Monthly Archives: December, 2014

Bridging the Generations in Local Government – 20

We’re in the 20th week of our Cookingham Connection series today as we hear from Michelle Crandall. She is the Assistant City Manager for the City of Dublin, Ohio,  a position she has held since July 2013. Prior to that, she was the city’s Director of Administrative Services. She holds an MPA from Ohio State University.

Guidepost #20

Keep your personal contacts with other city managers. The greatest compliment you can pay them is to ask how they handle a certain problem.    

This particular Cookingham guidepost has been of great relevance to me throughout my career. Over the past twenty-two years, there have been numerous occasions I’ve benefited from reaching out to a fellow manager for advice when faced with a difficult situation. Oftentimes, the advice I received changed my approach or perspective and ultimately improved the outcome. A few times, the advice has saved me from making a poor decision that could have negatively impacted my career.

Our contacts and relationships with fellow local government professionals are so critical to both our professional success and our personal well-being. Considering this professional and personal aspect, and expanding upon L.P. Cookingham’s guidepost, I would offer that we should strive to build relationships with other managers that include the following three types of “contacts”: mentors, colleagues, and friends.


    All of us, regardless of where we are in our careers, need a good mentor or group of mentors. Early on in our careers we should find someone we can meet with on a fairly routine basis that will offer us candid, constructive feedback. Mid and late career managers should also have someone to turn to as a sounding board, even if they also serve as a mentor to others. A great mentor isn’t afraid to tell us when we are headed off-course and is eager to join us in celebrating our successes.
    A great mentor also has a few battle scars to share and sage advice about what he or she has learned from personal past experiences. On the flip-side, a great mentee is open to receiving feedback and is ready to change behaviors based on that feedback.


    Colleagues encompass the broader brushstroke of our local government networks. These are the managers in the adjoining communities and those that we have met at state and national association gatherings that we rely on regularly to “share shop” with and exchange ideas and information.
    From a professional standpoint, these connections are critical to building great communities. Our on-going contacts with colleagues allow us to understand best practices, lessons learned, and new perspectives. We should never be hesitant to reach out to another manager. As Cookingham notes in this guidepost, it is a call that will be well-received. In turn, we should always do our best to return the favor when asked for advice or information, giving such requests our full and timely attention.
    From a personal standpoint, these connections are important for career progression and professional opportunities. Your next career opportunity is likely to result because of strong relationships you have built with other local government managers.
    Building these relationship requires that we set-aside time in our schedules to attend area manager gatherings, as well as our state association and ICMA conferences. Beyond these structured settings, we should also make time to meet one-on-one with colleagues.  Some of my greatest ideas and insights have resulted from conversations over a cup of coffee with other local government managers. Don’t let your hectic schedule get in the way of cultivating these critical relationships.


    The local government profession is one that presents challenges and stresses that oftentimes only those also in the field truly understand. When our family and friends can’t relate to the issues we face, this is when it is vital to have a small group of fellow managers we consider close friends. These are the relationships that allow us to reach out and share more personally with those we trust and that understand because “they have been there, too”. These are the relationships that provide us with a safe haven to vent when we are stressed, without the fear that we will be judged, and to share our excitement when we have successes, without the fear that we will be viewed as boastful. Of all of our relationships with other managers, these are the ones we should cherish and invest in the most.

Fifty-eight years after the publishing of L.P. Cookingham’s 1956 PM Magazine article, Guidepost #20 still rings true. We are here to support each other in this incredible profession we have chosen. So pick up the phone, get out the calendar, or send a note. Start building and keep building strong professional relationships. It is an investment that pays high dividends to all of us and our communities.

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.

Emerging Generations in Local Government – 19

We’re continuing our series in the Cookingham Connection with a perspective from an emerging leader in local government. You heard what Interim City Manager Ed Wyatt had to say about Cookingham’s 19th guidepost. Now hear it from the perspective of Vanessa Shrauner. Vanessa is the Development Coordinator for Odessa, Texas. She earned her MPA from Texas State University.

Guidepost #19:

Always remember that you will never get in trouble or be embarrassed by doing what is right. You may lose your job for standing up for what you think is right, but you’ll always get another and better job. Besides, you will be able to sleep soundly…

I would like to start by saying we never know what might “get us in trouble” or cause us embarrassment when it comes to working in municipal governments. Therefore, I would like to take a little liberty and rephrase Mr. Cookingham’s statement while hopefully keeping the intent. If you get in trouble or are embarrassed by doing what is right, it will quickly be relieved by a clear conscience. So, while you may lose your job, you will have maintained your integrity and values and typically employers respect that; therefore, you will get another job and it may be better. Good things happen to good people.

