Hot Management Info for 2009

January – It’s Always Darkest Before the Sun Comes Up
February – Read – Read – Read
March – Let’s Laugh
April – Layoffs
May – Development Process Issues
June – A Saner Workplace
July – Answers In Search Of Questions
August – Brain Rules
September – Deja Vu – All Over Again!
October – Motivating in Non-Motivating Times – When Work Doesn’t Make You Happy
November – Taking A Class With  rucker
December – Why You Need To Fail

January 2009 – It’s Always Darkest Before The Sun Comes Up

I didn’t want to write this Management Doctor but decided it needed to be done for the New Year. Not because I’m so smart, but with the hope that you smart emailers out there can help by sharing your ideas by responding to this Management Doctor. It is also a time when we need to laugh more so I am sharing some cartoons from a new book I will be publishing next year. The book, to be called Mis-Management, is a joint venture with nationally know cartoonist Dean Vietor. The book will include 60 of his cartoons so look for it on our website later in 2009.

I won’t spend much time convincing or documenting that we are in a recession. We all know it and in my view it is likely to get worse (much worse) before it gets better.

pg 27.tif

I have heard from a lot of you who tell me:

  • For government planning departments; budgets are frozen or being cut, staff is being laid off, travel and training has been cut, development applications are way down, and new advanced planning projects are being delayed.
  • For planners out of a job; the number of candidates for the few jobs that are available now have 10 times the number of applicants from a few years ago.
  • For consulting planners; the number of bids is way down and the number of competitors is way up.

What We Didn’t Do?

  1. As planners, shouldn’t at least a few of us been smart enough to begin to blow the whistle about the abuses in development and financing?
  2. Instead of continuing to hire during the boom times, why didn’t more of us keep our staff small and hire consultants to avoid future layoffs?
  3. Over the past few years, why didn’t more managers document poor performers and help them find more suitable employment? Instead, many of the poor performers will remain while seniority layoffs may catch the better staff.

# 6.tif

I hire and fire people. Guess what?
  1. Why didn ’t we raise fees to reduce our dependence on the General Fund, and in the process insist on building a reserve account for these rainy days?

What To Do Now?

# 3.tif

I forgot why I came into work today.

  1. Use your code enforcement program to keep the community from deteriorating. Focus on the mortgage holders who helped us get into this mess in the first place.
  2. Encourage early retirements and propose or support early buy-out incentives.
  3. Get the Personnel Department to change the rules to facilitate part time workers. You may be surprised how many staff would just as soon work part time if the options were available.
  4. Allow for sabbaticals while still retaining health insurance.
  5. Use the layoffs where you can to keep your better people. But, don’t try to over manipulate the system. I tried this once in my career and had the Civil Service shoot down my scheme. Then I paid for it with the staff.

pg 29.tif

While we’re downsizing, let’s not forget those of us who have to stay.

  1. Start now to do those long overdue employee evaluations and documentation for the poor performers. This recession may go on for many years so get started now.
  2. Don’t let Parkinson’s Law take over your operation, i.e. work expands to fill the time available. If a permit took 20 hours to analyze when you were busy, don’t let it take 40 hours now. If you had allocated 300 hours for a special project, don’t let it take 500 hours now. Instead:

    a. Use the extra time to start a new project or two of interest to your elected officials and citizens or that can help with the recession.

    b. Your organization will likely cut training fees but that doesn’t mean you can’t spend more time with OJT training, visit a neighboring planning department to see how they do it, start an office book club (we’ll sell you multiple copies of the ABZs of Planning Management at a discount).

    c. Use the extra time to clean up all those old files.


Give me a couple of minutes – I’ve got it right here somewhere.

d. Tighten up your staff’s project management skills. If you can finish your projects in half the time you can add additional projects.

  1. Move as much of your functions as possible to an Enterprise type fund and off the General Fund. This will help you test your real management skills.
  2. If you are a manager, forego your pay raise.
  3. Consider staff taking one or two un-paid Fridays off each month.
  4. Prepare yourself and your department to keep the staff small when the recession is over. Have a blended staff with consultants helping with the peak workloads.
  5. Re-visit your Mission. There is no better time than now.

pg 3.tif

  1. Re-look at your fees to move to full cost recovery. Even during the recession, convince the Finance Department to begin to build a reserve account.
  2. Re-organize – flatten the organization.

pg 26.tif 

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Memo on the Reorganization Plan!

  1. Convince your Finance Department, City Manager or City Council that they should stick with a program budget and let you decide how to best cut your budget. It would be nice if at least a few APA members make it to Minneapolis.
  2. For consultants:

    a. Spend dollars on  additional RFP services and advertising.

    b. Re-look at your list of publications and memberships and cut where you can.

    c. Try to rent out vacant office space.

    d. Expand the type of projects you will consider. Joint ventures may be the name of the game.

    e. Clean out the office.

    f. Use many of the techniques suggested above for government departments.

    g. Much to my surprise, there are still a few cities and counties that have money. I have found a few and you can too.

  3. For out-of-work planners:

    a. Planners have skills that are useful in many fields beyond planning so expand your job search.

    b. Work on that additional degree you always wanted.

    c. Read more – volunteer more.

    d. Don’t give up; it was only a few years ago that there was a shortage of planners. It will come back.

pg 40.tif

Believe me, you’re on the short list. No, I mean it – the short list. Well, maybe the medium list. No. No. You’re definitely on the long list. Well, maybe you’re not on the list, but you might be. Take care.

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Reader Responses

Very insightful and mostly helpful thoughts and ideas.

Unfortunately, we did much of what you proposed, and we’re still looking at reductions – but that is the economy. What I take issue with is the idea of moving a planning department’s financing from the general fund to an enterprise fund. Two of the three planning departments in our county are enterprise funds – their staff levels have been decimated.

