Dear Management Doctor:
In the extensive work you've done with cities and counties across the country, do you really think most pleas for return calls are simply an ambush tool? It's a very sad state of affairs if our planning directors generally feel the request for prompt return calls is simple a tool to manipulate the planning department.
I am sure there are some calls like the director from Illinois described but my own experience, and that of many firms I work with, calls to the planning director and staff are usually to find out the status of their submittals, what review comments are forth coming (after long delays of not hearing from the department), request for an interpretation of a section of the codes, or to plead with the director to have her/his staff call back (after lengthy no return calls).
I would love to hear what directors across the country have shared with you.
Connie B. Cooper, FAICP
Let's see what others say. I don't see it as an "ambush" tool - just plain old vanilla customer service.
The Management Doctor
As Current Planning Deputy Director and now Land Use Services Director, my emphasis is always on prompt response; whether to and from the public, decision-makers or peers, e-mail, phone calls or letters. My staff will tell you that the rule is to always leave the ball in the other person's court. Phone calls need to be returned the same day — or there needs to be a very good reason. It never hurts to say, "I'm looking into this and will get back to you when I have an answer." It is only common courtesy.
Julie Rynerson Rock, AICP
... in my experience, ambushes occur primarily when circumstances conducive to an ambush have been allowed to become prevalent. The volume of calls and requests for status updates seem to go hand-in-hand with the departmental workload and the ability of staff to respond with accurate information and meaningful direction to requests. Having worked primarily with small staffs and limited clerical support, I can vouch for the amount of time taken by such requests. However, it is paramount that directors clarify what is expected of their staff in terms of satisfying their customers expectations, while addressing the goals and objectives of the department regarding the availability of information and actually answering questions with effective answers.
Robert P. McNeill
Most of the time, such phone calls are straightforward transactions. I do get the occasional ambush call, but honestly the number is very small. Really, though, it does not matter - the important thing is to talk to the appropriate staff member and get fully briefed on the issue before calling back. If it's an ambush, you're prepared; if not, you're more ready to deal with the matter quickly and correctly. (By the way, if the phone call is to plead with you to have a staff member call back, asking the staff member about the case is just about guaranteed to generate that phone call!)
Robert Atallo, AICP, CFM
I do not know if the following is of interest, but it is the vision statement I have written for my department and continually reinforce. The aim is to ensure courtesy and a high level of service. It was one of the first things I did when I came here almost 3 years ago.
The Butts County Community Development Department will continuously seek opportunities to engage the public in local government processes and provide them with the highest levels of service in an equitable and consistent manner.
The Department also will find innovative ways to encourage segments of the local community who do not participate in local government processes to become more active.
Internally, the Department will attain the following standards of service to assure the public receives service unparalleled to any other local government department in the State of Georgia:
Our Assistant Director forwarded the Management Doctor column to the Planning Department Staff. I am not a Planner, just a Tech, and I'm not sure I'd be encouraged to respond, but I thought it might be helpful to know that we've done several things in our department to alleviate some of the pressure.
We realize they need an answer right away, but if we are tied up checking our messages and emails, and have redundant ones, it slows us down even more. We each have multiple projects and sometimes it requires we go to different departments, or to meetings, or even on-site visits. A little patience from the other side of the counter would help immensely. We are not sitting here waiting for someone to call.