Emerging Generations in Local Government – 9

Cookingham Connection - Charlotte CWe’re continuing our series in the Cookingham Connection with a perspective from an emerging leader in local government. You heard what the assistant city manager of Daly City, California had to say about Cookingham’s 9th guidepost. Now hear it from the perspective of Charlotte Colley. Charlotte is the Village Administrator for the Village of New Concord, Ohio. She earned her Master of Arts in Political Science at Miami University.

Guidepost #9:

Get acquainted with your employees as rapidly as possible, and take time to let them show you what they have in their departments and how they do their work. (If you do not approve, go slowly in making drastic changes- the results will be much better and the improvements more lasting.)

I have to admit that until recently, I was not familiar with L.P. Cookingham, but ELGL has opened my eyes to the wisdom that is L.P. Cookingham, and I am ready to talk a little about my reaction to this guidepost.

After completing my Master’s degree I took a position with a local government consulting firm, Management Partners, Inc. I cannot tell you how beneficial this experience has been to my career! One skill that has been particularly helpful is the art of conducting an interview. I learned very quickly that to do my job effectively, I had to understand our client. That meant asking good questions, listening to the answer, and asking follow-up questions based on the answer. This was not something that came naturally, and I still have to work at it, but it is immensely important to what I do and how I interact with others in my organization and around the region.

I took this approach with me and used it during my time with the City of Dublin and the City of New Albany. In addition to getting a better understanding of the organizational structure, routine tasks, internal politics, highlights, and issues, I have also made some wonderful connections and friends! Whenever you start with a new organization, it’s important to develop a good working relationship with other employees. They will be the ones to tell you the good places to eat lunch, help with operating the finicky copier, walk you through the “Finance rulebook”, and be an ally/ear/shoulder when you need one.

I’m not just talking about department directors either. I believe that regardless of your official title, you must to be kind and get to know staff at all levels of your organization. This includes administrative assistants, parks and recreation maintenance workers, dispatchers, IT analysts, payroll specialists, engineering managers, HR specialists, police officers, custodial staff, and others. These employees are the lifeblood of your organization and understanding what they do and the obstacles they face will better prepare you for your role in the organization, whatever that may be.

As a newly appointed village administrator (I’ve only been on the job for 2.5 weeks!), this guidepost has been incredibly insightful to me. I made it a point to meet as many staff in my organization as possibly within my first few days on the job. I went to their offices and took time to try and learn their names (still working on this one, but it’s probably the most important), ask about their duties, their tenure with the Village, their family life, and I also talked to them about myself and my family a bit. I really wanted to try and lay the groundwork for a good working relationship, and also let them see my personal side.

The Village hired me right before budget development so if, through any of these initial and follow-up discussions with my staff, I notice something that may need to be tweaked or reviewed, we can talk about it in the context of the budget. Not everything will fit into this nice little bucket, so that’s where I need to keep reminding myself to take it slow, learn about the work done before I came to the Village, and engage with staff as a partnernot a managerto solve problems and make improvements.

The Cookingham Connection blog series is published in partnership with Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL). ELGL members are local government leaders with a passion for connecting, communicating, and educating.

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