Thankfully, our county resisted that move. And frankly, I don’t think either of the managers of the enterprised planning departments were unskilled in the management of their department. What is the real problem is that public planning functions are not particularly well thought of as essential services, especially when public safety becomes the sacrosanct function that never faces reductions. Again, thankfully, we’re not in the same boat as our two sister agencies – we’ve taken severe budget cuts, but have been able to retain staff and re-direct the work to those important long-range efforts that support the community.

Even in good times, though, I’m opposed to enterprise funds for public planning agencies. When your entire funding source is dependent on fees from the development community – there is a perception that to keep the gravy train running the planning department needs to encourage a steady revenue stream through accommodation of the development applications, e.g. saying yes an overwhelming amount of the time. This isn’t an indictment of those planning professionals or managers who work in an enterprise funded program; it is what we hear about our two sister agencies from the public we serve. And, what about that public, don’t they have a responsibility to fund the long-range planning efforts that guide the community’s character; and to fund the staff that should be taking the public’s issues into account during development review?

Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts, they are considered by me and many of my colleagues as a breath of fresh air.

Best wishes for 2009!

Michael A. Harper, FAICP
Planning Manager Washoe County, NV

Do not forget that this too shall pass and once again development will be knocking on your door. However, when it does, this will likely be different. We will not have the development binge we’ve had and prices will not rise as fast.

Without a feeding frenzy to draw on, cities and counties will be asked more and more to compete with each other to attract new investment. This is a good time to start thinking about how you will compete in this new environment. Planners will need to find an alternative to competing based on lower standards and false choices. If you don’t want to put on those running shoes and win the race to the bottom, what are some alternatives you can present to your council as a way to be competitive?

I offer this as an alternative way to approach the problem: Compete, not for development, but for residents. Don’t worry about making your city the place people want to build, make it the place people want to live.

If you do that successfully, the permit activity and the associated revenue will come. We are responsible for making great neighborhoods. Start your thinking about competitiveness there.

Dave Andersen, AICP

Plan Review and Technical Assistance Manager Growth Management Services Office, CTED

When I was a director and the market slowed a number of years ago, we were faced with spare time and blight enforcement challenges. We found a number of interesting options to obtain compliance. If a property were owner occupied, we would notify the mortgage company after three attempts to resolve the violation with the homeowner. Most mortgages and business loans have a clause that mandates zoning compliance. It was amazing how fast properties came into compliance. So do most leases. When dealing with homeowners, we also maintained compassion – if someone was out of work and could not deal with the cost of fixing a problem, we had talked with Boy Scouts, service organizations, and other non-governmental organizations to come in and help resolve the issue. This was the most rewarding solution.

In situations where the property was in foreclosure, we would try to work things out with the mortgage company. When they blew us off (often), we would get a bid from a contractor on the cost to resolve the violation, and then litigate in small claims court. In many states, attorneys are not allowed in small claims court, so someone from the mortgage company itself had to make the appearance. In my experience, none ever showed up. About a third of the time, they just mailed in the demanded amount or negotiated a solution, but we obtained a default judgment against one arrogant, major national bank. My enforcement officer obtained a court order, and told me that the surprise on the branch manager’s and customer’s faces were a hoot when the Sheriff’s deputies came in to demand payment, in cash. The branch manager objected, and the deputy announced that the County was freezing all bank assets and activities until the court order was satisfied. After about an hour of phone calls, we agreed to take a cashier’s check for $5,000 (the maximum limit in small claims court; and amount of the award, plus $35 for Sheriff service). Shortly thereafter, the bank came in and cleaned up all of its foreclosed properties-many without any violations being filed.

Eric Jay Toll
Scottsdale AZ

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February 2009 – Read – Read – Read

Managers need to do much more reading of management books and periodicals. In the past, I have suggested that you subscribe to the Harvard Business Review. Generally, there is at least one good article of relevance to planners and public sector managers. Just read that one and throw the rest away. However, the January 2009 issue is an exception. Nine great articles; so go to your library or order that issue. What you will find:

  • Page 20. To Lead, Create a Shared Vision
    I have said it over and over again, but here it is again: Being forward-looking, envisioning exciting possibilities, and enlisting others in a shared view of the future is the attribute that most distinguishes leaders from nonleaders.
  • Page 22. Start Networking Right Away (Even If You Hate It)
    It’s imperative to start forging deliberate connections within the first 30 to 60 days after a promotion.
  • Page 28. The Leadership Journey
    He describes his journey from the autocrat he needed to be in the early days of the turnaround to the participative leader who could confidently give free rein to others in day-to-day decision making and, ultimately, to the reformer taking on industrywide issues and showing others that a new way was possible.
  • Page 28. Saving Rookie Managers from Themselves
    Anybody moving from an individual-contributor role to a new leadership position struggles with delegating, getting support from above, projecting confidence, focusing on the big picture, and giving constructive feedback.
  • Page 47. Picking the Right Transition Strategy
    Transition into significant new roles are the most challenging times in the professional lives of managers. Success or failure during the transition period is a strong predictor of overall success or failure in the job.

    Leaders in transition reflexively rely on the skills and strategies that worked for them in the past; after all, their previous successes are what propelled them to the new opportunity. That’s a mistake.

    Turnarounds call for a heroic style of leading. Realignments require something more akin to stewardship.

  • Page 62, Women and the Vision Thing
    As a group, women outshone men in most of the leadership dimensions measured. There was one exception, however, and it was a big one: Women scored lower on “envisioning” – the ability to recognize new opportunities and trends in the environment and develop a new strategic direction for an enterprise.
  • Page 72. How Not to Lose the Top Job
    Executives who are next in line for the CEO job often fail to get the promotion because they mismanage relationships with key stakeholders.

