Monthly Archives: September, 2014

Emerging Generations in Local Government – 8

Cookingham Connection - Kirsten SWe’re continuing our series in the Cookingham Connection with a perspective from an emerging leader in local government. You heard what a UNC professor had to say about Cookingham’s 8th guidepost. Now hear it from the perspective of Kirsten Silveira. Kirsten is a Budget Management Analyst for the City of Baltimore, Maryland and an MPA candidate at the University of Kansas. She is also a member of Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL).

Guidepost #8:

Treat everyone in the city, friend or foe, as if your success depended on the manner in which you handled his problem. I have often told my employees to consider everyone with whom they talk to be a member of the city council, and by doing this, they will give their best to all.

You’re busy. The budget director needs that cost assumption on the new FOP contract, one of your agencies just submitted a requisition to renew a blanket contract for $300,000 more than that account’s budget authority, you have a meeting with the Director of Finance and the Mayor’s Office in an hour, and haven’t finished the memo the meeting is about. The list goes on.

The phone rings. It’s not a city office number.

Now, you’ve got some options.

  1. Let it go to voicemail you’ll deal with them later,
  2. Answer it and make it clear they are interrupting, or
  3. You peel your eyes away from the spreadsheet and answer the phone.

I answered. The voice on the other end frantically starts talking about the very ill stray cat in her backyard. As an animal lover, I’m sympathetic and hope the cat gets to a vet. As a budget analyst, I am not sure how to help… “can someone from your office come help me,” she asks.

I tell her “Ma’am, I’m sorry. This is the budget office. But give me a second and I’ll look up the phone number for the shelter.” So I Google it, provide her with the right sequence of numbers and say, “If you call and, for some reason, don’t get through, call me back and I’ll see if I can find some more information for you.”

Now, this happens to me all the time. Somehow, the City’s 311 (frequently) mixes up the last four digits of a phone number and sends residents to the budget office instead of the city animal shelter. I’ve tried calling 311 myself and correcting the information, but no such luck. I could get annoyed that I have been pulled away from pressing matters, but instead, it pulled me back to reality.

We’re public servants and to that citizen, at that moment, the most important thing the city could do for her was to come get the sick animal out of her yard. Though the realities of the financial issues I was dealing with would indirectly impact her life, that was not my role in our brief relationship. I could have sent her back to 311 to wait for an operator and maybe given the right number, but that isn’t what L.P. Cookingham would have done.

In a 1956 Public Management magazine, the former ICMA President and long-time city manager published his guideposts for all to consume. As Ammons shared with you, Cookingham was known for his way with people and his ability to connect with individuals from all walks of life. His eight guidepost suggests that young public servants adopt the philosophy that all residents are as important as the City Council. Cookingham wrote these words for future city managers.

Unlike Ammons, I never had the pleasure of meeting Cookingham, but I have a feeling he intended that all public servants read these words. I believe he would have wanted that in each conversationwhether it be with a political figure, a colleague, a bureaucrat, a citizen or a janitortreat the present issue like it is the only thing that matters.

The frustration many find with government is they are monolithic and seemingly impenetrable. Siloed and inefficient. If I had told the citizen that I couldn’t help and she needed to call 311 again, I would have been confirming that perception.

Remember Cookingham’s challenge, his wise words, the next time your phone rings and you feel like you’re too busy to answer.

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.

Bridging the Generations in Local Government – 8

Cookingham Connection - David AWe’re in the eighth week of the Cookingham Connection. Today, we hear from David Ammons, Professor of Public Administration and Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also writes and teaches about performance measurement, benchmarking, and productivity improvement in local government. Ammons earned his Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma.

Guidepost #8

Treat everyone in the city, friend or foe, as if your success depended on the manner in which you handled his problem. I have often told my employees to consider everyone with whom they talk to be a member of the city council, and by doing this, they will give their best to all.

I remember years ago working as a staff member in a highly-regarded municipal government. Several colleagues and I were huddled around a conference table working on an issue when one member of our group was called away to take a phone call. Upon his return, someone asked, “Was that the mayor calling?” “No,” came the response, “just a citizen.”