Doing what is right is typically aligned with staying true to one’s own core values. Core values are determined in a variety of ways in peoples’ lives, so values differ from person to person; therefore, doing what is “right” can differ from person to person. The best-case scenario in municipal government is that a manager’s core values are in line with decision/policy makers. This scenario makes maintaining a moral path easier in that basically everyone is on the same page. In doing what is right, the manager has the support of the decision makers.

Should the manager’s core values not be in line with the board or council, then staying true to one’s beliefs of right and wrong becomes more difficult. Here’s where the “you may lose your job” part comes in. Each individual must decide for themselves their limits on their integrity. If a council asks you to do something that you believe is not right, you have options. Most of us are members of organizations that protect us in ethical matters. However, there may still be instances where a request goes against one’s values and that leads to the firing or the voluntary resignation of a manager. In other times, the option may be to say/do nothing, depending on the circumstance. If saying or doing nothing does not violate your personal values and can still meet the needs of policy makers, it may be the most viable solution.

Another aspect I think is worth mentioning is being flexible, not with your personal values, but with your view of the values of others. I believe that trying to look at circumstances from the other side may warrant us adjusting or revisiting the limits of our values from time to time. Being that right and wrong can vary from person to person, there is another perspective for us to observe circumstances from. Things are not always as black and white as they may seem in the beginning and a little re-evaluation and introspection may give us the ability to compromise and reach a solution which works for all parties. I find this an integral part of the job I do on a daily basis. Now, not every decision is an ethical challenge, but the practice of seeing both sides of a situation allows me to exercise that skill when the stakes are higher.

Applying this in my career means knowing my values, knowing my manager’s values, and knowing where I can be flexible. I fully anticipate a conflict of values at some point in my career so, should I face the instance of losing my job for doing what I believe is right, I hope I can do so with my values and integrity intact. And I always hope I stay true to my core values because, as Mr. Wyatt said, I have to be able to live with myself.

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.

Leaders are Learners—not just Copycats!

I spent last week at the National Executive Development School (NEDS) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. NEDS is a leadership development school for Parks and Rec professionals, and SGR has started collaborating with the New Mexico Recreation and Parks Association in managing the school. It’s an effort by both the NMRPA and SGR to help leaders in that profession develop and hone the skills it takes to excel as servant leaders in the public sector.

I’ve been involved in leadership development for long enough to know what to expect when you go as a presenter for an event like this. You may be going to teach, but the truth is that you are going to learn. Let that sink in. If you don’t learn some things from others, I tend to question whether you ought to be teaching. So, it was no surprise to me to find myself jotting tidbits into Evernote after walking away from informal conversations so that I wouldn’t lose a good idea that someone else was doing.

However, perhaps the most valuable part of an experience like NEDS is not the quantifiable things that you can write down, that great innovative program that you could do in your own setting. Perhaps the best things are the intangible things that you see in others that inspire you. I love great ideas, but if you just take someone else’s great idea and use it, without growing or changing as a person, then once that idea is done, it’s done—but you are still the same. I’ve seen more than a few leaders who did exactly that. They did the same things that other leaders did in different settings, but they never became genuine, authentic leaders because they, themselves, never really grew or changed. Authentic leaders are learners, but they aren’t just copycats. They aren’t afraid to use the ideas of others, but more importantly, they aren’t afraid to learn from others; there is a profound difference.

So here are a few things that inspired me that I saw in others at NEDS:

  • Passion for the health of a nation—not just physical health but the mental health that is often enhanced by good health that physical activity creates. I’ve heard Parks and Rec professionals refer to themselves in a kind of tongue-in-cheek tone, “We’re the essential non-essential.” You probably can’t understand all that this means unless you are an insider in Parks and Rec (and I am not). However, I suspect that it’s a tacit protest against a philosophy that ignores the importance of health as a pretty important essential. If you think about it, they’ve got a point!
  • Passion for every person in the city—regardless of their age or socio-economic status.There’s a really noble heart at the core of public service and when you catch a glimpse of it, it can take your breath away. The heart that cares about every person and strives to provide services to them without regard to what they can “give back” is the essence of servant leadership. I’ll just say that if you want to see it, spend some time with Parks and Rec professionals.
  • Passion for developing leaders—I saw this in my colleagues. I saw it in the NEDS committee members who have spent decades putting on the school and I saw it the participants who are building up the leaders who work with them in their respective cities. Everything rises or falls with leadership and one of the best things we can do for our country’s future is to develop the leaders around us.