    The heir apparent must systematically evaluate and address the needs and concerns of six kinds of stakeholders: the current CEO, peers, direct reports, customers, analysts and shareholders, and the board.

    Managing these relationships well maximizes the heir’s chances of promotion, improves his or her leadership skills, and benefits the company overall.

  • Page 82. The Last Act of a Great CEO
    New CEOs rarely reach out to their predecessors for knowledge and counsel. The implicit message is more along the lines of “Here’s your hat – what’s your hurry?”

    For the good of the company, the two leaders need to be persuaded – to put their heads together. A template for discussion can help set the wheels in motion. So can a severance contract with teeth.

    It’s worth overcoming any initial awkwardness or distrust: The payoff is ongoing access to a uniquely qualified and committed sounding board.

  • Page 91. What Can Coaches Do for You?
    No good one liners but still worth a read.
  • Page 99. How GE Teaches Teams to Lead Change
    Management development programs that focus on teaching and inspiring individuals to apply new approaches have a fundamental flaw: If other members of an individual’s team have not taken the course, they may resist efforts to change.

    When managers go through a program together, they emerge with a consensus view of the opportunities and problems and how best to attach them. The result: faster and more effective change.

Other Ideas From Our Readers
I recently came across the book It’s Okay to be the Boss (Collins 2007), by Bruce Tulgan that I’d like to recommend. The theme is very familiar and I think we discussed similar concepts in your class.

In short, Mr. Talgan says that strong managers need to manage every day. They need to spell out expectations, track performance, and learn to talk like a coach; effectively, they need to be the boss. However, Talgan noted one major pitfall called: False Empowerment. We all probably have a concept of this and you can read the book to find out more, but generally, “In a perfect world, every person you manage would be a self-motivated superstar who gets things done without a lot of direction, never complains, never fails, always lives up to expectations, doesn’t need to be praised for their work, and wants to do the best possible job every day,” Tulgan says. “Deep down, every boss knows what’s wrong with this picture, they just don’t know what to do about it.”

Talgan identified eight steps to get Back to Basics: What most employees need is real empowerment through regular guidance, direction and support from their supervisor; someone who sets them up for success every step of the way.

He has devised eight steps that any manager can take to “get back to the basics” of effectively managing people.

  1. Get in the Habit of Managing Every Day
    Set aside an hour every day for managing your people and pressing your agenda. Do it before anything goes right, wrong or average – just do it. The goal is to make these one-on-one sessions routine, brief and simple. Four or five people a day for ten or fifteen minutes each should be all you need.
  2. Learn to Talk Like a Performance Coach
    Get extraordinary performance out of ordinary people by talking to them about the work and building a rapport. The most effective managers have a way of talking that is authoritative and sympathetic; demanding and supportive; disciplined and patient. This is exactly how a performance coach talks:
    • Tune in to the individual you are coaching
    • Focus on individual performance
    • Describe the employee’s performance honestly and vividly
    • Develop concrete next steps
  3. Take It One Person at a Time
    As you talk with each person face-to-face, tune in to that person and adjust your approach to fit their individual needs. Every employee is different, so why try to force a “one-size-fits-all” management style on a diverse group? You’ll be more successful as a manager – and get better performance from employees – if you fine tune your approach to account for individuality, rather than asking employees to all work and act the same just for the sake of consistency. Yes, this is a more challenging method, but it is also more effective.
  4. Make Accountability a Real Process
    • Accountability only works as a management tool if the employee knows in advance that he or she will have to answer for his or her actions.
    • Employees must also trust and believe that there is a fair and accurate process for keeping track of their actions and tying their behavior to real consequences.
    • Make sure that your employees know that they will have to explain their actions to you up close and often.
    • Focus on concrete actions within the direct control of the employee.
    • Be known for holding people accountable.
    • Raise your standards.
    • Take charge on day one. Today is always day one.
    • Separate your role as the boss from your personal relationships.
    • If you have no authority; use influence.
    • If you don’t have the expertise; act like a very shrewd client.
  5. Tell People What to Do and How to Do It
    The best way to engage employees in adopting best practices is to convert best practices into standard operating procedures – and then requiring employees to follow those procedures precisely. Give them step-by-step checklists whenever possible. Follow up. Ask employees to think out loud about how they might approach their assignments: “Can you do this? What do you need from me? How are you going to start? What steps will you follow? Do you have a checklist?”
  6. Track Performance Every Step of the Way
    Monitor, measure and document performance – good, bad and average – with every employee, every step of the way. Refer to an ongoing, written record of exact expectations, goals, deadlines and requirements. How did each employee’s concrete actions match clear expectations? The more you keep track, the easier it will be to keep track.
  7. Solve Small Problems While They’re Small
    Without regular daily or weekly management conversations, managers have no natural venue in which to provide employees with regular evaluation and feedback. In the course of regular guidance and direction, addressing one small problem after another is what ongoing, continuous performance improvement actually looks like.
  8. Do More for Some People Than Others
    Give every person the chance to meet the basic expectations of their jobs and then the chance to go above and beyond – and to be rewarded accordingly. Expand your repertoire of rewards and start using every resource you have to drive performance. Make a point of making special deals and small accommodations in exchange for extra performance. Help people earn what they need every step of the way.

To learn more about Bruce Tulgan’s management concepts, visit

Todd C. Tucker AICP ASLA

On your book list recommendations you should also tell your readers about a great used book website:

You can actually find good quality used books for $1, plus shipping. That is where I bought a copy of Mavericks @ Work for $1. They have many of the books on your list.