Just a citizen.

My colleagues and I were dedicated public servants. We chose to work in government because we considered it noble. Working in government gave us a chance to make a difference in life. Our choice of working in local government allowed us to make the kind of differences we could see and feel every day in our community. We respected the mayor and city council. We respected our colleagues on the city staff. And we respected the citizens. Still, it was easy at times, if you weren’t careful, to take citizens a little bit for granted and even to become a little annoyed by the excessive demands of some and by the criticisms of a few.

Just a citizen.

We could have used a word of advice, just a little reminder, from L.P. Cookingham. Cookingham was a giant among city managers in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, most famous for his service to Kansas City, Missouri, before completing his career as city manager of Fort Worth, Texas. Considered by many to be the dean of city managers, Cookingham was highly regarded not only for what he did—helping to reform Kansas City in the aftermath of the Pendergast Machine and build a progressive city of integrity and promise—but also for how he did it.

Among his guideposts, and he had many, was this eighth one that emphasized the importance of treating everyone with respect, whether friend or foe, powerful or not.

Cookingham engaged with people of high station and low. He forged agreements among community influentials and marshaled support for civic projects. He also endeared himself to people on the street. Colleagues found it difficult to have a serious conversation with Cookingham while strolling downtown sidewalks. Too many interruptions. “Good morning, Mr. Cookingham.” “Hiya, Cookie!” “Hello, Perry” (Gilbert 1978, 234, 245). He not only respected citizens; he genuinely liked engaging with people.

Cookingham’s principles called for even-handed treatment of all—no special favors for some and indifference or disrespect toward others. He is said to have made this point from the very start, even in his interview for the Kansas City job, declaring provocatively that Tom Pendergast, the then disgraced machine boss, would receive the same treatment in the city manager’s office as the mayor or any other citizen (Gilbert 1978, 245). Everyone was to be treated well and with respect—just as they would treat a member of the city council.

Perry Cookingham had a pleasing way with people—to this I can attest. When I was a young assistant professor at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas), we decided to host a conference on the history and contributions of council-manager government. We assembled an outstanding panel of speakers, including the city managers of Dallas, Cincinnati, and Fort Worth. When I suggested that we try to get the retired L.P. Cookingham, others thought it a splendid idea and I was given the assignment.

When I telephoned Cookingham, explained our plan, and told him how much we wanted him to participate in this conference, then still eight months or so in the future, he replied with a slight chuckle, “At my age, I don’t make plans more than a few weeks in advance.” I persevered and persuaded him to accept our invitation.

He came and was a hit, not only with the audience but also with his fellow panelists, this collection of prominent, current city managers. But even before that, he was a hit with my wife and small children. Perry arrived in town the evening before the conference and agreed to come to my home for dinner with my family. At that small dinner, his warmth and grace were on full display. He completely charmed my wife and kids. We treasure the memory to this day.

Today as I read Cookingham’s guidepost instructing his staff, and public officials everywhere, to treat everyone they encounter as they would a member of the city council, I know this was not an instruction he took lightly. I saw him interact with peers and with new acquaintances. I watched him charm my family. This was a man of polish and grace who knew how to treat people well and considered it the right thing to do.

An autographed copy of the book This City, This Man: The Cookingham Era in Kansas City by Bill Gilbert, is a prized possession of mine, signed not by the volume’s author but by its subject.

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.

“What’s in It for Me?”

Obama KidI absolutely love this picture that has been floating around the internet all week.

If you don’t know the background of this photo, a retiring U.S. Secret Service agent and his wife came to the White House to meet President Obama. Apparently their son was either bored or unamused because instead of marveling in the presence of the Commander-in-Chief, he face-plants onto the Oval Office’s couch.

Every single person in leadership, or wanting to be in leadership, should plaster this image in his or her head because it sums up what you have to do every time you prepare your next message or meeting—convince the audience why they should care.

What’s in it for them? Why should they have interest? Why should they “get off the couch” and join your conversation?

