Morning Buzz by Kirsten Wyatt
- What I’m Reading: Startup by Doree Shafrir
- What I’m Listening To: Pure Focus Playlist on I-Tunes
- What I’m Watching: The Americans, Season 6
TL;DR – Office skills, cleaning up after yourself, and common sense are critical skills in any local government workplace. Don’t become too self important to pay attention to these things, and don’t forget to git-r-dun.
Over the course of my career, I’ve boiled down my advice on how to be a successful local government employee to three words: git-r-dun.
Larry the Cable Guy is most certainly not a paragon of management expertise, but “git-r-dun” does roll of the tongue nicely, so I’m using the phrase to sum up my quick tips on how you can be an awesome local government employee who people want to work for and with. It comes down to your ability to get work done, and there are some basic tasks that you need to master if you want to be an important part of the team.
I’ve heard far too many people say, “I don’t need to learn how to [insert basic office skill here] so I don’t get pigeonholed as a secretary!”
As government gets leaner, as we (thankfully!) hire analysts instead of administrative assistants, as the digital divide grows across workplace generations – it’s even more imperative that you have the ability to git-r-dun each day and not rely on an outdated office hierarchies for basic work functions.
Forget brainstorming, tabletopping, wireframing – let’s focus on the core skills that every local gov team member needs to bring to the table:
My number one supervisory pet peeve is when people don’t take the time to learn basic computer skills before working in an office environment. Sure, you can claim on your resume that you know how to use Microsoft and Google programs, but if you start work and you’ve never actually used those programs outside of an academic setting, you’re going to fall behind quickly. Here’s a cheat sheet on a few things that you need to be able to do if you’re going to be a fully self sufficient employee:
- Mail merge letters, nametags, etc.
- Fun fact: even in the most tech savvy local governments, you’ll still need to send letters, create name tags for an open house or town hall, or thank you certificates for volunteers.
- Sort a spreadsheet
- I’m perpetually shocked by people who can’t use sort or filter.
- Create a pivot table
- A little more advanced, but if you haven’t created one, you don’t know the joy and wonder you can create with a well made pivot table (let alone the awe you’ll bring to any presentation).
- Turn a spreadsheet into a graph
- Even better: a dollar bill graph to show how each tax dollar is spent by your organization
- Create an interesting looking one page document
- Here’s a tip: use Google Fonts to find complimentary fonts and then use a serif and sans serif combo to make your documents pop. Also – everyone loves bullet points and lists – use them.
- Use the internet for quick research
- If you pop into my office and ask me a question that you could find on a Google search, then I am going begin secretly resenting you whenever I see your face.
Beef Up Your Clerical Skills
Here’s my old-lady-back-in-the-day story: When I was in college I answered phones for two summers at the front desk of the Washington State Treasurer’s Office. Do you know who calls the Washington State Treasurer’s Office? No one.
And this was pre-internet so I had two choices: I could either sit there and wait for someone to call, or I could figure out how to pass the time. So I started taking all of the civic service practice exams I could find in the office. That training has proven more practical than any Organizational Theory MPA course you could take. If your clerical skills are rusty, brush up on them. There are a ton of resources online. Note: I’m not saying you have to get certifications; these are just great ways to ensure that your computer skills are practical instead of strictly academic.
Clean Up Your Mess
I get it: late night meetings, long days – being in local government can be physically exhausting. But if you’re too tired to help clean up after an evening meeting, or even worse – too self important – then you’re not pulling your weight on my team. Pick up the cups, take the water pitchers to the kitchen, throw away trash.
The same goes for staff lunches or meetings – if you waltz out of the room and leave the mess for someone else… more secret resentment.
I know there’s research on sticking women with office chores, but this is advice on how to just be a generally good person and coworker. (But if you do notice that women are doing a disproportionate share of office housework – let’s get it together.)
Front Line Customer Service
Local government is customer service. But more and more, I’m seeing new hires straight out of MPA school who are toiling on budgets, innovation, or performance measures, and they lose sight of the people they serve (aka the “units of measurement” they’re analyzing).
How can you situate yourself in a position where you’re actually interacting with the community? What additional task can you “say yes” to and ensure you aren’t losing sight of the fundamental reason we’re all in local service?
A great person to learn from is Caley Patten, a management analyst with the city of Durham. She recently spoke at the #ELGLInspire event at UNC-Chapel Hill. What you’ll learn from her presentation is that it’d be really easy for her to zone in on her “analyst” title and focus on data and performance each day. But she’s continually pushing the boundaries of her job, volunteering for new things, and along the way, actually learning about the topics she’s analyzing and reporting on for her agency.
If your boss wants you to only be a spreadsheet jockey, find ways during your next performance evaluation or conversation to talk about getting your hands dirty and learning about the community you serve.
This last item is the hardest to quantify (or to link to helpful resources). There are tons of quotes about common sense: “Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes,” etc. etc.
For me it comes down to the number of times you have to ask me questions about a work project, and your ability to solve problems as they arise while you’re working on that project. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge fan of talking, collaborating, and learning together.
But, if at every turn you have to ask 17 questions about how to do something, I’m going to be reluctant to give you bigger or more important projects that are public facing or time sensitive. Your ability to think critically about a topic and find resources and tools to advance the project will impress me more than any graduate degree or certification that you can acquire.