Mark Persico, AICP
Persico Planning Partners

I would also recommend:

The Progressive City (1986) by Pierre Clavel

Planning in the Face of Power (1989) by John Forester

Making Equity Planning Work (1990) by Norman Krumholz and John Forester

J. Justin Woods
City of Ogdensburg, NY

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March 2009 – Let’s Laugh

Times are tough so it can be hard to keep looking at
the serious side of management. I hope the following
cartoons help to lift your day. They are by the same
cartoonist that will be featured in my new book, Mis
which will be released sometime
this year. I’ll let you know when it’s available.


Let’s all dry our eyes and consider the next item on the budget.


Now, now – after you get used to it, downsizing won’t seem so bad.



I warned you not to mention anything about Mutual Funds.


Be with you in just a bit. I’m taking my five minute happiness break.

Reader Responses

I enjoyed the cartoons and wholeheartedly embrace the need to be upbeat in these times. As leaders we set the tone for those who choose to follow, so we cannot have a “beaten-down” look on our faces. Our department has embraced the FISH philosophy and has been having “fun events” for several months now. We recently had an office Olympics where divisions or “nations” within our department spent two weeks competing in games either after work or during lunch. The Olympic Games were bookended by opening and closing ceremonies with each nation creating their own flag and choosing a theme song. While competing, several other departments in the City noticed and made positive comments. Although it is not a time to ignore the tough times by just playing, we cannot withdraw into our shells. Thank you for the cartoons and the reminder that we need to have a positive outlook.

Michael Tassi, AICP
City of Henderson

Thanks, needed this!!

Michael A. Harper, FAICP
Washoe County

We needed that burst of laughter, Paul! Thanks so much and have a great day.

Joanne Garnett

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April 2009 – Layoffs

I seem to be in a rut talking about layoffs. I promise, this will be the last Management Doctor on this topic for awhile . However, don’t be surprised if the last layoff you did will not be your last. These tips are a combination of Jack & Suzy Welch’s article in the March 23 issue of Business Week, plus a few thoughts of my own:

  1. You Do It
    Being laid off is dehumanizing in any event so make certain you do it. Don’t leave this to the Human Resource Department. Delivery should be “face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball.”
  2. Equity
    Human Resources or the Personnel Board should be used as the arbiter of equity. For most of you that simply means first in, first out. That’s fair and the way it is – get over it. Don’t try to use layoffs to cover all your past sins.
  3. Counseling
    Both you and HR should be available for counseling. Assist those being laid off to relocate in another department or an outside organization.
  4. A Shot In The Arm
    Use the layoff as a chance to stand back and take a fresh look at your organization. Are you being effective? Are you doing the “main events.” Don’t freak out. The best planning department I ever saw had one planner and a half-time clerk.< font>

The Management Doctor


Now, now – after you get used to it, downsizing won’t seem so bad.


Reader Response

Thanks for your latest advice on layoffs. However, you wrote:


“Human Resources or the Personnel Board should be used as the arbiter of equity. For most of you that simply means first in, first out.”

Did you mean “last in, first out?”

Steve Hebert, AICP
Lone Tree, CO

Thanks for the correction. I guess I was dreaming or maybe hoping…

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May 2009 – Development Process Issues

It may seem strange to spend any time thinking about the development process during a recession. The issue for many of you is probably, “how can I get more development applications so I don’t have to continue to lay off staff?”

However, during a down cycle is a perfect time to correct the problems you may have experienced during the busy times. You need a plan in place so these problems don’t reoccur. I was asked to participate in a panel discussing the development process at the Minneapolis APA conference. My thoughts below are part of that presentation. They are based on what I have found most often in our studies performed for some 150 cities and counties in 29 states and the Cayman Islands.

  1. It Takes Too Long
    I’m convinced that you could talk to applicants in any city or county in the United States and their number one complaint would be – “it takes too long.” We have found this in virtually all of our studies, and in my opinion, it normally does. I don’t want to sacrifice quality and it is essential that adequate time is available for citizen input. However, these concerns can normally be accommodated in a much shorter timeline.
  2. Not Enough Staff
    Given the current economy, this one should make you laugh. However, when development was booming, virtually all of the clients we studied were short staffed. It is impossible to shorten timelines if you are short staffed. Planners need to understand that there is lots of money to be made by applicants for subdivisions and re-zonings. These applicants are more than willing to pay increased fees to shorten the timelines.
  3. Managers Bogged Down In Day To Day
    During busy times, managers tend to pitch in to help the staff in processing a backlog of applications. In an ideal circumstance, this can be a good thing. However, it is not unusual that staff is not properly trained, policies and procedures are not up to date or are confusing, and adequate staff and other resources are not available for staff to be successful. During those times, it is counterproductive for the manager to pitch in to help. Managers must handle their management responsibilities first.
  4. Backlog of Applications
    It is impossible to meet acceptable timelines and have a rational development process if there is a backlog of applications. Consultants and extra staff should be hired to clear out the backlog. With the proper balance between applications and staff there should never be a backlog of applications.
  5. Silos
    I just completed my bi-annual teaching tour for my two day, Complete Management Course for Planning Directors. When I ask students why they can’t meet timelines, the answer is almost always the same – the Engineering Department. Sometimes it is also the Fire Department or Health Department. However, there is no excuse for this “silo” mentality. All of these functions are part of the same community and need to agree on reasonable review time standards.
  6. Performance Standards
    Unless you have performance standards for all your processes, you really don’t have a development processing system. The standards should cut across all departments that are involved in the process and ideally are accepted by the industry. The standards should be listed on your website and monitored on a weekly basis. You should meet the standard either 90 or 95% of the time.
  7. Regulators or Problem Solvers
    Staff should be trained to be problem solvers. This is not only solving problems for the applicant but also problems perceived by the neighbors and citizens. The goal should always be building a better community. Whenever it becomes clear that the current regulations are prohibiting building a better community, the initiative should be taken to change the regulation.
  8. Major Glitches
    Occasionally in our studies we simply find a major glitch in the policies or processes. One community was requiring 80% complete engineering during the preliminary subdivision process – a costly and unreasonable requirement. Another was taking 10 days for zoning clearance of a building permit when one day should have been sufficient. One community had an elected city council, an elected zoning board, a zoning board of adjustment, a conservation commission, historic preservation commission, and design review board. There were simply too many actors in the process working at cross purposes and making it impossible to meet reasonable timelines.

