Hot Management Info for 2006

November – Tips For The Day

October – Take This Job…And Give Me MORE Of It

September – Wizard And Warrior

August – HR Departments

July – Patience

June – Executive vs. Legislative Leadership

May – What I Learned From Bob

April – Learning To Lead

March – What Is Planning?

February – How Well Do You Delegate?

January – Organizational DNA


 

November 2006 – Tips For The Day

Last week I attended the monthly meeting of the American Society for Training & Development. If you don’t belong you might want to check out some of the programs for your local chapter. This week’s presentation was by a local 12,000-employee health organization showing us what they plan to do to become the best in the country. A few tips:

  • All managers are required to write a minimum number of thank you notes each week.
  • They have not only set behavior expectations for staff but require all consultants to meet the same requirements.
  • They steal shamelessly and share ideas freely.
  • The “deselect” some employees.
  • They don’t ask employees to add things, just do things differently.

One sign of success relates to employee turnover rates. In an industry that has national rates of 20% they have brought them down to 12%. More and more of our clients are talking about problems with turnover. I think a good planning department should be able to get its turnover rate to 10% or less.

Reader Responses

Can you define “deselect,” as in “deselect an employee?” I believe that I know what it means, but would like to hear your definition.Thanks,
Nancy Brown, FAICP
Walters State Community College
Morristown, TN


I don’t understand the comment: “deselect some employees.” Would you please explain.Darren V. Gerard, AICP
Maricopa County Planning & Development Department


The Management Doctor Replies:

You asked about my use of the term “deselect an employee.” Yes, it means just what it sounds like. I am a big believer in job fit. You do not do employees a favor by not dealing with poor performance or job fit. Your job is to get employees in a place where they can be productive with their particular skills or motivation. Someone selected them for their current positions. It may be time to deselect them and help them find the appropriate fit.

 

NOTE: New Planner at Zucker Systems

 

Zucker Systems is pleased to announce the addition of Katie P. Wilson to its organizational development and management studies staff. Katie has been a city manager, deputy planning director, planning commissioner and has had a variety of high level positions advising city managers on redevelopment, engineering and municipal utilities. She has completed her course work for a Doctorate in Planning and Development Studies at USC and is working on her dissertation. She looks forward to becoming acquainted with the Management Doctor’s emailers. You can see more at www.zuckersystems.com/katie.html.

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October 2006 – Take This Job…And Give Me MORE Of It

Want to keep workers happy? Give them more work. That’s the finding of a workload-satisfaction survey conducted by Sirota Survey Intelligence in Purchase, N.Y. as reported in the January 2006 Training magazine.

Based on a survey of 203,000 employees, those who thought they had just the right amount of work – or even those who thought they had too much work – had higher job satisfaction. Most people come to work enthusiastic and want to make a real contribution. Overworked people are getting feedback from the organization that their contributions are important. Those employees feel valued and they probably have a real sense of job security.

However, be wary of piling on the work as a way to save a buck or two.

This reminds me of a similar book that crossed my desk with the title; It’s OK To Ask Them To Work.

So, let’s have more happy planners.

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September 2006 – Wizard And Warrior

I recently came across a book that has some good messages for City Planners.* They suggest that great leaders must act both as:

  • WIZARDS — Calling on imagination, creativity, meaning and magic.
  • WARRIORS — Mobilizing strength, courage and willingness to fight as necessary to fulfill the mission.

Managers (Planning Directors) are running on two cylinders — structure and people — when they need four. Two other frames — political and symbolic — are required to make sense of the rolling, moving targets that organizations serve up every day.

Managers (Planning Directors) shy away from politics because they see its dynamics as sordid or because conflict scares them. They fear losing control and losing out. They cling to the illusion that if organizations were run right, they wouldn’t be political. Most managers (Planning Directors) have an even harder time grasping the elusive and mysterious influences of symbols. Discounting culture as fuzzy and flaky, they don’t see it, even though it’s there and influencing everything they do. Great leadership doesn’t happen without addressing these political and cultural issues head on. Leaders (Planning Directors) cannot afford to stay on the sidelines and play it safe. Someone has to be willing to stand up and put it on the line. That’s why we need more wizards and warriors.