Imagine that every one who needs to receive your message is this little boy—buried into the couch, not invested in what you’re saying.

What are you going to say to catch his attention? How are you going to keep his attention once you have it? And how are you going to make your message so great that he runs off and shares it with others?

The days of force-feeding your ideas to others are long gone. If you have something to say, you have to be strategic in how you deliver it.

A good teacher, like a good entertainer, first must hold his audience’s attention, then he can teach his lesson. – John Henrik

You don’t have the audience’s attention just because you walked into the room, or joined the conference call, or passed out a handout—you have to earn it.

Practice the art of grabbing someone’s attention—through what you write and what you say.

I wouldn’t be so sure on solely basing your ability to captivate on your title and how high you are in your organization. You see how well that worked out for the President…

Hope Boyd
Written by:
Hope Boyd
Director of Communications, Strategic Government Resources

Strategic Planning: It’s a Waste of Time Not to Do it

“What’s the point of having a retreat to do strategic planning? Isn’t that really just a waste of time?”

As shocking as it can seem, I’ve heard more than a few board members ask these questions when presented with the need to set aside time in order to think and plan about the future.

To some, it seems that the present problems are so consuming that thinking about the future is a luxury that they can’t afford. They are too busy bailing water out of the boat to think about having to steer it. However, regardless of how bad the current problems are, there are a lot of good reasons to take time at least once a year to strategize for the future.

  1. Team members do not really know what other team members think about issues unless there is time given to discuss the issues.
    I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a retreat and a leader will give his/her opinion about something, only to have other colleagues say, “I never knew that’s what you thought about that!” That’s a little bit like saying, “I didn’t know that was in there” about a book that you’ve never read! (Of course you didn’t! How would you?) Strategic planning retreats provide a chance to share opinions and perspectives.
  1. Strategic Planning lifts the leaders out of the operational level, which is where they tend to gravitate unless they are driven by a shared vision.
    Inevitably, if leaders do not focus on the horizon, they are sucked into focusing on the potholes, the crises, and the jobs that they are paying other people to do. One of the major differences between strategic leadership and every other level is that every other level of leadership is focused on the present—strategic leadership is focused on the future. Only the leaders at the top of the organization are in the appropriate position to focus on the direction that they need to go. In other words, if those leaders don’t do it, no one else legitimately can.
  1. Team unity that comes out of these retreats is a byproduct and a catalytic element.
    In almost every Strategic planning retreat I have led, the participants say that they feel more team unity afterwards. We don’t try to force a team to feel close. In fact, the more you try to force it, the more elusive it becomes. It’s a byproduct of having a shared vision. On the other hand, it’s also really important to have a sense of team unity. When you have it, it’s like a catalyst for so many good things that you don’t experience when you don’t have unity.

I’ve been accused of being too optimistic, but the truth is I know that just because you develop a strategic plan doesn’t mean it’s always going to work out like you plan. On the other hand, if you are a leader of an organization, it is irresponsible not to plan, and a bit too optimistic to think that everything will just work out any way.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Chief Operations Officer, Strategic Government Resources

Your Window Will Close – Be Ready When It Does

So, at the family reunion, where conversation is leisurely and late into the night, my brother Mike Mayeuxthe CEO of Novotus, and the “natural” business genius among uslaunched into one of his bursts of insight. I can’t tell you how valuable these are!

He plays golf regularly (ok – so he’s not really all that smart, is he?), and I asked him what happened to Tiger Woods. He talked about how the “window closed” on Tiger. I asked him to elaborate, and here’s his description (with a little added bold for emphasis):

It’s “The Window”… Tiger Woods had a window when he was all alone as a supreme player; and in that window, he had an opportunity to do his work and set his records. Now, it’s CLOSED. The new players are just better than he is. They hit the ball farther, putt better… smart and tough. They are tee-to-green doing better now than he did then.