The Management Doctor

p.s. News from Minneapolis

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June 2009 – A Saner Workplace

Government and HR Departments have always had a problem with part-time employees, flex time, and working at home. However, the current economy may be presenting a crack in the door for change.

My thought process has been stimulated by A Saner Work Place article in the June 11, 2009 Businessweek which was based on a new book, Womenomics: Write Your Own Rules for Success. Although the book was written for women, it turns out many men want the same things. A few quotes to make the point:

  • Many employees are willing to make trade-offs to get a better work-life balance.
  • The hot currency in office boasting sessions is quickly moving from the number of power breakfasts to the number of school plays you’ve managed to make.
  • The financial services company had initially surveyed female associates to find out what was critical in their work lives. Overwhelmingly, the answer they got was flexibility.
  • But, it was actually true of the men who worked there, too.
  • It allows all employees to craft their own schedules with their managers – they can take advantage of flextime, telecommuting, a compressed work week, or they can go part-time.
  • Bottom line:
    • Half of us want fewer hours
    • Half of us would change our schedules
    • More than half would trade money for a day off
    • Three-quarters of us want flexible work options

Generation Y is completely untethered. So rather than try and get them to conform to rules and guidelines from the 1950s, we should listen to them, and let them lead the way for what this future will look like. Many of the cities and counties I am working with have negative reactions to all of this. Part of this is understandable. If your office is open from 8 to 5, someone needs to be available to the public. If new staff needs supervision, someone needs to be present to train and supervise. However, an even bigger issue is that many managers don’t know how to measure employee productivity. All they can really measure is, were they on time at 8 a.m. and stay until 5 p.m. Making the transition will be tough but it is time to start. Here is a starting checklist:

    • Ask each employee what they need or want
    • Allow working off site via a laptop
    • Route emails and phone calls to the offsite employee and make certain they are answered the same day
    • Allow compressed workweeks
    • Allow flexible hours
    • Allow telecommuting
    • Allow job sharing
    • Allow part-time work
    • Allow reduced workloads. Maybe with a two-tiered pay scale. Top dollar for the hard-chargers, less dollars for those who prefer to slow down.

I know you can’t follow Zucker Systems’ approach but maybe it will give you something to shoot for. We have highly productive people and we have no hours or work schedules. In fact, most of our staff live in other cities.

Please share the efforts you are making with me so I can share them with the rest of our emailers.

Be Sane,

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

Thanks for the article, it brings out a lot of good points and possible defenses in keeping the flex schedule our city currently enjoys. We just seem to be at constant odds with management to maintain the schedule. It’s not a fear of keeping customer service; the staff has proven that they can provide the same level of service with just 1 or 2 people gone on any given day. Our issue comes to having the staff member the director is looking for on Friday (for some reason everyone likes to have Fridays off). This comes from Friday being the only day he can get work done and needs information held by a specific staff member.

We’ve already started sharing all information so anyone can answer questions and are moving some of the flex days to allow for more people there on Friday (it at least gives the appearance of a workforce). If anyone has tips on other ways to provide customer service to both the city’s customers and the management, it would be greatly appreciated.

David Neal

City of Surprise, Arizona

Interestingly enough, I’ve been attempting to pursue exactly the items you discuss in my own work situation! I’d suggest that there are a lot of Baby Boomers who also are ready to slow down and get more focused in their work, rather than running around like maniacs and burning out. The advice you listed is timely and on the money.

Joanne Garnett, FAICP

Sheridan, WY

The following statement is so true in the planning division, yet it appears that management doesn’t see it:

Generation Y is completely untethered. So rather than try and get them to conform to rules and guidelines from the 1950s, we should listen to them, and let them lead the way for what this future will look like.

Anonymous in Delaware

Great article! I’ve been a public sector planner for 15 years now. How does one become a new employee with you? I started to write this in jest, but I am very much interested in making a transition to the private sector at some point in the near future. I love my current employer, I’m just ready to try to transition into other areas of the planning profession. I’m sure you are in high demand and see many of these emails each week!

Darren K. Coffey, AICP

Fluvanna County, VA

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July 2009 – Answers In Search of Questions

We all need to learn how to stop answering questions and ask the right questions. This concept relates to a number of management rules or ideas.

  • Answers In Search of Questions
    I learned this concept in a copyright management course I used to teach. *Most managers have had a lot of experience and think they have all the answers. If they can find a subordinate with a question that they have the answer to, they can show how smart they are and feed their own ego. But, this is not a way to build your staff. Two examples:

    a. I appointed a new manager to manage the front counter. After two weeks he came to my office to say we’re running out of application forms. My response – get the H____ out of my office. Don’t bring me questions like that.

    b. An employee comes into your office with a problem, sometimes referred to as the monkey on the back problem. The subordinate’s goal is to leave your office with the monkey on your back. Your job is to make certain the employee keeps the monkey.

