Selling Planning

Dear Management Doctor:

We are still confronted with "downsizing" and increasing building permit fees to pay for the general plan. Didn't you say something about letting the public and elected officials know about the value of Planning in order to get the needed financial support? Pro active public information about Planning is not something that is promoted or supported by many managers in the Divison or Agency. Any thoughts?

Needing Attention

Dear Needing Attention:

Your dilemma is why planning is in so much trouble. We need to sell-sell-sell. However, this is a touchy area. The Public Officials may see this as empire bidding. In my experience, it works best under the guise of education and public participation. Also, if planning is seen by the community and applicants as helpful, it will, over time, build its consistency.

When I teach customer service philosphy, I use a TQM saying for what customers want - i.e., "meet or exceed customer expectations at a cost that represents value to them." If a community is unwilling to adequately finance planning, what is it saying? It is saying that planning doesn't represent a value they are willing to pay for. So the bottom line is - become more valuable.

If eventually you can't get managers in the Division or Agency to promote planning, you may need to find another agency.

For more thoughts, read Chapter 52 in my new book, What You Planning Professors Forgot to Tell You, available from APA.

Hopefully, some of our readers will email us some of their techniques also.

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

Some of my colleagues may not agree, but the personal touch can work wonders. Relating the value of service to elected and appointed officials by members of the planning staff can make value more personal. I'm not talking about helping councilperson X's brother-in-law, but how a decision made by a councilperson when responding to a constituent was the direct result of planner Y's efforts.

Also, when cutting back, many elected bodies are looking at the organizations that aren't popular. Have the positives of planning been promoted to the elected and appointed officials, or are they only aware of the regulatory nature of the planning process? De-emphasize the latter and push the former, especially if the former resulted in a particularly beneficial public works improvement.

Finally, where is the chief executive of the organization on this issue? If he or she is not seeing the value of the planning process, then your first sell is the CEO. Without this support, you are going to have a much more difficult job of preserving the planning function in your community.

How about a definition and work examples on the back of business cards?? That works particularly well w/ elected officials and citizens per routine feedback... and it shouldn't result in empires either! Moreover, whenever I do presentations or meetings w/ clients, I define in 3 to 5 mins. what our office does generally emphasizing what I believe the salient points are as "one who markets." Occasional open houses and press releases augment as well.

Most cities' best and most effective advocates for planning are the planning commission members. They are usually articulate, bright, well-connected, and respected as apolitical, objective authorities. They also believe in planning or they wouldn't be wasting their time on the planning commission! Encourage them to take a leading role as advocates for planning.

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