June – More Good Bad and Ugly

This is a continuation of the May Management Hot Information where I introduced the background for the 170 studies of planning departments that we have completed. This month I will highlight the key issues we found in many of our studies.

  1. Politics
    Successful planning departments and planning directors have learned how to work within the local political climate. If the director is good at the political issues, they can be mediocre or in some cases even a bad manager but still survive. However, it they are great at management but poor on the political side, they will not be secure in their position.
  2. Personnel Issues
    Many organizations have a few bad apples that infect the entire organization. Even worse is a manager that either doesn’t understand how to manage his or her division or refuses to do so. Planning Directors need to take aggressive action on these issues. The notion that you can’t fire anyone in government is a myth.
  3. Mission
    Many planning departments are simply not clear on their mission. They have mission statements but they tend to be generic with little impact on the organization. The Planning Director is responsible for setting the mission and direction for the department.
  4. Organization
    The silo issue is having a great impact on many planning departments. The department or a division of the department is doing a reasonable job with their own defined work but processes and procedures run into trouble as they cross over or involve more than one department or division. Planning departments need to get out of their silos. I like to think of the planner’s job as sticking their nose into everyone else’s business.
  5. Planning Policy
    Plans, ordinances, and policies are out of date and there is no clear work program or budget to correct the problem. Also, long-range planning is often understaffed. As a rough rule of thumb I suggest that at least a third of the staff should be devoted to long-range planning.
  6. Current Planning
    Many planners want to focus on long-range planning, some even don’t believe current-planning is planning. However, most planning programs that are in trouble are in trouble because current-planning is not doing a good job. This normally means that timelines are too long and there is too much inconsistency in the way applications are handled. A good current-planning function is necessary to gain the support needed for long-range planning.
  7. Technology
    The age of the paperless office has arrived. However, many planning departments have been slow in getting on board. Even for communities that have an older permitting system, we often find the planners refuse to use the system or only partially use it, making it ineffective.
  8. Finances
    Planning programs that live on the General Fund have been in trouble. The current-planning budget should be full cost recovery with a large reserve equal to the size of the annual budget. Methods need to be found to support long-range planning including grants, increased support from the general fund (how do you compete with the police?), and a fee override devoted to long-range planning.
  9. Management
    Many planning directors are doing a poor job of managing their department. In some cases, they simply do not know how to do it. However, often, they are so bogged down in operational tasks that they don’t have enough time to manage. They need to find a better balance for their time and learn how to delegate.