  • Answers or Questions?
    Jack Welsh, the renowned former CEO of General Electric said that before you become a manager, your job is to have all the answers. After you become a manager, your job is to have all the questions.
  • Better Questions
    Harvard Business on June 24 had these tips for better questions:

    a. Keep them open-ended. Ask provocative questions that encourage team members to think for themselves. Start question with “why” or “how.”

    b. Don’t lead. Avoid asking questions you already know the answesr to.

    c. Encourage solutions. “What do you suggest we do to get the best results?” is a great question because it elicits ownership.

    d. Create a question culture. Ask team members to bring critical questions to meetings and show that you value their queries.

For better answers and questions,

The Management Doctor

*Model-Netics by Main Event Mangement

Reader Response

Thanks so much for this one. Not only is it good advice for us in building the capabilities of our team, but it’s also a bit of a relief to know that I don’t have to have all the answers!

Beckie Cato

Santa Rosa, Florida

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August 2009 – Brain Rules


12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

I have always been fascinated by how my (and your) brain works. I just finished reading this great new book by John Medina. He tells us about a few things that are known, and lots that still are unknown about how that great mass in our head actually performs. Here are a few of his points and what we can do with them:

  1. If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom.
  2. If you wanted to create a business environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a cubicle.
  3. And if you wanted to change things, you might have to tear down both and start over.
  4. Our brains were built for walking so to improve thinking skills, move. Medina even put a treadmill in his office so he can do emails while he exercises.
  5. Our ability to learn has deep roots in relationships. Business success may in part depend on the relationship between employee and boss. If someone does not feel safe with a boss, he or she may not be able to perform as well.
  6. Learning results in physical changes in the brain, and these changes are unique to each individual. And you can trace the whole thing to experience. This means we must treat each employee as an individual. We may discover we have a great basketball player in the organization but we are asking him or her to play baseball. Using the bus analogy you have heard me talking about – get everyone in the right seat on the bus.
  7. We don’t pay attention or learn well from boring things. Emotionally arousing events tend to be better remembered than neutral events. The brain pays a great deal of attention to these questions:
    • Can I eat it? Will it eat me?
    • Can I mate with it? Will it mate with me?
    • Have I seen it before?

    The Management Doctor say that you are on your own for the first two. The third one says that memory is enhanced by creating associations between concepts. If you want to get the particulars correct, don’t start with details. Start with the key ideas and, in a hierarchical fashion, form the details around these larger notions.

  8. The brain cannot multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously. Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50 percent longer to accomplish a task and makes up to 50 percent more errors.
  9. Try creating an interruption-free zone during the day – turn off your e-mail, phone, IM program, or BlackBerry – and see whether you get more done.
  10. Audiences check out after 10 minutes, but you can keep grabbing them back by telling narratives or creating events rich in emotion. Most of the events that predict whether something learned also will be remembered occur in the first few seconds of learning. The more elaborately we encode a memory during its initial moments, the stronger it will be.
  11. The way to make long-term memory more reliable is to incorporate new information gradually and repeat it in timed intervals.
  12. People vary in how much sleep they need and when they prefer to get it, but the biological drive for an afternoon nap is universal. The neurons of your brain show vigorous rhythmical activity when you’re asleep – perhaps replaying what you learned that day. The idea of sleeping on it may have some merit.
  13. There is no such thing as a firewall between personal issues and work productivity.
  14. Control is critical to reduce stress. The perfect storm of occupational stress appears to be a combination of two malignant facts;

    a) a great deal is expected of you and

    b) you have no control over whether you will perform well.

  15. Students learn better from words and pictures than from words alone. Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near each other rather than far from each on the page or screen. Vision is probably the best single tool we have for learning anything. If information is presented orally, people remember about 10 percent, tested 72 hours after exposure. That figure goes up to 65 percent if you add a picture.
  16. Boys might say, “Do this.” Girls would say, “Let’s do this.”
  17. We must do a better job of encouraging lifelong curiosity in our workplaces. The importance of curiosity may be the greatest Brain Rule of all. Babies seem preoccupied by the physical properties of objects. Babies younger than a year old will systematically analyze an object with every sensory weapon at their disposal. They will feel it, kick it, try to tear it apart, stick it in their ear, stick it in their mouth, give it to you so you can stick it in your mouth. Babies methodically do experiments on the objects to see what else they will do.

The Management Doctor

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September 2009 – Deja Vu – All Over Again!

I’m on a road trip in September teaching management to planners in the states of Florida and Washington and in New Brunswick, Canada. As part of this I have been asked to specifically discuss the current economic climate. In preparing this, I happened across eight pages on this topic that I wrote in 1992, during that recession. Much to my surprise, what I said 17 years ago fits today perfectly. So, I have attached this for your amusement. However, I hope it is for more than just amusement. As you will see, many of us ignored the good advice last time around.

Click here to read the attachment

I also recently ran across a new book, The Adversity Paradox, by J. Barry Griswell and Bob Jennings. A few of their thoughts:

  1. Those who have benefited from the adversity paradox all relate similar experiences. The knowledge they gained from overcoming obstacles played such a crucial role in their success trajectories that they now consider adversity to be an invaluable friend.
  2. Befriending adversity means not shying from it, but learning from it.
  3. Economists regard expenditures on education, training, medical care and so on as investments in human capital. They are called human capital because people cannot be separated from their knowledge, skills, health or values in the way they can be separated from their financial and physical assets. The sky is not falling. It is a time for renewal.

The Management Doctor

Reader Response

The September Hot Info Email was very timely. I had just come out a meeting with all my building inspectors talking about realities. They see it more than most of the City staff as they have already lost about of 40% of their co-workers due to lay offs this year, but there are some still left with the view that they are entitled to everything. In reading through the article, I saw a lot of the things we have discovered over the past year about what we can really exist and do great work with, how to deal with layoffs in a caring manner, and dealing with performance issues. Thanks for sending it around. I even googled the home builder you cited and they are still in business!