Many of us (Planning Directors) hope to lead from our comfort zones. We deny our demons and avoid the inevitable tensions between passion and politics. We disavow both warrior and wizard, hoping that expertise and people skills will get us where we want to go. It is a vain hope. In limiting ourselves and playing it safe, we lose touch with reality and close off access to our deeper psychic and spiritual power. We also forfeit the likelihood that we (Planning Directors) will achieve anything interesting or important.

*Bolman, Lee G. and Deal, Terrence E., The Wizard and the Warrior

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August 2006 – HR Departments

If human resources is the most powerful part of an organization, as you always say, why is its impact felt in only a negative way

This was the question recently asked of Jack Welch, the well known former CEO of General Electric. His answer:

Because human resources, unfortunately, often operate as a cloak-and-dagger society or a health-and-happiness sideshow. Look, HR should be every company’s “killer app.” What could possibly be more important than who gets hired, developed, promoted, or moved out the door? Business is a game, and as with all games, the team that puts the best people on the field and gets them playing together, wins. It’s that simple.

Some HR departments plan picnics, put out the plant newsletter (complete with time-in-service anniversaries duly noted), and generally drive everyone crazy by enforcing rules and regulations that appear to have no purpose other than to bolster the bureaucracy.

He suggests that they should:

  • Oversee a rigorous appraisal and evaluation system that lets every person know where he or she stands.
  • Create effective mechanisms, such as money, recognition, and training, to motivate and retain people.
  • Force organizations to confront their most charged relationships, such as those with unions, individuals who are no longer delivering results, or stars who are becoming problematic by, for instance, swelling instead of growing.

My experience, both as a 25-year government employee and a consultant to some 150 cities and counties, match Welch’s experience with HR. More specifically what I often see is:

  • An out-of-date recruiting system that assumes the best candidates are willing to fill out extensive supplemental questionnaires, wait 60 days or longer for an interview, be screened in a 45-minute interview by a panel, and then be placed on a list 30 days later.
  • Evaluation systems that do more harm than good.
  • Inability to assist in terminating non-productive employees in a less destructive way.
  • Training programs that are so generic they offer little help.

Undoubtedly you have amusing stories to tell about your HR department. Please share them and I guarantee you will remain anonymous.

*The Welch material is abstracted from his July 17 article in Business Week. If you haven’t seen it, he and Suzy Welch have a one-page article in most issues of Business Week. They also have a podcast at www.businessweek.com/search/podcasting.htm.

Reader Responses

What HR Department? 🙂 In all seriousness, that actually is a problem with my present and past organizations. The staff really are carrying out personnel functions rather than human resources functions, and there are distinct differences between the two. However, based on my somewhat limited experience, that appears to be typical in smaller organizations.Anonymous


Here they just combined the jobs of Assistant City Clerk (vacant) and Assistant City Treasurer (filled) without any change in pay. The incumbent now gets two jobs for the price of one! Talk about one pissed off employee (as well as the dozens of others who know about it!).Anonymous


How true. I think this was based on our organization. We’re strangled by bureaucracy and hanging from a fear of litigation.Thanks for sharing.

Sandi
Walnut Creek, CA

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July
2006 – Patience

In March the Associated Press conducted a poll on the average time people can wait in line in a store or office before losing patience.

  • Women — 18 minutes
  • Men — 15 minutes
  • Income $50,000 to $75,000 — 19 minutes
  • Income over $75,000 — 15 minutes
  • City dwellers — 15 minutes
  • Suburban women — 19 minutes
  • Suburban men — 16 minutes

Keep in mind that these are averages so many will lose their patience much sooner. For high volume planning and building departments, we like to see 95% or more of the customers helped in no more than 15 minutes.

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June
2006 – Executive vs. Legislative Leadership

If you have been following my various ramblings, you know how high I have been on Jim Collins’ Good to Great book. If you haven’t read it yet — get to it! You won’t regret it. Although the book’s research was based on the private sector, Collins has now written a short 35-page monograph relating the same concepts to the social sectors, including government (Good to Great and The Social Sectors). Collins describes the two types of leadership as:

  1. Executive Leadership
    In executive leadership, the individual leader has enough concentrated power to simply make the right decisions.
    I assume that this doesn’t remind you of any planning director you know or for that matter even city manager.
  2. Legislative Leadership
    Legislative leadership relies more upon persuasion, political currency, and shared interests to create the conditions for the right decisions to happen. And it is precisely this legislative dynamic that makes Level 5 leadership particularly important to the social sectors.Our good-to-great research uncovered that leadership capabilities follow a five-level hierarchy, with Level 5 at the top. Level 5 leaders differ from Level 4 leaders in that they are ambitious first and foremost for the cause, the movement, the mission, the work—not themselves—and they have the will to do whatever it takes (whatever it takes) to make good on that ambition.

