Tag Archives: Ron Holifield

Cents and Sensibility

I recently facilitated a city council retreat to set goals and priorities leading into their budget process. One council member strongly advocated for “the lowest tax rate in the region.” The Mayor responded with an incredibly thoughtful and wise explanation regarding the need to link tax rate decisions to both current and future needs (such as aging infrastructure) and that a tax rate should not be an end in and of itself, but a means to accomplish the policy goals of the council and the quality of life goals of the community.

This wise Mayor understood that the tax rate is an important part of the equation to be deliberated, but just one part. A one dimensional focus on the tax rate empowers bad decision making. It is like awarding the cheapest bid for new police cars, but ignoring that the cars included in the lowest bid did not include engines.

The budget is not a financial document so much as a policy document which has financial implications. And the tax rate provides the means to implement the policy decisions of the elected officials… but it should not be an end in and of itself.

A one dimensional obsession with the tax rate, unaccompanied by an understanding that it has a direct impact on the type and quality of services delivered reminds me of the little boy visiting his grandfather who was an avid baseball fan. They were watching the game together when the doorbell rang. The grandfather got up and asked the boy to watch the game and tell him what happened when he got back. When the grandfather returned, he asked what the score was. “Five to four” the boy replied. “In whose favor?” he asked. The boy thought a moment and replied “The fives.”

When the only question is “do we have the lowest tax rate?” the answer is like the little boy who knew the score but not what the numbers really meant. An effective budget process helps the governing body ask the right series of questions to understand underlying implications and in so doing advance their policy goals:

  1. “What services do we want to deliver?” allows a governing body to answer the philosophical questions of what business lines their organization should be in.
  2. “How are we delivering these services?” allows a governing body to address efficiency and effectiveness as well as the level of quality they are committed to.
  3. “Who should we be delivering the services to?” allows a governing body to wrestle with different service configurations for different populations such as central versus neighborhood libraries and non-resident utilization of city services.
  4. “What are we willing to pay to provide these services?” allows the governing body to determine if they are really ready to pay for what they say they want. If the governing body is unwilling to set the tax rate at a level required to deliver the array of services at the desired quality of service level, then the governing body should rethink whether they want to quit providing a service, whether they want to provide it at a lower quality level, or whether they do not want to provide it as broadly.
  5. “What are the long term implications of our intended funding level for these services?” provides a fiscal stewardship reality check. What looks like a fiscally conservative decision in the context of a two year time horizon often looks like fiscal irresponsibility when considered over a 20 year time horizon (think under-funding infrastructure needs). Evaluating and understanding the long term implications of current funding decisions is an essential and routine part of any responsible budgeting process.

Asking the right questions in the right order equips governing bodies to engage in more sensible budget deliberations to set tax rates that ensure both fiscal responsibility and a vibrant and healthy future.

Ron_H_new
Written by:
Ron Holifield
CEO, Strategic Government Resources
governmentresource.com

 

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A Bad Haircut – and Bad Listening Skills

I recently went in for a haircut and said, “just trim it so that it lays down nice.” When the BadHaircutyoung lady finished, she had cut it way short in a way that it was spiking up on top… if I had added blue sunglasses and an ear stud I could have gone to a costume ball as Bono!   I had told the stylist what I needed… but instead of truly listening she interpreted my needs through her 20 something lens of what she thought it should be.   The net result was that I came out looking like an insecure baby boomer trying to relive my 20’s.

As I was reflecting on the prospect of going out in public looking like Bono, it brought back memories of a similar experience I had with a city hall staff a few years ago.

I was considering the purchase of an atypical infill residential lot to build on that had some unique challenges. Whether the lot would work would be determined by the side yard setbacks. So I called the city’s development services department and asked “what are the side yard setbacks?” The secretary said she would have someone call me. I got a call back about 48 hours later from a development services representative and I asked again “what are the side yard setbacks?”

This time I was told “I am sorry but to answer any development questions, you need to come in for a development review meeting.” So within another about 48 hours, a secretary called me and scheduled me for the next available date for a development review meeting – which was approximately three weeks later.