Joseph Horwedel, AICP

City of San Jose, CA

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October 2009 – Motivating in Non-Motivating Times – When Work Doesn’t Make You Happy

These topics keep popping up in my reading and emails. I also recently heard from 200 planners in a teaching and seminar trip to Florida, the Maritimes in Canada and Washington State. The budget crisis seems to have put many planners in a bad frame of mind. I could wax on philosophically about how dissatisfaction is the key to motivation and how happiness is a relative term. However, I’d rather just jump right in and get to a shopping list of ideas. You pick the ones that work for you.

  1. Green Strategy
    We planners should all be thinking green anyway. So why not go about greening your department. Get everyone involved. Change from lean and mean to lean and green.
  2. Training and Coaching
    Don’t decrease training, actually increase it. This is a good time for coaching many of your employees. Or, if you are having the problem, get someone to coach you. Ask for a 360 degree evaluation. Enroll in a college course.
  3. Stop Doing It
    Ask yourself and your department, “Would the roof cave in if we just stop doing that, or doing that that way?” Let’s make planning more relevant.
  4. Exchange Jobs/Job Rotation
    Move people around in your organization. For you, swap jobs with someone in a similar position in another community.
  5. Empowerment
    Increase empowerment for everyone. Start this week with one item or decision you have been making and delegate it. Next week do another. And for you, talk to your boss and say, “Give it to me, I can do it.”
  6. Adversity Paradox
    Remember that obstacles and setbacks are inevitable parts of life but overcoming them can be the trajectory you need to move to a higher level.
  7. Connect With People
    Increase your contacts, both work and non-work.
  8. Sabbatical
    Use some of that savings and take a sabbatical, even an extra month or two of vacation.
  9. Write a Book
    Start writing that book or article you have been thinking about.
  10. Plans
    Be prepared to rip up your most cherished plans, or at least put them on the back burner for awhile.
  11. Attitude
    While you may not be able to change your work or colleagues. You can choose how you approach things.
  12. Balance
    Get some balance in your life. Cut back on those long days; exercise or try a new hobby.
  13. Blogging
    Do more.
  14. Work
    Provide or find more interesting work, or make the work that you or your workers must do more interesting.
  15. Email
    Send your successes, failures, frustrations, and ideas to the Management Doctor and we will share them our emailers.

The Management Doctor

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November 2009 – Taking A Class With Drucker

Most of us didn’t have the opportunity to sit in the classroom with Peter Drucker. However, William A. Cohen did and wrote about it in his 2008 book, A Class With Drucker, The Lost Lessons of the World’s Greatest Management Teacher. I actually found this a bit of a slow read but did enjoy, once again, revisiting many of Drucker’s helpful insights.

Almost at the same time I finished this book, my November issue of the Harvard Business Review arrived which included a variety of articles about Drucker.

Here are a few thoughts from these writings:

  • The first task of any business management is to decide what business it is in, what are your objectives and guiding principles? When things are in flux, a sense of purpose and a set of common values enable people to work together effectively, i.e. that Northbound Train I keep talking about.
  • Question your assumptions. What everyone knows is frequently proved wrong. Staff reduction is a good time to re-think your organization.
  • A little success counts just as much as a big success as far as building self-confidence and knowing that you will succeed in the future. Find those small items that your City Manager or City Council want and get them done. You may not think they are as important as your grand planning initiative, but they can build support for the bigger ideas.
  • An uncrowned performer: This is someone who does not hold a permanent appointment for the responsibilities he has taken on, but may take them on at any time and in an ad hoc manner. This means that you accept new responsibility opportunities outside of your normal duties. One of my favorite books, How To Be A Star At Work, and also The Seven Habits both say that taking initiative is at the top of the list.
  • Any organization which continues to do what brought it success in the past will eventually fail. An organization should take actions to create its own future by making the revolutionary change itself, even though it means obsolescing the products or methods of its current and past success. It’s time we re-think planning.
  • If you weren’t already in the business, would you enter it today? What are you going to do about it? Ditto!
  • Focus on what to do, not how to do it. Empower your employees. Knowledgeable workers cannot be controlled; they must be motivated. Chances are they know a better way to do it anyway. The organization will be more productive and the employees will be happier.
  • There was a time when professionals completed their basic education, and then bragged about not having read a book since. That time has long passed. Today, you not only must read extensively in your own field to reach the top and to be successful, but you also need to read extensively in other fields as well. I’m always disappointed in my classes when I ask what the students are reading.
  • Fear of job loss is simply incompatible with taking responsibility and excising the power entrusted to the manager. Not a good time to get yourself fired, but maybe it is overdue?
  • You can’t predict the environment of the future. However, what you can do is create the future; invent it. A good message for planners. Maybe we need less planning and more doing?
  • Develop and capitalize on one’s strengths and contrive to make one’s weaknesses irrelevant. Get your employees in the right seats on the bus.
  • The purpose of a company is to create a customer and a business is defined by the want the customer satisfies when he or she buys a product or a service. We need to create customers for good planning and then deliver the goods.

Thanks Peter and William. We needed that.

The Management Doctor

Drucker Book

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December 2009 – Why You Need To Fail

Government can’t afford to do things the way it has always done them. It is time we start to fail more!

These thoughts come from an interesting article in Harvard Business Publishing by Peter Bregman, CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc, a global management consulting firm, and various responses to his thoughts on a blog. A few highlights:

  • “Every time I ask a room of executives to list the top five moments their career took a leap forward – not just a step, but a leap – failure is always on the list.” For our emailers this could be:
    • Being laid off
    • Being fired
    • Downsizing your department
    • Not getting the votes for that great planning project
  • “If you have a growth mindset, then you use your failures to improve. If you have a fixed mindset, you may never fail, but neither do you learn or grow. People with a fixed mindset like to solve the same problems over and over again. It reinforces their sense of competence.”
  • “A growth mindset is the secret to maximizing potential. Want to grow your staff? Give them tasks above their ability. They don’t think they could do it? Tell them you expect them to work at it for a while, struggle with it.”
  • “Want to increase your own performance? Set high goals where you have a 50-70% chance of success. According to Psychologist and Harvard researcher the late David McClelland, that’s the sweet spot for high achievers.”