So “Thank You to EVERYONE”—to everyone who was a part of NEDS 2014! Thanks for letting me be a part of it and thanks for inspiring me and for what you do as servant leaders in our nation. See you next year!

Mike Mowery

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

4 Lessons About Innovation

Here’s part of what we know about innovation so far.

I read a lot of books that deal with innovation challenges. They dominate the best sellers lists. The warnings are everywhere—the next breakthrough innovations are around the corner and if you are left behind, then you will really be left behind!

I think we can say that these insights are the current minimum insights regarding “received wisdom” about innovation (they come from a number of the books I have read, and presented, at the First Friday Book Synopsis).

Here are four “lessons” about innovation.

  1. Everything can be improved. Every product. Every process. Work on constant improvement.
  2. Innovations come by building on, tweaking, and adapting yesterday’s innovations. Thus, all innovators build on the shoulders of prior innovators.
  3. Most innovations come from teams. It is people working together, more than one person working alone, that leads to breakthroughs. (From Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators: “Most of the innovations of the digital age were done collaboratively”).
  4. A breakthrough innovation is not valuable until it is put to use in some practical way(s) to benefit many.

I suspect that you could expand on this list…

But, this much I know: Whatever your endeavor, you need to be working on innovating constantly. And, innovation needs to be pretty much woven throughout the very DNA of your organization. Innovation is a crucial part of the everyday job of the many.

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

Bridging the Generations in Local Government – 19

We’re in the 19th week of our Cookingham Connection series. Today, we learn from a 34-year veteran of the city management profession: Ed Wyatt, who is currently serving as the interim city manager of Henderson, NC.

Guidepost #19

“Always remember that you will never get in trouble or be embarrassed by doing what is right.  You may lose your job for standing up for what you think is right, but you’ll always get another and better job.  Besides you will be able to sleep soundly….

As I pondered how to address this guidepost, I found myself agreeing with parts of the statement but questioning other parts. My 34-year career in city management was based on the foundation of doing what is right and standing up for what I thought was right. Although this principle never caused me to lose my job, it did often get me in trouble, make me start a job search because I saw the writing on the wall, and definitely caused some sleepless nights. The right path is not always the easiest or most strongly supported way. Yet in the field of local government, it should be what we strive for.

I had only been employed as the manager of one municipality for less than a year when an election markedly changed the composition of the council. The new council expressed informally that I fire two members of the leadership team based on council members’ personal feelings and possible negative remarks they were hearing in the community. From what I had been able to determine, the employees were competent and doing their jobs. I had no reason to fire them. I also knew that if I didn’t stand up to the council, it would set a precedent for other personnel matters. Luckily, the council backed off their position, I didn’t lose a job in less than a year, and I upheld my principles. Sleepless nights, yes, but they weren’t over whether what I had done was right.

It has often been said that every good manager will be fired at least once. This may be viewed as an overstatement but illustrates the hazards of the profession. Being fired is not something to be taken lightly. It comes with economic and emotional consequences. During my years in local government, employment agreements with severance provisions were not prevalent. Today, they help alleviate the economic impact of being dismissed. Some of those who are fired will find a new and/or better job in local government, others will take lesser jobs in the field, and some will decide that the profession is not for them.

Most importantly, however, whatever your career path, it is important to do what you know is right. When all is said and done, you have to be able to live with yourself.

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.

Three Reasons for Unhappiness in the Workplace

So, the evidence is clear: people who work are generally unhappy at their work. According to an article by Bourree Lam for The Atlantic, Why Do Workers Feel So Unhappy?, just one-fifth of employees report believing that their workplaces strongly value them. Check out the article for a couple of useful charts and graphs. Here are the concluding thoughts from the article:

That’s right: Just one-fifth of employees report feeling strongly valued at work…
According to Gallup, the U.S. and Canada are already top in the world for employees who are psychologically committed to their work at a dismal 29 percent. Western Europe comes in at 14 percent engaged and East Asia is dead last at 6 percent.