With companies, there is an identical occurrence. They invent the wheel and are the only people with a wheel until some other company simply lays eyes on the wheel and builds onenow that advantage is gone. What took the first company years to build is suddenly duplicated by the competitor in a short time. The pioneers get the arrows — the settlers get the land. Apple is getting beat right now on co-innovation (taking advantage of common technologies at the same time – tie to market), and they are getting beat on technological configuration. This is complicated. Microsoft has a notebook that doubles as a laptop that is desk-ready but very portable. Apple has no incentive to make one of these because they can sell three devices to accomplish the same. If Microsoft puts a phone radio in that new device, they might run the table by combining three devices into one.

Now, I don’t know if any part of this is off base, but I do get the key concepts. Let me list them this way:

  1. You really do need to build (invent) a business advantageone that puts you ahead of the herd.
  2. When you build (invent) a business advantage, it is shorter lived than ever before. Your window will close… pretty quickly, unless…
  3. You build (invent) another, new, not yet seen next advantage. In other words, staying one step ahead of the herd that is right on your heels is tougher than ever before.
  4. And, since “the pioneers get the arrows, the settlers get the land,” don’t be surprised when the arrows fly if you are ahead of the crowd. Because, fly they will.

The key part of all of this is the idea of the window. Tiger had a window. Then it closed.

So first, get to the window. Next, take advantage quickly. And last, have a real plan in place when that window closes. Because, it will close! And you’d better be ready.

Like I saidsmart brother.

Randy Mayeux

Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Emerging Generations in Local Government – 7

Cookingham Connection - Anthony HWe’re continuing our series in the Cookingham Connection with a perspective from an emerging leader in local government. You heard what a city manager had to say about Cookingham’s 7th guidepost. Now hear it from the perspective of Anthony Hooper. Anthony is the support services supervisor for the City of Lake Oswego, Oregon. Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) also credits Anthony for the organization’s continued growth.

Guidepost #7:

Don’t let any problems frighten you, for there is a logical solution to each one you have to face. If they seem too tough for today, let them go until tomorrow whenever possible, for then they will seem simpler. The problems that concern you today may be completely forgotten in a week or two.

L.P. Cookingham was a City Manager during the Great Depression. It is in this context that guidepost seven carries so much weight with me. Mr. Cookingham urges everyone to not let any problems frighten them. This surprises me because the Great Depression vignettes contained within The Grapes of Wrath were far more terrifying than the clowns, dogs, or cars that scurry in any of Steven King’s classics; and those problems certainly frighten me. As Allen Barnes mentions in his guidepost response, “We must accept the problems and face them head on.” Sometimes that may require that we take the cowardly lion’s medal of courage out of the desk drawer, dust it off, and tackle the problem ferociouslyeven if the problem happens to be a supernatural clown.

While we are certainly not at Great Depression levels of poverty, there are still plenty of problems that face cities today. I recommend logging on to YouTube to watch the documentary American Winter. This 2013 film explores poverty issues facing Oregon families. As stated in the documentary, 26% of Oregonians live in a condition of asset poverty, which essentially means that one out of four people are living paycheck-to-paycheck and will run out of things to sell after three months of trying to survive while not working. As government leaders, I think it is particularly helpful to know that a sizable portion of our citizens are living on the edge financially. This lack of financial security for citizens usually manifests itself to city managers in bite-sized problems. One area that seems to be a boiling point is utility billing.

One example of a citizen’s financial troubles bubbling over at the utility billing counter was illustrated quite well in Scott Lazenby’s response to guidepost five where he describes a story that he heard from another city manager. In this story, a citizen was recently laid off, did not pay her utility bill, and her water was turned off. The citizen vociferously refused to pay the “turn on” water fee and it caused a lot of consternation for a number of staff members. In the end, the problem was solved by the city manager who paid for the fee out of pocket. In my opinion, that was a simple and compassionate solution. I strongly believe that compassion is a very important ingredient to problem solving. One other YouTube video that I recommend watching is This is Water, which is nine minutes long and based off of a David Foster Wallace speech. I learned of this video from Kirsten Wyatt, co-founder of ELGL, and it has been very helpful in reminding me to be compassionate when approaching problems and when interacting with the people who sometimes bring those problems forward.