I showed up at the conference room where the fire marshal, the building inspector, a zoning representative, a planner and the development services director were all in the room. I sat down and they asked what they could do for me. I said, “I need to know what the side yard setbacks are.” So the planner looked at their map and responded with a number that made it clear this lot was not able to be developed for me.

huffyIt had taken me a month and a meeting with five city officials to get a 30 second answer to a very simple and straightforward question.

Later, in a separate context I had a conversation with the development services director and she asked about my experience with the city. She was stunned (and even a little offended) to learn that I did not consider it a very positive experience. She said, “It was excellent customer service – we had a room full of people there to address any concerns you had and we were able to answer your question immediately and with clarity. How could you not consider that excellent customer service?”

The development services director had viewed the customer’s needs through her lens of providing a reliable process instead of through my lens as the customer. Yes, her city hall-centric process was reliable and accurate, but it took me a month and required me to schedule a live meeting at city hall to get a 30 second answer that should have been handled with a single phone call. A city hall-centric process can easily deceive staff into believing that just because it is reliable and accurate that the customer is being well served.

It is not accidental that one of the 12 core values of Servant Leadership is listening.   ListeningMystery shoppers, customer surveys, focus groups, social media and even just asking are all great strategies to improve your organization’s listening skills. Take advantage of them.

You may be surprised at what you discover – and how easy you could improve citizen relations just by making sure your organization is doing a better job of truly listening to customers.

Ron_H_new
Written by:
Ron Holifield
CEO, Strategic Government Resources
governmentresource.com

 

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Servant Leaders are Song Leaders

2016 will be my 40th high school reunion, and as I pondered it, 70’s icons began to flood my mind.

ROBIN WILLIAMS

Mork from Ork (Robin Williams for Millennials reading this!) made rainbow-colored suspenders and painter pants wildly popular (yes, I had both). Laugh-In tackled current issues with a cheerful cheekiness that made a silly phrase so popular that even Richard Nixon came on the show to say “Sock it to ME?” nixon

Utter the words “I’d like to teach the world to sing” and baby boomers immediately see people from every nation and every background holding hands in “perfect harmony.” The song immediately becomes an earworm of warm and fuzzy feelings.

smiley-face-1But “have a nice day” and its smiley face icon (the fore bearer of today’s emoji’s) is the most iconic symbol of the 70’s. It was everywhere, conveying a virtually universal desire to bless others with good wishes. This made me ponder what this year’s graduates will look back on in 2056 as the most iconic symbol from their high school years. I am afraid that the odds are way too high that it will be “grumpy cat.”83dad2ee2217ad59e3661e98aea8bb70

It is not just that grumpy cat memes are funny and dominate the Internet, but they really do capture our general grumpiness as a society right now. Hatefulness and obstructionism instead of optimism and solution seeking in national politics have infiltrated local government. Race baiting and name calling is becoming routine discourse. Disagreement has become justification for demonization.

It is not just that we are grumpy and acting out that grumpiness in how we treat other people as a society. We are increasingly accepting as normative ever-more ridiculous explanations by leaders trying to justify mean-spirited and anti-social behavior by themselves and their followers. Somewhere along the way we have equated treating people with dignity and respect with political correctness. The result is a stunning loss of civility.

Authentic servant leaders treat everyone with dignity and respect – especially those they disagree with. Authentic servant leaders nurture compromise more than collision. Authentic servant leaders think more about the next generation than the next election.

It is not just nostalgia that makes me yearn for more servant leaders who want “to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.”

Ron_H_new
Written by:
Ron Holifield
CEO, Strategic Government Resources
governmentresource.com

 

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Social Media for Servant Leaders

Authenticity as a servant leader means reflecting your genuine concern for others in the completeness of how you live every day. Being an authentic servant leader is not something you do, it is who you are. As a result, servant leaders should consider the following guidelines when posting on their various personal social media accounts:

  1. Never post any article that you have not actually read. Drama manipulators often post inflammatory and dramatic headlines on legitimate articles designed to inflame political passions knowing that unthoughtful people who agree with their broad sentiment will post and react to the dramatic headline without reading the article (which often even says the opposite of what the manufactured headline screams). If the content is not consistent with the headlines, posting it is contributing to drama without substance, not thoughtful discourse.
  2. Go to the source and make sure you want to be associated with it. There are a variety of web based “news sources” created by drama manipulators that produce stories with careless abandon regarding truth. When you see a hyper dramatic headline, go to the source and look at the overall tone and tenor of what they are posting. If they post a variety of dramatic stories that feel questionable, odds are that the story you are considering posting is questionable as well. And if you post questionable items from questionable sources, you yourself become known as someone who is a questionable source.
  3. Never abandon a passionate commitment to truth regardless of whether you agree with the sentiment. Drama manipulators regularly manufacture overtly false information designed for shallow thinkers to share, and in so doing advance their political agenda. Before posting anything, set aside your political beliefs and your emotional engagement on the issue, and ask yourself, do I REALLY believe this is true? The more dramatic a claim is, the more committed you should be to researching something on Snopes.com before posting it. In 2013, there was a spate of postings claiming the federal government had a secret network of underground tunnels connecting abandoned Walmarts from which the US Army was going to launch a takeover of Texas. When you post something false and irrational, you damage your influence and credibility and cause thoughtful friends to quietly question your judgment, your wisdom, and in some cases, your relationship with reality. Servant leaders know that credibility is precious and to be nurtured.
  4. Never post anything that is hateful in tone. Without regard to your political beliefs, if you post things that are dramatic and hateful in tone toward “the other side” you diminish your credibility as a servant leader with those who disagree with you. When you post hateful things about a particular leader, he or she may not ever read your post but it will build a wall between you and friends who support that leader. You can share your perspectives without being hateful in tone. Servant leaders are focused on building bridges not walls, even when disagreeing on substance.
  5. Have the emotional intelligence to recognize hateful comments. One of the tendencies of drama manipulators is to claim that what they posted is “not hateful, it is just telling the truth.” Just because you claim that something isn’t hateful doesn’t keep it from being hateful and mean spirited. Posting hateful comments about other people is always in conflict with a servant leader’s commitment to being a healer.
  6. Focus on your opportunity to influence others more than on your right to free speech. Yes you have the right to say dramatic, hateful, and demeaning things about political leaders (and others). A good thing about our constitution is that we have that freedom. However, just because you have the right to say something mean spirited does not mean it is constructive or beneficial to do so. Servant leaders recognize that the way we express ourselves affects the credibility of what we have to say.
  7. Avoid stereotyping. Social media is rampant with political, racial, gender, religious, and other stereotypical postings that demean and drive divisions between groups. Before posting anything that uses broad stereotypes about any group, think about someone you consider a personal friend who is a part of that group. Ask yourself if someone you disagreed with said the same things about your friend that you are posting about the group, whether that would be hurtful to your friend. If it would be hurtful if the exact same post called them by name, odds are it is hurtful when it stereotypes the group they are a part of. If you don’t have anyone who is a member of that group you would consider a personal friend, recognize that posting a broadside attack on that group using stereotypes is at best an act of ignorance that is spreading hateful attitudes.

The bottom line is that your mother was right – we are known by the company we keep. If our social media presence is marked by hateful, demeaning, and mean spirited articles, memes, and postings, then we will be known as someone who values hateful, demeaning, and mean spirited attitudes toward others — the antithesis of a Servant Leader’s heart.

Before posting anything on your personal social media, ask yourself 5 questions:

  • Am I sure it is factually true?
  • Is the content I am sharing coming from sources I want to be associated with?
  • Does it diminish anyone?
  • Is it hateful in tone?
  • Does it expand my influence – even with those who disagree with me?