So…why are employees so disengaged? Why do they feel so unhappy?

We don’t know for sure. But I think there are some obvious possibilities.

#1 – Wages have been stagnant, for too long, for many. And when a person does not make enough to move forward in any way, it is pretty tough to be happy at work.

Here’s a reminder, from Daniel Pink’s Drive:

If someone’s baseline rewards aren’t adequate, or equitable, her focus will be on the unfairness of her situation and the drive_book-by-daniel-pink_danpinkdotcom1anxiety of her circumstance. You’ll get neither the predictability of extrinsic motivation nor the weirdness of intrinsic motivation. You’ll get very little motivation at all. But once we’re past that threshold, carrots and sticks can achieve precisely the opposite of their intended aims.

#2 – Many are not treated as or even viewed as part of the “team” at work. This is true even for “full-time” employees. It is exacerbated when we consider this: the percentage of contract workers continues to go up. More and more people are piecing together a living doing more than one job. It is hard for a contract worker, with no job security, to feel part of the team.

#3 – Let’s “start with why” in this arena also. For the lucky ones who work at a job that gives them meaning — a job that they feel makes a difference for the better in the lives of others…well, my bet is that there is a higher percentage of happy employees in that group. It is pretty tough to be happy at work if a person feels like their work does not matter in a way that can make such a positive difference.

In other words, happiness at work requires some combination of adequate compensation, being part of a team, and doing work that matters.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours? Whatever the reason, this problem has been clearly identified, has lingered over many years, and seems to be getting no better. So, if companies, organizations, and their leadership teams do not tackle this one carefully, there will be another article in a couple of years asking “Why are people still so unhappy at work?”.

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

The Rise of the “No Decision!”

One frustration that I often hear from teams of leaders is that, although they discuss items over and over and over in meetings, the meetings often end with no decision. Sometimes it seems like people feel more frustrated over “no decision” than a bad decision. Yet, the complexities of our day—perhaps more poignantly in local government—make it almost impossible to be sure that you are ever making, with certainty, “the right decision.” Many times the choices are between bad and worse and the data changes so rapidly that it’s difficult to even convince yourself that you are making the right decision—not to mention a fickle public. Thus, the rise of the “No Decision!”

Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the book Decisive, offer several really good questions that can help leaders move beyond the “No Decision Syndrome”:

    1. Imagine that the option you’re currently leaning toward simply vanished as a feasible alternative. What else could you do?
    2. Imagine that the alternative you are currently considering will actually turn out to be a terrible decision. Where could you go looking for the proof of that right now?
    3. How can you dip a toe in the decision without diving in headfirst?
    4. [For personal decisions] What would you tell your best friend to do, if he/she were in the same situation?
    5. [For professional decisions] If you were replaced tomorrow, what would your successor do about your dilemma?
    6. Six months from now, what evidence would make you retreat from this decision? What would make you double-down?

Interestingly, it may be that we are looking for decisions to accomplish more than is actually reasonable. It probably won’t solve all of your problems; it’s also doubtful that it will unravel the universe or change life on the planet as we know it. Perhaps, instead, we should use the logic that they give us in these questions and focus more on the kind of leaders and the kind of organization we want to become. Make the decision that moves you in the direction that you want to go. Make the decision that will mark you as the kind of leader and person, team and organization, that you aspire to be. But don’t go into denial by thinking that putting off a decision that demands to be made isn’t, after all, a decision in itself.

Mike Mowery

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

So, What is Innovation?

The process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay.

To be called an innovation, an idea must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need.


Read this article, What is Innovation? 30+ definitions lead to one fresh summary, for many more definitions of innovation.

So, if we need to innovate, if we need to build a culture of innovation, if we need to practice perpetual, continual innovation, where everyone’s job is to be thinking about innovation and creating innovations, then what are we talking about?

Click on image for full view

Creativity and innovation are related, but different. Consider the classic diffusion of innovation. It takes “creativity” to come up with something new. Such creative people are the “innovators.” But then, people who grasp the possibility, and implement an innovation that someone else may have come up with are the “early adopters.”

Some innovations are are not worth adopting.

Some people who wait to see if an innovation will “take” might wait too long.

In other words, you can be too fast (it may not take), or too slow (you are left behind).