In this guidepost, Mr. Cookingham suggests that we let problems sit if they seem too difficult. In Mr. Barnes response, he states “There are a relatively few number of problems that present themselves that cannot be put off.” I agree. If the problem is not easily solvable, then I let whoever brought it to my attention know that I will get back to them in a certain time frame, and I take at least one day. I do my very best problem solving between the hours of 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., which is the first hour of the day after I wake up. One of the reasons for this is that while I am sleeping, my subconscious is hard at work. There is science to suggest that by focusing on the issue before you go to sleep, you can enable your subconscious to act similarly to a city recorder. Your are basically taking the large pile of experiences and facts surrounding a particular problem and considering each one as it is sorted into a filing system in your brain. Before this occurs, we are more likely to only look at the facts and experiences that are at the top of the pile.

In Mr. Barnes’ response, he also states that his professional network of colleagues are essential in providing insight into a potential solution. I would add that talking with employees and co-workers within your organization is key because they will offer up a unique perspective. As Einstein famously said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” I have solved many of my most difficult problems by gaining input from multiple angles because my perspective is only one of many. Plus, the added benefit of talking about solutions with your supervisees and co-workers is that you may gain buy-in.

Lastly, I try my best to view problems as a good thing. Branch Rickey, the baseball executive that signed Jackie Robinson, once said, “Problems are the price you pay for progress.” Here is hoping that my career be always filled with problems.

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.

Bridging the Generations in Local Government – 7

Cookingham Connection - Allen BWe’re in week seven of the Cookingham Connection. Today, we hear from Allen Barnes, City Manager for the City of Gonzales, Texas. Barnes has also been city manager for Sachse and Liberty, Texas. He earned his psychology and MPA degree from The University of Texas at Dallas.

Guidepost #7

Don’t let any problems frighten you, for there is a logical solution to each one you have to face. If they seem too tough for today, let them go until tomorrow whenever possible, for then they will seem simpler. The problems that concern you today may be completely forgotten in a week or two.

The old dirge “nobody knows the troubles I seen; nobody knows my sorrows” comes to mind when discussing guidepost seven. City management is fraught with problems that are unique to our chosen field; and as practitioners, we need to understand the problems we face are transitory. They will be solved one way or another. We must accept the problems and face them head on.

We would not be in this business if we were not problem solvers. As a problem solver, it is often difficult to determine what the impact of a problem is going to be. At first, a problem may seem a little more than an annoyance, but if left alone, it will blossom to a seminal point in one’s career. Other times, a problem may seem like the end of the world, but turns out to be nothing.

If fear enters into the problem solving equation, the resolution of the problem is often flawed. As most City Managers and City Staff recognize, the utmost importance should be placed on developing a solution that is in the best interest of the communities we serve. I tend to try to not let my emotions become involved in my business decisions. This is easy to say, but often it is not easy to do. When I find that I have let my emotions enter into one of my decisions, I normally back away from the situation and spend time thinking about whether or not my solution is truly the right thing to do.

In many situations, fear can be a selfish emotion, and one that is difficult to overcome. The decisions we make every day can impact our family, our career, our standing in our community, and our own well-being. When faced with a problem we believe tends to encroach into these areas, we often cannot help but to become frightened. When you establish a reputation for doing the right thing in all cases, without fail, without falter, and without compromise, you tend to reduce the number of problems that frighten us.

Sometimes we must step away from our problems to find that logical solutions. There are a relatively few number of problems that present themselves that cannot be put off. I’m not saying avoid the problem and it will go away. However, the majority of problems we face as public officials can be delayed while we search for a solution. Once we work through the visceral reaction to the problem, we can look at it with a fresh assessment of the situation.

There are those rare occasions where the logical solution to problems is just beyond our grasp. I personally use two primary sources to find strength to develop the solution. The first is my faith and the second is my professional network.

My faith gives me the strength and perseverance to pursue the solution to my problems. I try to hand my problem to God and ask for His solution. Often in my daily quiet time, a potential solution will occur to me that is often so simple it is hard to grasp. Most of us have a place where we find peace and tranquility whether that is with our faith, family, or some physical location.