Ron_H_new
Written by:
Ron Holifield
CEO, Strategic Government Resources
governmentresource.com

 

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New Year’s Resolutions for Elected Officials Who Want to Leave a Legacy That Matters

Worker carrying suitcase on the road with numbers 2016

In electing me to office, my fellow citizens have entrusted me with the sacred duty of shaping the future of our community. Because I am committed to creating a future that is brighter and healthier and more beneficial to all citizens than when I was called to lead, I will:

  1. Base my decisions on the next generation more than the next election, committed to the ideal that my loyalty must be to the entire community (both now and in the future) and not merely to those who got me elected.
  2. Focus on mission, vision and values as the benchmark for my decisions and recognize that my responsibility is the pursuit of the greatest good for the entire community and not the satisfaction of any particular group’s agenda.
  3. Make decisions based on fact based evidence and not allow myself to be manipulated into bad decisions for the future based on the decibel level of critics.
  4. Recognize that “it takes a smart man to know where he is stupid” and have the wisdom to be smart.   Accordingly, I will value those who have the courage to tell me what they really think and will listen sincerely to those who disagree with me to truly understand their perspective, recognizing that understanding other perspectives makes me a better leader.
  5. Embrace my responsibility to govern rather than to manage; recognizing that if I am doing staff’s job I am not doing my job, while also understanding and embracing the appropriately exercised governance role of holding staff accountable.
  6. Place a greater emphasis on solutions than on problems; while refusing to offer solutions before I understand the problem.
  7. Understand that mutual trust is the foundation for everything and that if I refuse to trust others they will be unable to trust me.
  8. Protect the integrity of the process more than the rightness of my position; I will fight hard for my issue but then unify behind the governing body when the decision is made because the decision was made with integrity of process, even if I disagree with the outcome.
  9. Understand that my deeply held beliefs, values and positions will be strengthened, not compromised by courteous, respectful and civil discourse. I will not treat someone as the enemy just because we disagree.
  10. Treat everyone with dignity and respect because of who I am as a leader… not because of how they treat me or what I think about them.
  11. Be a role model for civility. I will not treat my colleagues or staff in any way that I would be embarrassed if my five year old child treated someone the same way.

Ron_H_new.png

Written by:
Ron Holifield
CEO, Strategic Government Resources
governmentresource.com

 

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Overcoming Over-Confidence

As part of my MBA program at Texas Tech (Wreck ‘em), I am taking a Business Analytics course. Recently, we did an exercise in class where we had to rank how certain we were about answers to random trivia questions (80% sure the answer is A, etc.). It looked like this…

Question 1
Answer: A or B
Confidence in your answer: 50-100%
(Obviously, if it is less than 50% you would choose the other answer.)

After we completed the questionnaire, the instructor called out the correct answers and we tallied the results to confidentshow which we answered correctly/incorrectly and how accurate we were when we guessed our confidence level in our answer. Some of you may already realize this… but we were ALL over-confident. Everyone in the entire room, law school graduates, CPA’s, CEO’s, future CEO’s, and one Managing Director of Development and Collaboration were all more positive that we knew the correct answer than we really did. (I think my statistic was something like when I say I am 70% sure, I am only correct 30% of the time. Scary right??)

Fortunately, for this defeated group of students, this was exactly the point the instructor was trying to prove. We rely on gut instinct and intuition, and we are wrong… A LOT. Then, once the facts do show that we are indeed incorrect, we actually rationalize our error (typically using extenuating circumstances beyond our control). We say things like, “that would have been successful, but we ended up having to switch gears to focus on something else” or “it really was a great idea, but the customer base ended up needing something else…” or “nobody could have predicted that downturn in the economy.” Next, we repeat this situation, time and time again.

So, how do we overcome this over-confidence? Well, the answer is really not that black and white. We canUntitled-2-01 make use of metrics, data, and algorithms, but we have to be careful. As Mark Twain once said, there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics” but, numbers can be powerful and algorithms are more accurate than our gut feeling (seriously, it is true, read this). When you track data over a period of time, find trends, form algorithms and analyze, you are able to look at results in a more unemotional state that lets you make truly informed decisions without your own preconceived notions, desires and bias weighing in. This type of decision-making can also lead to greater efficiency organization wide, because instead of multiple people using debate and brainstorming (or worse, group think), you can implement tools and processes for making quick and accurate decisions.