Some of Bregman’s bloggers added to the mix:

  1. Maybe the great problem is still to determine when is the appropriate time to fail, by Estevao Soares.
  2. I have to admit as a recovering perfectionist my percentages have not been high enough, by Cindy Howes.
  3. How we handle failure when it happens is also important because it will be used by colleagues to gauge your leadership potential, by Dan LeClair. There is only one thing that can put you further ahead than success, and that is surviving failure, by Chayim B. Alevsky.
  4. Piano teacher; I told my students you must be willing to play badly to play well, by Kathy Loh.
  5. I always asked people to describe a failure (or many). If they can’t immediately think of something, then they likely won’t get an offer, by Gary Garber. My favorite interview question is, what is the biggest thing you screwed up in the past year? I have never yet hired anyone who could not think of anything that they goofed up, by Craig Norris. We have a recent former president who stammered on for over 60 seconds when famously asked to discuss his failures, by Ralph Heath.
  6. I sure hope we’re not talking about pharmacists, brain surgeons, or nuclear reactor operators. There are failure tolerant events and non-failure tolerant events, by Paul. There is a time when it’s okay to fail and then there’s a time when a failure is not acceptable. When human lives or millions are at stake is not the right time to fail, by Barbara Fillip.

We used to have a saying in a county I worked for; to error is human, to forgive is not county policy. So you decide this for yourself. I come down on the side of adding a bit more failure to the stew.

The Management Doctor

 Reader Responses

You wrote that maybe the planning program is simply not producing enough “value” and it may be time to re-examine priorities. I think you hit the nail on the head. If we didn’t have a monopoly, I wouldn’t buy what we “sell.” Outsourcing or privatizing what we do often doesn’t achieve truly desirable results.

Public administrators often focus on increasing efficiency. That is what they are taught in school. Adam Hartung wrote in a recent article that efficiency is a myth. Although the article is written from the business perspective, I believe the basic premise is applicable to the public sector planning department. Fundamental change is the only way and incremental efficiency improvements are simply band aids; important from a political perspective, but if someone truly thinks that increased efficiency is all that is needed, they are delusional. Delivering on fundamental change is much easier said than done in most public agencies.

Here’s a link to that Forbes article.

Lastly, I bet there are a majority of us that just sit around and talk about change and efficiency and there is more talk than action. If you ever hear the words, “we talked about it”; you know you are in trouble. One final thing, Scott Adams must have once worked in the planning department and here’s unequivocal proof.

James W. Campbell

City of Newport Beach

I’ve often wondered why planning conferences don’t have a session on spectacular failures. Failing, as pointed out in your monthly information circular, is also a learning experience.

Michael Harper, FAICP

One comment. Is a layoff really considered a failure and if yes, who failed?

James W. Campbell

City of Newport Beach

What is the title of the Bregman article to which you are referring?  Thanks!

Interestingly, the cover story on Wired magazine this month is “Fail!; Screw-up’s, Disasters, Misfires, Flops; Why Losing Big can be a Winning Strategy.” With comeback lessons from: Alec Baldwin (pictured), Bill Clinton, Larry Ellison, Mike Tyson, and more!

Wired Magazine

I can’t help but think this media saturation is a conspiracy of AIG and other Execs to justify their salaries “Hey, we should be AWESOME now!”

Or that maybe it is true, but if everyone out of work is a failure right now… that’s a lot of failure to deal with.

In a more microscopic sense, I often get frustrated with planners, lawyers, accountants and even elected officials who are so paranoid about having things “perfect,” because they don’t have the philosophical depth to understand that it isn’t going to be perfect, something about it is going to go wrong, and sometimes you have to do the best you can, but move forward anyway and see what goes wrong so that you can learn from it.

On the other hand, I think the “experiment” in western civilization over the last 200 or so years is like the lesson never learned. How many different ways do we have to fail before we start learning?

Anyway, great concept. I can think of several things that I didn’t necessarily fail at, but that I was smart enough to know not to go too far down a path before I could commit to a project. I think when working in the public realm, that’s a very important instinct; when to think, when to plan, when to push really hard, and when to back off or even abandon, and the most painful, when to simply wait until things work themselves out. And then there are the projects that did fail. Definitely a lot of lessons learned!

Dan Kwasnowski

Dryden, NY

The Management Doctor Responds

  1. Yes, it would be great if APA picked up on the failure notion. If you want to read about some of mine, order a copy of What Your Planning Professor Forgot To Tell You; $24.95 from APA. However, I just saw it on Ebay auction with a starting price of $106.00*. Go figure, maybe failure does pay?
  2. I picked up the Bergman discussion from Harvard Business’s weekly newsletter. His book is Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change. You can sign up for when he writes a new post or email him at
  3. Who failed with layoffs is a particular interesting question. I would suggest:

    a. Management didn’t properly predict the downturn and start keeping vacant positions vacant soon enough.

    b. Management did not build a sufficient reserve account to see through the down turn. We recommend a reserve equivalent to nine months of the normal budget.

    c. The goal of customer service is to:

Meet or exceed



at a cost that


value to them

Maybe the planning program is simply not producing enough “value.” It may be time to re-examine the priorities.

Thanks for the feedback

The Management Doctor

*up-date: as of 12/21/09 the price had dropped to $74.82.

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