    In the social sectors, the Level 5’s compelling combination of personal humility and professional will is a key factor in creating legitimacy and influence.

    Level 5 leadership is not about being ‘soft’ or ‘nice’ or purely ‘inclusive’ or ‘consensus-building.’ The whole point of Level 5 is to make sure the right decisions happen—no matter how difficult or painful—for the long-term greatness of the institution and the achievement of its mission, independent of consensus or popularity.

    In the Management Doctor’s terms this simply means — it’s not enough to produce those grand plans — get the votes!

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May
2006 – What I Learned From Bob

This has been a tough week as our Senior Associate, Bob Storchheim, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. He was still emailing us edits for a major report we were doing on Friday, the day before he passed away on Saturday. Bob has worked with us since 1998. He was one of the most revered building officials in California, and perhaps the smartest. In thinking of our time together, I am most reminded of what Bob taught me that I hope can also be useful to you.

 

  1. Persistence and Initiative

    Bob was a bulldog, but a friendly one. As one of his prior coworkers said at the funeral, don’t give Bob an issue on a Friday because on Monday he would come in with all sorts of ideas and directions. On our trips, breakfast started out with Bob’s ideas generated the night before. We need more of this in planning.

  2. Loyalty

    Bob believed in his ideas and when we differed he would come at me from three different directions. If I removed a few words that he thought were key in an edit, he would remind me that they were missing. However, once we reached the time to publish, he was onboard and ready to support our direction.

  3. Know Your Stuff

    I used to challenge our building code clients to try to stump Bob. They never did.

  4. Friendly

    In spite of his persistence, Bob was a sweetheart. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body and staff and customers and clients remained his friends.

  5. Use People’s Strengths

    Bob was fantastic at what he did. But I learned to focus on his strengths. For example, if I was having a meeting with a city manager, I would prefer to do it without Bob. The city manager wanted to talk about the forest, Bob was prepared to talk about the trees. Bob also had certain problems with numbers, so we handled that in other ways.

  6. Keep Learning

    Bob was 74 years old. Yet he was learning everyday and peppering us with the latest thinking and re-thinking his past positions.

Keep smiling Bob. We at Zucker Systems miss you.

Paul Zucker

Reader Responses

May I extend my deepest condolences on the passing of Bob Storchheim. I sense he was both a friend as well as a colleague. With his passing, the unusually long list of great minds in planning who have left us in the last two years has gotten a little longer. My heart goes out to you and to his family.From,
Daniel Lauber, AICP
River Forest, IL


Sorry to hear of Bob’s passing, Paul. He sounds like a fine man who left you all some good memories. My condolences.Chris
Clarion Associates


What a wonderful remembrance of your colleague.Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

Carol B. Clarke, AICP
Manatee County, FL


Paul … What a wonderful tribute to such a dear friend and colleague!Connie Cooper


I am sorry for your loss of a friend and associate. Bob seems to be the kind of person I’d like to have known and worked with.Sarah S. More, FAICP
Town of Oro Valley, AZ

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April
2006 – Learning To Lead

Planners need to get over their inferiority complex and recognize that we can lead, irrespective of where we are in the organization. This case is well made by John C. Maxwell in his new book, The 360 Degree Leader. Instructive points include:

  • You can learn to lead up, lead across and lead down. You don’t have to be the main leader to have a significant impact in your organization. If you think you do, then you have bought into the position myth.
  • Influencing others is a matter of disposition, not position. Leadership is a choice you make, not a place you sit. People should strive for the top of their game, not the top of the organization.
  • Your job isn’t to fix the leader; it’s to add value. If you take the approach of wanting to add value to those above you, you have the best chance of influencing them. When you find yourself following a leader who is ineffective, do the following:
    1. Develop a solid professional relationship with your leader, and find common ground.
    2. Identify and appreciate your leader’s strengths. Find them and think about how they might be assets to the organization.
    3. Commit yourself to adding value to your leader’s strengths.
  • With the right attitude and the right skills, you can influence others from wherever you are in an organization by:
    1. Developing strong relationships with key people
    2. Defining a win in terms of the team
    3. Engaging in crucial communication
    4. Gaining experience and maturity
    5. Putting the team above your personal success.
  • Successful people do the things that unsuccessful people are unwilling to do — a whatever-it-takes attitude. Push boundaries to find a better way.
  • All good leadership is based on relationships. People won’t go along with you if they can’t get along with you. And, if you want to expand your influence, you have to expand your circle of acquaintances.
  • To avoid office politics, avoid gossip; stay away from petty arguments; stand up for what’s right, not for what’s popular; look at all sides of the issue; don’t protect your turf; and say what you mean and mean what you say. But, wait for the right moment to speak up.

Begin today to see and lead people as they can be, not as they are, and you will be amazed by how they respond to you.

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March
2006 – What Is Planning?

I recently had a lively discussion about what is planning over dinner and many glasses of wine with several seasoned planners. I’ve told myself over and over again that I would not get sucked into this debate which APA has not been able to resolve ever since I joined AIP and ASPO and then later when APA and AICP was created. I’ve simply been too busy planning to spend my time on this. So – let’s just say the wine made me do it!

I found myself in a minority of one at the table. The participants suggested that “long-range planning” or “advance planning” as most departments describe it is “planning” but so called “current planning,” “zoning,” “design review,” and “subdivision review” is not. They then observed that for most planning departments, current planning and zoning is eating up much of the planner’s time so little planning is actually getting done. Their solution was to separate long-range planning and current planning into two separate departments. I couldn’t disagree more.

In order to make my case I guess I’ll be forced, just this once, to define planning in a very simple way as I see it, so here goes:

Planning is the act of impacting today’s decisions based on thinking about the future. That thinking may be about physical, social or economic issues, but in all cases, must be action-oriented. It deals with both real and projected problems rather than symptoms.

I’m certain my readers can give me a more erudite definition. But, for me that’s all I need as a planner. Now, I certainly agree that current planning is eating up long-range planning in most departments. But, this is not a problem with current planning. It is simply that the planning department and the planning director have not made the case for the long-range planning activities. On the other hand, can planning also be taking place as part of zoning, design review and subdivision review? I believe it can, and does, when good planning is taking place. Why has New Urbanism and Form-Based Codes become popular? Because citizens increasingly want decisions in the real world, what they see in their own communities and neighborhoods. The devil may be in the details.

All of this leads me to some thoughts about organizing planning in government.

  1. Should long-range planning and current planning be in two separate departments?

    Absolutely not! In my experience, this is a good way to marginalize planning and make it less effective. A number of communities have tried this and still operate this way. I predict they will eventually put them back together. Examples of where they were split but are now back together include San Diego County in California and Washoe County in Nevada.

  2. Should planning for all city or county functions be in the planning department?

    Again, my answer is no. San Diego County tried this, as have a few others, and it failed. I believe all operating departments need to do planning for their function. Think of this planning done by an operating department as a circle and the planning done by the planning department as another circle. The two planning functions or two circles can and should overlap in a productive way.

Pass the salsa and poor me another glass of wine!


Reader Responses

You describe our situation exactly and I could not agree with you more.

Bruce Kistler, AICP

City of Lakeland, FL


Having done both current and long range planning, I think what we call current and long range planning are both valid components of planning since each contributes to community building in its own way and each is necessary for the other. But the ugly truth is you can not get any planning done if you are reacting all the time; you end up just holding the wall up against the tide. Indeed, “current planning” is not supposed to be a situation of reacting all the time to the developer; it should be a situation of having (a) a solid comp/policy plan and (b) a very good code of regulations in hand and ready to go so you can guide the developer, and not the other way around. We often divide long range and current planning on tables of organization and that may be ok for staffing purposes but on a day to day functional reality basis, they do and must mix all the time; like food and water, we need them both together to make the meal.C. Deardorff

City of Lakeland, FL


I am a retired planner in BC, Canada. I read your Hot Info of the Month for March 2006 on “What is Planning?” I couldn’t agree with you more. I would like to add that any planner should have experience in both long-range planning and current planning to be effective.How Yin Leung

Shaw, CA


I look forward to a healthy round table (let’s get a case of good wine and a good bar) and really have an open discussion about the subject—really—maybe after the Sunday reception?Robert B. Hunter, FAICP

Hillsborough County, FL

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February 2006 – How Well Do You Delegate?