Innovations are sometimes new, disruptive technologies. Sometimes, they are tweaks and improvements. And sometimes, they are near-genius “combinations” (“combinatorial”). In the book The Second Machine Age, the authors identify three characteristics of this second machine age: exponential, digital, and combinatorial. Here’s a little more, from this book:

 …An innovation-as-building-block view of the world, where both the knowledge pieces and the seed ideas can be combined and recombined over time.

The best way to accelerate progress is to increase our capacity to test out new combinations of ideas. One excellent way to do this is to involve more people in this testing process, and digital technologies are making it possible for ever more people to participate.

Today’s digital environment, in short, is a playground for large-scale recombination.

‘Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.’ 
‘With more eyeballs, more powerful combinations will be found.’

This phenomenon goes by several names, including ‘open innovation’ and ‘crowdsourcing,’ and it can be remarkably effective.

So… here are some possible thought pursuits.

If what you are doing is working perfectly, and cannot be improved upon, and people pay you for this product or service, and will continue to do so, then, by all means, just keep at it the very way you are doing it. If this is the case, you don’t need to be innovative.

But, be warned – it can really work well for a very long time, and then when a “disruptive” innovation comes along, it can threaten you all at once, catching you absolutely unaware.

To see the threat and implement the innovation yourself while you are successful in the soon-to-be-old-way takes a special kind of genius.

Kodak was a great innovative company – until they missed the digital camera juggernaut.

But… (one of my favorite stories from the past), Mr. William Paley, Chairman of the Board of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), “owned the world” in the days of radio. He had been impressively innovative. But, even before television systems were fully in place, while making a lot of money in radio, Mr. Paley saw that television was next, and would be unstoppable. His fellow board members were not on board, but he pushed through the shift to television, and then…CBS dominated in the first decades of television success.

So, what is innovation? Maybe it is something like this:

Doing what will be successful next
Early enough to make a very big difference
In a way that people will want, and pay for
And making it fully available..

So, what is a culture of innovation?

Making this process repeatable, continually…

Here’s what I know: If what you are doing is not working, well… it is (past) time for a change.

If what you are doing is working, it might be threatened by an innovation. Pursue just such an innovation yourself.

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

Emerging Generations in Local Government – 18

We’re continuing our series in the Cookingham Connection with a perspective from an emerging leader in local government. You heard what Assistant City Manager Rick Usher had to say about Cookingham’s 18th guidepost. Now hear it from the perspective of Josh Gregor. Josh is a Revenue and Taxation Specialist III with the city of Portland, Oregon. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon.

Guidepost #18:

Always take the chip off the complainant’s shoulder before you let him go. This will be a hard task in some cases, but use every resource at your command to make friends out of potential enemies.

My first job out of college was as a representative of the Arts Education and Access Income Tax in the City of Portland. Customer service-wise, it proved to be the equivalent of learning to swim in the deep end of the swimming pool. You won’t find more chips on shoulders or flat-out complaints than working the front-lines of a highly controversial income tax. During the peak time of the program the number of incoming phone calls one representative can experience in a day is in the triple digits. Most calls are informational and/or for the purpose of making a payment over the phone, but on occasion you get someone who is fired up and searching for an outlet for their frustration. In most circumstances, the reason for the hostility is solely based on a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the program; however, there are inevitably people who are going to contact you with a heavy chip on their shoulder.

It is very hard to take that chip off the complainant’s shoulder, but I believe in, and use, these three guidelines and always strive to maintain them when interacting with others, regardless of the circumstance:

Be Friendly – Try to never deviate from a friendly attitude and tone when you are carrying out a public service. Anything less makes it seem like you don’t care or are bothered by having to interact with them. I have experienced people who are seeking out an argument and if you display any sort of combativeness, the interaction will gradually escalate into something worse.

Be Helpful – Not everyone interprets information in the same way, so actively attempting to find the right solution is the key. There is always a solution. Even if the person just wants to be heard and understood, you can be helpful by providing them that opportunity and letting them know you understand their frustrations.

Be Confident – You have had the training and there are resources available to you. Heck, maybe you created the policy or program yourself. Any way you look at, you are in a position of authority. Sound and appear confident! Even if you aren’t 100% sure, you always have the option to find the exact resources and cite them word for word. Whether on the phone, through email, or in person, I will often place people on hold and locate the exact wording of city code to help me achieve the utmost level of confidence.

Keeping these three guidelines at the forefront of your mind can help prevent negative encounters and achieve what Cookingham was striving for in his 18th Guidepost—making friends out of potential enemies.

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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