The development of a professional network of colleagues you can count on is absolutely essential. Simply discussing the problem with an empathic ear can lead you to the solution on your own. If talking about it does not lead you to the solution, someone in your network has most likely dealt with the problem you are facing, or at least they may give you some insight into a potential solution.

I believe there are a couple of reasons why problems seem to be forgotten so quickly after we find the solution. First, when we find a solution, the problem is no longer omnipresent in our minds and we tend to file it away and address other issues. Secondly, our lives are so fast paced today that we don’t have time to dwell on the problems of yesterday because we have new situations that demand our attention. There is a third reason problems are forgotten. We did the right thing, found the correct solution to the problem, and resolved it in the best way possible.

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.

You Have to Be Willing to Lose $2 Billion

Tobacco is an $80 billion dollar industry, according to Forbes. Tobacco companies certainly know this—reports show they spend as much as $12 billion a year just on advertising. That comes out to more than $30 million a day just on marketing!

So why in the world would a company that is profiting from being a part of the “big tobacco” industry decide to drop out of the running? Because the sale of tobacco went against that company’s overall mission.

I’m talking about CVS.

CVS is changing its corporate name to CVSHealth; and to make sure that its focus is truly on customer health, the company stopped selling tobacco. CVS is the first national pharmacy chain to do that.

CVS executives say they expect to lose about $2 billion in revenue because of the change.

I love what CEO and President Larry Merlo had to say about the decision:

“We saw a growing contradiction between selling tobacco and delivering health care in a retail environment…. Our decision is an example of private sector influencing public policy.”

Can you imagine what it would have been like to be in the meeting where that decision was made?

I’m sure no one went into the conference room with the desire to lose money for the pharmacy chain. They simply (but not easily) decided that if “helping people on their path to better health” was truly their purpose, they had to weed out anything that differed from that goal.

Your organization has core values that employees are expected to achieve. Excellence, integrity, diversity, customer service, and some other “feel good” words are probably among them.

In theory, those are great; but what does it look like? Have you sat down and asked the hard questions to make sure everything done by you and your organization is in line with those values? And if your actions don’t match up, are you actually going to do something about it?

CVS was willing to lose $2 billion to keep in line with its values, but your “$2 billion” could be a highly valuable employee, a major third-party contract, or some other company perk.

Sometimes leaders have to make sacrifices. It’s not always comfortable, and it may even end up costing you financially, but being confident that your organization is walking the talk is priceless.

Hope Boyd
Written by:
Hope Boyd
Director of Communications, Strategic Government Resources

What Would Amazon Do?

Last week, my son ordered something from Amazon and was expecting two-day shipping; but when he looked at the receipt, the shipping date given was about three weeks from now. He called customer service and to his surprise, a live person answered. When he explained the situation, she said, “Well, we can change that to one-day shipping at no extra charge. Would that be okay?” Obviously, he was very impressed! The next day, as promised, the order arrived.

Compare that to an experience I had at a national chain restaurant just a few weeks ago. I met a friend for breakfast and ordered two eggs over easy and three strips of bacon. In a moment, the server came back and said, “Our computer says that you can have four strips of bacon or two strips, but not three.” Well, you know what they say, “The customer isno, make that THE COMPUTERis always right!”

I can’t help but wonder, “What would Amazon do?” Somehow, I just doubt that Amazon would say, “The computer says…”

My question for you is: “Does the customer service in your organization look more like Amazon or the breakfast-monitoring computer?” One represents a “knock your socks off” experience. The other is uninspiring and forgettable. One fosters irrational loyalty. The other elicits indifference.

In working with local governments, I am often extremely impressed with how hard many cities work at customer service. Certainly there are exceptions and there are breakdowns, but I think most cities value giving great customer service. Taking customer service to the “Amazon” level may not be possible for your organization, but to move it in that direction, here are some things that must permeate your culture.

