin, an up and coming 2nd year player quit the team because he could no longer tolerate the taunts.

The behavior in the Dolphin locker room, according to the NFL report, included racial abuse directed toward Martin, who is African-American; vulgar remarks about his mother and sisterhomophobic taunts; and ethnic remarks against a Japan-born trainer. What makes this even more outrageous is the Dolphin’s leadership claiming they were unaware of any of this. Hard to believe.

Michael Sam was an All American defensive lineman from Missouri and Continue reading

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Bench Strength: 5 Steps to Building a Strong Bench


This article, written by Rick Dacri, was originally published in the York County Coast Star)

There is nothing more energizing to a company than growth. Increased sales, positive cash flow, an expanding customer base, outpacing your completion. It is very exhilarating for executives and employees.

But with this excitement comes challenges. Growing from a small company to a large one requires outstanding talent. Talent that can adapt, change, thrive and deliver. Growth brings newness, unpredictability, ambiguity, and often stress. Having equipment, capacity, sales and cash will only prove helpful if a strong team is ready and able to step up. In sports it is called bench strength.

Red Sox manager John Farrell enjoyed the upper hand over the St. Louis Cardinals in last year’s World Series. Farrell had one of baseball’s most productive benches. Being able to look down the bench, seeing the right player to send out on the field at a critical time in the game proved to be a significant advantage, propelling the Sox to the championship.

I recently spoke to a business owner who was looking at doubling his business in the next two to three years, expanding his facility, and opening his business to some new, promising markets. Yet, his excitement was tempered by the sober reality that his bench strength was weak—strong enough for today, but lacking in capability for what loomed ahead.

So what steps should an organization take to build bench strength?

  1. Know What You’ve Got: Evaluate your current staff. Their ability and willingness to change, adapt, and learn are essential traits. Ongoing assessment of your employees will allow you to know your current capacity and determine what your future needs will be. At the same time, through training and coaching, you can begin to raise skill and performance levels. All high performers should have a development plan in place to ensure future readiness. While growing your staff is a critical first step, sometimes individuals who performed in the past will be unable to help you in the future. Bench strength means having high potentials that are ready to step into new roles. Difficult decisions must be made. Continue reading

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HR, Line Managers: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

(I was interviewed and quoted in this article that appeared in SHRM Online, written by Pamela Babcock on 1/11/2014)

Conflicting priorities, convoluted or outdated protocols, and mutual frustrations largely due to budget cuts and time constraints can hamper relations between HR and line managers. But there are things that can be done by those on both sides to quell the animosity and reduce the inefficiencies inherent to such situations, according to a recent report and experts on the subject.

A November 2013 Hay Group study, Bringing the Line to Life: How Activating the Relationship Between HR and the Line Can Impact Organization Performance, suggests that tension between HR and line managers is stifling employers’ ability to design and implement workforce strategies to achieve business objectives.

The poll of 750 HR directors and line managers in the U.S., U.K. and China found that HR professionals sometimes feel overburdened by everyday requests and queries from line managers. In fact, a third of HR directors estimate that their team spends up to one-third of its time dealing with such matters, which 43 percent agree is too much time and that it prevents them from taking a more strategic role within the company.

Adding to their woes, 71 percent of HR directors said line managers want immediate responses to queries and “are unforgiving if the process takes longer,” the report notes.

View from the Flipside

Line managers see things differently. An overwhelming 75 percent who responded said HR keeps information and data “close to its chest,” and approximately half (48 percent) said HR is slow to respond to their requests. That may be why more than one-third (39 percent) said that Google is a better and more immediate source of information than HR.

Meanwhile, more than half of respondents (58 percent) believe that procedures for hiring, promoting and resource planning are convoluted and inefficient, while just over a third (34 percent) think that HR “actively obstructs them from making these decisions themselves.”

Embracing Resolutions, Solutions

The study suggests that HR should relinquish some of its control to help alleviate the situation, and a resounding majority of surveyed HR directors (88 percent) believe that empowering line managers to make people management decisions should be a key goal. However, 51 percent of responding line managers admitted they don’t feel empowered to do so.