From the American Management Association, 1/4/2006

A “yes” to any of the following questions suggests a need to examine your delegation skills:


Yes

No
1. Do I try to improve upon everything my employees do?

Yes

No
2. Do I become upset when one of my employees is promoted?

Yes

No
3. Do I ever fear that one of my staff members is unable to do a particular job satisfactorily?

Yes

No
4. Do I frequently neglect to involve those I supervise in decisions that directly affect them?

Yes

No
5. Do I often ask an employee for advice and then ignore that advice without providing any explanation?

Yes

No
6. Do I frequently give directions that are unclear and/or incomplete?

Yes

No
7. Do I repeatedly and unnecessarily monitor the work of my employees?

Yes

No
8. Do I usually provide my employees with the responsibility—but not the necessary authority—to get the job done?

Yes

No
9. Do I place an unusually high value on the “power” aspects of my position?

Yes

No
10. Do I frequently do a job myself because I can do it quicker, better, and cheaper?

Total Number of “Yes” _______

 

How did you do? Is there some room for improvement? Many of the problems that arise between a manager and staff members are due to poor delegation and communication practices.

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January 2006 – Organizational DNA

I just ran across an interesting publication by Booz, Allen, Hamilton called Strategy+Business. Issue 40, Fall 2005 had an article about organizational DNA which has some messages for planners. The article included the top ten traits of resilient organizations as follows:

Strategy+Business The Management Doctor
They entertain the inconceivable, benchmarking themselves not against competitors, but against industries or categories that may not yet exist. Why not set a goal to cut your processing times in half for both long-range plans and development applications?
They build a culture of commitment and accountability, expecting and rewarding no less than the best from their people. Many planners we meet seem committed to planning. However, we see few planning departments that hold all staff accountable for productivity and effectiveness and government is notorious for not rewarding its best people.
They move the goalposts, typically every three years, embarking on ambitious new objectives whether or not they feel the hot breath of competitors on their necks. The seating of new city council members or a new mayor can provide the impetus for the planning department to re-think its priorities. Additionally, if you are doing things the way you have always done them, its time to re-think.
They show the courage of their convictions, charting a course based not on business fads or Wall Street fancy, but on their best instincts and judgment. This may contradict number 3. On the one hand, I suggest you use new elected officials as an opportunity for new objectives. On the other hand, don’t lose sight of your convictions.
They bounce back from adversity, detecting setbacks early and mobilizing responses quickly. Many planning departments and planning directors do this quite well. However, I often hear, “we tried that four years ago and it was defeated.” Maybe it is time to try it again.
They think horizontal, flattening their organizations, breaking down silos, transferring best practices, collaborating cross-functionally, and promoting laterally. I see many planning departments that have flattened the organization. However, the long-range vs. current planning silos still exist in most planning departments. Also, I don’t see much lateral promoting. It is time to get the team on the same page.
They self-correct, developing and institutionalizing internal mechanisms for correcting problems before they reach profit-warning proportions. Planners need to read the early warning signals. Is the director walking on thin ice? Have problems reached the point where an outside auditor is being suggested?
They listen to the complainers, using mechanisms and processes for surfacing and addressing dissatisfaction among customers and employees. Each planning department should routinely have mechanisms to listen to both customers and employees. If you want true feedback, these will likely need to be confidential or anonymous. Remember, a complaint is a gift to the organizations that want to improve.
They put their motivators where their mouths are; designing financial incentives (raises, bonuses, benefits) and nonfinancial incentives (promotions, transfers, exposure) to pull in the same direction and clearly point toward what is valued. Planner’s toolbox here is more limited than is the private sector. However, empowering employees and getting them out in front of the planning commission and city council is one idea that often works.
They refuse to rest on their laurels, resisting or even shunning media praise and hype while pursuing tangible results. The private sector is often working on their next product before the current one comes on the market. Planners can do the same.