  1. Pursuit of Excellence.
    Some might say that the key word is “pursuit,” but I would suggest that the key word is “excellence.” You will pursue what you are focused on, so as a leader, you have to constantly remind your team to pursue excellencenot settle for mediocrity.
  2. Employees Empowered to Use Judgment.
    Our society doesn’t really like the word judgment. No one wants to appear “judgmental.” However, you cannot write enough policies to cover every single situation. Employees have to be empowered and trusted to use good judgment. The difference between average and great customer service is always going to be a matter of good judgment.
  3. The Golden Rule.
    One of the mottos at SGR is: always protect the relationship. That governs both external and internal relationships. We all have situations that are beyond our control, but if you simply try to treat others the way you would want to be treated, it has a way of lifting customer service to the level of excellence.

Incidentally, given the parameters that the computer dictated about my breakfast, I decided to practice the golden rule. I ordered 4 strips of bacon, and gave two of them to my friend. Not surprisingly, he wants to meet at the same place next time!

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Chief Operations Officer, Strategic Government Resources

Emerging Generations in Local Government – 6

Cookingham Connection - Ben KWe’re continuing our series in the Cookingham Connection with a perspective from an emerging leader in local government. You heard what a city manager had to say about Cookingham’s 6th guidepost. Now hear it from the perspective of Ben Kittelson. Ben is an MPA graduate from Portland State University, an intern for the City of West Linn, Oregon, and project manager for Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL).

Guidepost #6:

Lead those whom you contact—members of the council, subordinate employees, and citizens—into the proper channel by tactful suggestion rather than by too persuasive argument. Make them feel that they have had a major part in making the decisions and in establishing the policies which you deem to be in the best interest of the individual and the government.

This guidepost is as relevant today as it was when Cookingham originally wrote it. It is important for City Managers and managers in general to listen to others during the decision-making process. By gathering input and making people feel as if they have had a major part in making decisions, it is easier to get support for the final decision; and it creates a positive work culture where everyone feels like they are included and have a voice.

I think there’s another part to this guidepost in the phrase “by tactful suggestion rather than by too persuasive argument.” Here Cookingham is saying that managers cannot be heavy-handed in decision making and persuasion. Even when it comes down to decision time and the final call rests with the manager, the way the decision is delivered to others has to be in a professional manner. Managers have to find a polite way to say no and a polite way to say “this is the way it’s going to be.” I think every once in a while, managers can get away with being “too persuasive.” However, over time, that wears on employees and elected officials who need to feel that their opinion matters and that it is being taken into account.

I also argue that Cookingham doesn’t go far enough in the second part of the guidepost. I don’t think you should just make people “feel” that they have had a part in the decision, I think people need to actually influence the decision. I think a manager can show that the input received is influencing their decision by explaining how they used the input that was given. It can’t be a one-way communication of people providing input and the manager coming up with a decision. I think effective managers make each person feel like they have been heard, and then they explain why and how they came to the final decision.

Good managers should also be open to changing their opinion based on the input that they receive. Sometimes this sort of process can feel like a charade, and even though a manager may be checking the box of involvement and input, that input isn’t actually affecting the decision. This guidepost suggests managers need to go into a decision-making process with an open mind. We should all be open to new information and opinions, and it is perfectly alright if new information changes our original position.

I agree with Mr. Duggan that input on the decision making shouldn’t just be limited to Council members or staff, but should also extend to the community and outside organizations. This is especially important in this day and age where communities have to work together and cooperate to solve problems that extend beyond jurisdictional boundaries. The opinion of a neighboring jurisdiction should be heard and taken into account just as you would like your opinion to influence a decision they make. I also agree that the big takeaway from this guidepost is that the “how” of reaching a decision is just as importantand sometimes more importantas the decision itself.

Often times backlash, especially from the public, about a decision is not necessarily a disagreement about what the decision was. Instead, it was frustration with how the decision was made. When people feel as if their voice was not heard in the decision-making process, they want to throw out the whole decision, even if their input would lead to the same result. I think that’s an important lesson from this guidepost for any public sector employee, and especially for managers. The process of making a decision is just as important as the substance of the decision.

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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