Technology can help to achieve that goal of redistributing some of the control and accountability, but it isn’t the only answer. If problems persist, experts said, a company should examine its corporate culture, ensure that HR staff gets front-line business experience, and continue to invest in training and development.

“With the advent of new technologies, there’s an opportunity to reduce that frustration on both sides,” said Iain Fitzpatrick, vice president at Hay Group. Using technology can help HR transition from spending too much time on “tactical, day-to-day stuff” to “making that more strategic contribution” while ensuring that policies are “implemented and executed in a consistent way.”

Nevertheless, “Technology is merely a tool; it is not a strategy,” noted Rick Dacri, president of Dacri & Associates, a Kennebunkport, Maine-based HR consulting firm. “HR should be taking a leadership role in formulating and implementing workforce strategies, not focusing on methodologies or the latest fad or apps.”

Dacri, author of Uncomplicating Management: Focus On Your Stars & Your Company Will Soar (Just Write Books, 2009), said difficulties between HR staff and line managers often arise because each side lacks a clear understanding of what the other does.

While HR may be concerned with compliance, consistency and fairness, operations may be more concerned with getting things done, profitability and expediting innovation,  he explained. HR professionals with operational experience are well versed in all aspects of the business. Mary Barra, the recently named CEO of GM, began her career in engineering and later moved into HR. “She gets it,” he said. 

But it works both ways. And sometimes line managers “don’t quite understand” issues that HR grapples with, Dacri observed. “I think there’s a tendency for line staff often to think that they can do HR [work] because that stuff—interviewing and disciplining—is easy, and it isn’t.”

In an e-mail to SHRM Online, Sharlyn Lauby, SPHR, president of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based leadership training and HR consulting firm ITM Group Inc., advised organizations that are experiencing a growing tension between HR and line managers to consider whether the corporate culture is at the root of it, since HR’s role is defined by the culture.


“In my experience, human resources wants managers to manage their departments,” Lauby wrote. “HR does not want to run another manager’s department for them. That being said, managers need to be given the training and tools to run their departments effectively and efficiently.”

Some companies hire and/or promote the most technically competent people to management and then fail to give them the training they need to do the job properly, Lauby said. “Unfortunately, new manager[s are] left out on their own and learn by making mistakes. While sometimes that’s OK, other times it means spending a lot of time in human resources.

“Technology can bring many efficiencies to the workplace, [but its] purpose isn’t to have managers stop thinking,” she continued. “Managers [have to] think in new and different ways, know when technology is the best approach and when face-to-face interaction is best, and [to] understand the logic behind the technology so you can apply the same principles when the technology is unavailable.”

So companies that want to create an autonomous workforce need to teach employees what autonomy means, she said.

“I call it self-management, meaning that I’m aware of my personal strengths and weaknesses, understand how to solve my own problems, and know the best ways to resolve conflicts.”

Pamela Babcock is a freelance writer based in the New York City area.

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Succession Planning: Refilling the Pipelines (Webinar)

This webinar, titled Succession Planning: Refilling the Pipeline was designed by Rick Dacri and delivered on December 10, 2013. Click Succession Planning to hear the webinar recording.

This webinar  provided the business case for having a succession plan and outlined the critical elements of such a plan. Our workforce is graying. Organizations must be prepared if and when key employees suddenly exit the workforce due to retirement, death or resignation. Business owners/CEOs must lead their organization in designing, implementing and managing an organization wide succession and knowledge retention plan. This should be an essential piece in the organization’s business plan and is fundamental to the long-term viability of all successful organizations. Good succession plans focus on developing their employees and ensuring that the organization always has the people in place to operate the business. This webinar was designed for CEOs, Executives, Business Owners, and HR Professionals.

Some of the topics covered:

  1. Understanding why all companies, regardless of size, should have a plan in place
  2. Knowing how to develop a successful succession plan & emergency preparedness plan
  3. Ensuring that qualified employees are ready when key vacancies occur in their organization
  4. Preventing the loss of valuable knowledge from walking out the door
  5. Developing key staff so that they have the skills to do the job today and tomorrow
  6. Recruiting staff that can contribute today and who also have future potential

To hear the webinar, click Succession Planning.

To learn more, contact Rick Dacri at Dacri & Associates, LLC


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