Last weekend, I facilitated a City Council retreat for one of the fastest growing cities in the nation. It was a city that considers excellence the routine floor to work from, not an unattainable goal to simply strive for. During the course of the retreat, there was some reflection upon their rapid transformation from a small rural farm community into one of the premier cities in the nation.
Certainly, regional growth patterns contributed to their success; but while many cities experience rapid growth, only a few achieve sustainable excellence. I work with city council’s all over the nation and a consistent pattern is very clear. Sustainable excellence is always accompanied by the following key characteristics:
- A compelling strategic vision shared by elected officials and city management of what they want the future to look like and a realistic game plan to get there.
- Elected officials who understand their role as strategic thinkers and vision casters and enforcers of the mission, vision and values. Elected officials who abandon this top level responsibility by trying to do the city manager’s job ensure a culture of mediocrity and that their vision will never become reality.
- An effective citizen engagement plan to ensure that the community has meaningful input and buy-in to the vision. Great visions are not cost free, but most citizens are willing to pay the price for pursuing excellence if they have bought into the legitimacy of the process that produced the vision.
- The political will to make decisions based on a fifty-year time horizon, rather than the next election.
- The courage to stand strong and do what they know is right for the future despite threats and bullying from CAVE men (citizens against virtually everything) and articulate incompetents (those who make doing the wrong thing sound SO right). Those who get satisfaction from destroying rather than building are always the loudest, but volume rarely equates to what is best for the overall community.
The question is not whether your city can achieve excellence (you can) –the question is whether you truly aspire for excellence. And if you do, it’s a matter of whether your council/manager team is willing to follow a proven formula for achieving sustainable excellence, or whether you are going to keep doing business like you always have and remain trapped in a world where tomorrow looks just like yesterday.