Excited Young Planning Director
Dear Management Doctor:
I work for a County Commission in a quickly growing southeastern state. My county has been traditionally rural and has a population of 30,000 and a growth rate from 1990 to 2000 of 48%. The County has had a Planner since 1989. I came on board in 2000 as a fresh-out-of-college graduate. At that point there were five employees (a planning director, two planners and two clerical staff), myself included. During the last year, our Director went on medical leave for a period of six months. I was appointed as Acting Director. The Director came back after his leave and then retired about six months after that due to continued health issues. The County then went through an organizational restructuring and I now find myself as the Director of a reconstituted Planning and Economic Development department, which is basically a development-related department processing development-related requests (rezones, plats and construction plans). Effective January 1, I now have a staff of ten (a Director, two Assistant Directors/Senior Planners, three planners, three clerical staff and an intern). We are moving to a new location as part of this expansion and starting anew. We'll also be adding on responsibility to manage the County's new Economic Development plan, due out in March.
Before me, the same Director had been in position for 15 years and he had some ways of doing things that didn't often make sense to me as a staff member, but "it had always been done that way." He was often seen by the development community as a bureaucrat and difficult to work with. Often, when a situation arose that I felt I could find a solution for, he'd tell me not to worry about it as it was someone else's problem, not ours. I didn't enjoy working this way.
It is now my job to direct this organization into the 21st century. I have some ideas, but I don't want to make too many changes too quickly. I have read your book, ABZs of Planning Management, and have found many helpful ideas. I'd like to make customer service a cornerstone of my administration. I'd like to implement a Project Manager form of Planning. I'd like to help my employees better themselves in an effort to better the organization. My staff is mostly young too (I'm actually the youngest, though that hasn't been an issue). They seem very receptive to the possibility of change. We'll also be bringing on some new staff to fill some of the new positions.
Here's my main question: I'm excited about my new position, but as a young director with planning experience, but not a lot of management experience, what are the most important issues I need to look for as I start my directorship? I'm taking a general local government management course offered by the government outreach arm of the State University, but I'm looking for Planning-related specifics. Coming into a position like this, what are the first and foremost items I need to review to ensure that this department is working to its highest potential?
Dear Excited Young Planning Director:
I like your story and your attitude. It sounds like a great opportunity. In responding to you, I am tempted to say what the executives from Starbucks said when business magazine editor asked them what was most important? They responded "everything." But, obviously that won't be much help to you. Here are a few suggestions:
Call me if things get tight at 1-800-870-6306.
The Management Doctor