They Want To Talk Only To Me

Dear Management Doctor:

Your statement, "in a contemporary organization, the employees know more than the manager,” raises an interesting point. One problem we continually encounter is the public feels like they need to speak with me as Director and become offended if I refer them to staff. While I will discuss “big picture” issues with whomever it is that needs to speak with me, my staff knows the details of specific applications, permits, etc. It becomes frustrating for staff, because even though I try to push decision-making and the power to handle problems to the lowest level possible, the public may refuse to discuss the issues with them.

Signed,

Swamped County Development Director

Dear Swamped:

Your problem is one I see over and over again. This will vary substantially by the size and nature of the community as well as the desires of the city manager and elected officials. The smaller the community, the more likely that this will be a problem and you will need to spend more time with the customers. Here are a few tips that might help:

  1. Start by making certain that you are not the problem. It is easy to feed our egos by having the answers to questions that a customer or staff may ask.
  2. Refuse to meet without having the appropriate staff with you and then let the staff person take the lead.
  3. Move your office farther away from the front counter.
  4. Make certain your staff is well trained and gives out good information.
  5. Let the staff take the lead in public meetings so the public begins to get the picture.
  6. Have telephone calls screened to the appropriate staff and also have them answer the emails.
  7. Recognize that there are also times when you must be available. In my last government job I had a standing order that the city manager and all elected officials had direct access to me.
I'm hopeful that some of our readers will also offer you their experience on this item. Let us know if any of this works.

The Management Doctor

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