That said the POWER of over-confidence is actually very beneficial to an organization. Yes, you heard that correctly! When looking back over the course of history, we see inventions and innovations like the first car, first flight, and medical advancements. It is clear that without some creative humans setting lofty goals, brainstorming, and trying again, and again, and again (despite the overwhelming statistics showing they would fail), we would not have progressed as a society like we have. Innovation is the key when starting new initiatives and staying on the leading edge (being in the 16%). Especially in local government, it would be detrimental to eliminate or even stifle the creativity that over-confidence brings to the organization. Sometimes success is not about what would be supported through numbers and data, because only a human can make a JUDGMENT call.

All of this is to say, while we all think we are more correct than we really are, it is important to acknowledge and understand and use it to our advantage. Leaders in local government face an even more unique challenge, because while most are driven to serve the public and create a learning organization, they are also focused on streamlining operations and overall efficiency. As leaders, we must find the right balance to utilize the over-confidence to spur innovation, while being aware of the impact over-confidence has on accurate decision-making.

My boss, Ron Holifield, often says, “I would rather try ten things and only succeed at five than to try three things and succeed 100% of the time.” This is a truly innovative approach and has allowed the entire company to take risks and think outside the box.

So, what are you doing in your organization to overcome over-confidence? Are you using it to spur innovation?

Krisa

Written by:
Krisa Delacruz

Managing Director of Development and Collaboration
governmentresource.com

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Promoting or Prospecting?

holifield-cat

Five Questions to Help You Determine the Right Path

No leadership competency is more critical than recruiting, assessing and developing current and future leaders. And while decisions regarding how to fill vacancies impact quality of operational management – they also profoundly affect employee engagement and motivation, organizational culture, and ultimately mission success. Failure to carefully choose who fills a vacancy as well as how the vacancy is filled – can profoundly impact the leader’s credibility. Any time a vacancy occurs, it is not just those who are drawn to the prospect of being promoted into the vacancy who have a stake in the process… everyone who could be affected by the ripples of someone receiving the promotion feel a stake in the outcome – especially those who will work for whoever fills the vacancy!

In an ideal world, you would always have a strong pool of internal candidates to choose from but that is not always the case… and determining whether to simply promote from within or to open up an external recruitment process can be challenging.

Do We Have an Adequate Pool to Promote from Within?

The following questions will assist the leader in evaluating whether to promote from within, or to conduct an external recruitment.

  1. Do you have internal prospects with the essential technical qualifications to do the job? Too many organizations confuse essential and ideal, and as a result miss out on promoting exceptional candidates.
  2. Do those internal prospects who meet the essential technical qualifications have a track record of success in their current position? Some people make success happen and others are along for the ride. Know the difference.
  3. Have those internal prospects, who meet the technical qualifications and have a track record of success, completed leadership development programs to prepare themselves for promotion? Look for employees who are investing in their own growth even if internal development programs are not offered.
  4. Do those internal prospects, who meet the technical qualifications, have a track record of success and have they completed preparatory leadership programs while maintaining a reputation for a positive attitude and great teamwork among their current employees, peers and supervisors? Unpleasant people who are promoted become unpleasant bosses.
  5. Are those internal prospects who meet all of the above standards philosophically aligned with the organization’s stated mission, vision and values and do they have a reputation for walking the talk? Nothing damages credibility more than “do as I say not as I do” leadership.

These questions form a bit of a funnel, moving from the easiest criteria for evaluation, to the more challenging (but still critical). Proceeding through each of the five questions, it is likely the number of prospects still considered viable diminishes. In an ideal situation, you can answer all five questions affirmatively for at least three prospects.   If so, an internal recruitment process only should be adequate. However, still opening up the process organization wide ensures everyone has a fair opportunity to compete, and that someone who has great potential has not gone unnoticed.

Remember, these questions are not designed to determine who to hire… they merely help determine whether adequate options exist internally to avoid an external recruitment process. Hiring decisions are almost always much better if options are available to contrast and compare to.

If you cannot answer in the affirmative on all five questions for at least three internal prospects, it is likely that an external recruitment process is appropriate.

Ron Holifield


Written by:
Ron Holifield
CEO, Strategic Government Resources
governmentresource.com

Published July 2015 in Public Sector Digest
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