Aligning Actions with Purpose

Posted on January 14, 2020

Aj Fawler Headshot

When you work in a city, you know all about purpose, right? After all, there’s a purpose statement in every ordinance, every plan, every department. They are part of our budget books, our preambles, and the parts that rarely get read. Over decades, cities adopt plans and codes under the most honorable of intentions. Then, the staff becomes disillusioned and frustrated with implementing the same ol’, same ol’, and seeing it lead nowhere.

You’re probably nodding at this point because you’ve seen it happen – am I right? Why is it that we continue to execute, but end up no closer (or even further away from) our ultimate goals and purpose?

We call that misalignment. Imagine your approach to budgeting. Let’s say you have a business, and your purpose is to sell as many products as possible. You cut your hours of operation, you reduce your staff, and you refuse to run and review reports that show you what’s selling – and what isn’t. Those actions, while you might be able to defend them to yourself individually, aren’t getting you closer to fulfilling that purpose. Too often, it happens in local government. We don’t fully execute plans because of politics, we enforce rules that honestly don’t have the outcome we desired when they were written, and our tools as staff tend to contradict one another or create time-consuming processes that bog us down.

To truly future-proof our cities, we have to set them up for success and be able to see forward progress in executing and making collective gains.

Is this common problem something that can be solved? Fortunately, the answer is yes. It isn’t easy, it isn’t comfortable, and it isn’t quick, but taking stock in what is misaligned in your city is possible. At Verdunity, we help with this; the good news is, you can also do this yourself if you’re willing.

Here are a few key questions to ask in self-examination:

What are the results you’re getting from your ordinances?

What does the staff of your city organization say about the ordinances in place? When is the last time you sat down with them and asked what was working for them, and what wasn’t? How many variance requests are submitted on a monthly basis? Are there several policies/memos that have been passed down through the years clarifying terms or defining how something should be processed?

Do the processes you have in place result in the outcomes you’re looking for?

Make a list of all the processes that you must follow with boards and committees, administrative decisions, and hearings. Why are they in place? Where did they originate? What is the outcome desired from each process? Outside of what is required through state law – what is truly “optional”? Is there an easier/more efficient way to accomplish those outcomes?

Does the budget you’ve adopted support the implementation of the plans you’ve adopted?

Every city has an annual budget full of stats and justifications. But how many annual city budgets actually align with the adopted plan for the city? How many actually support the programs and initiatives that plans suggest a city create? In your “annual report card”, how many implementation steps have been executed thanks to clear expenditures called for in the budget?

This just scratches the surface of important questions to ask in aligning your actions with your purpose. Keep in mind that these questions are only as good as the level of honesty and accountability with which you ask and answer them. To have connected residents, stronger local economies, fulfilled staff, and elected officials, and meaningful progress, alignment is key.

This is the new monthly blog series by AJ Fawver, Community Consulting Program leader for VERDUNITY and based out of Lubbock, Texas. She shares her take on planning for communities and securing their future in a time where legislation, fiscal pressures, disengaged citizens, and diminishing resources make it increasingly challenging. You can access all of the posts in the series and learn more about AJ on the Future-Proofing Cities homepage.

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