This article was written by Stephen (Steve) Gushue, City of Mesa – Fiscal Analyst for Environmental Management & Sustainability. Steve wrote this article as part of the Crisis Management Cohort with Drucker Institute. Read all the articles from the cohort here. Connect with Steve on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Hello, I am Stephen Gushue, and I serve as the Fiscal Analyst for City of Mesa’s Environmental Management and Sustainability program, primarily focused on Solid Waste. Prior to COVID-19 and through the last 6 months of this pandemic, we were already dealing with a crisis in the recycling market, one that was negatively affecting our financials. The pandemic just provided yet another hurdle, yet I feel that this crisis is also an opportunity to focus our efforts. This cohort provided a solid foundation for taking the next step in better, and equitable, decision making. I have learned much in this cohort, but I want to break down the most impactful thoughts it generated in me.
In Search of Dangerous Time
“A time of turbulence is a dangerous time, but its greatest danger is a temptation to deny reality.”
This statement by Drucker came out in his 2012 book, Managing in Turbulent Times, but it is probably more succinctly placed by the 2013 webcomic Gunshow by K.C. Greene, in which an anthropomorphic dog, sitting in a room engulfed by flames, comments “This is fine.” Of course, this is now a well-traversed meme and is used to describe how some deny what truly matters despite all evidence to the contrary. In the first week of the cohort, the theme was about addressing our crises head on. However, not just to act blindly or irrationally during the crisis but to assess what work must be done, not what can be done. In other words, ASSESS > ADDRESS—I knew then, I found my people.
Decision making as an Algorithm
“Pick the future as against the past. Focus on opportunity rather than on the problem. Choose your own direction-rather than jump on the bandwagon. And aim high…for something that will make a difference, rather than for something that is ‘safe’ and easy to do.”
I take a pedestrian view of the word algorithm, having not the computer science knowledge nor the full suite of ethical issues with them at my fingertips. However, at their base component algorithms are simply a procedural set of steps towards a problem-solving operation, or better put do not proceed to the next step until you satisfy the criteria of the present step. In Week 3 of the cohort, we learned the 7 steps to making effective decisions, an algorithm if I ever saw one. When information is coming at us, especially in turbulent times, it can feel like we must act to each external stimuli. But that would violate the guidance of assessing before addressing. The procedure rules set to provide me the tools when deciding, including getting others to buy the decision—a liability of mine. In addition, it hit on two key concepts. The first, that no decision is a decision until it is put into action, with a work assignment and responsibility attached. Action makes a decision tangible and importantly leads to the second point—create a feedback mechanism. If I could, impart one idea on any government employee it is the need to have a feedback loop for any decision made, and the longer the delay to the feedback the more thought needed in the decision. I have seen decision after decision made until they become part of the calcified structure of the status quo. Before we know it, we will be asking why such a decision was made and have very little data to show if it was effective. Getting feedback, and actively listening to it, is going to be a creed of mine going forward.
Know Thy Time
“If you want something new, you have to get rid of something old.”
Time should be an amplifier of what matters to us, not a filler of tasks or requirements that do not satisfy what matters to our organizations, our citizens, and our customers. Worst yet, we are unaware of how we spend other people’s time, depriving our co-workers and staff of a limited resource. Beyond the intent and outcomes of our work, programs, and practices, I believe Drucker is really asking us to consider how important time is, and how to best use that resource. The goal of planned abandonment is not to get rid of programs, but to create space so that we can focus on opportunity and the actual realities of our work, both in times of crisis and more importantly, in times of stability. I have always been aware of my time as a valuable resource, but I am going to work in any decision I make to be respectful of other’s resources, to be time empathetic.
What is the World Really Like?
I grew up questioning many of the cultural values of my formative identity, white, middle-class, suburban, Catholic, to the point I got labeled as a troublemaker. It was not until I read a book called “A More Beautiful Question,” that I realized I was not a troublemaker but inquisitive and skeptical, and more interested in question then information. Asking the question of what is the world really like, means to abandon pre-conceived notions, be highly aware of how formative bias affects our perceptions, and not be blindly by the deluge of stimuli that comes across our desks every day. What is the world really like? It is a short phrase that gives us time to pause and consider, not just what is the world like for me or an organization, but the co-worker across from me or the resident on the phone or the local business needing help. We should be more curious, in terms of learning about someone or something, at all times but in times of crisis, I believe having this as our focus will drown out the noise so we can focus on the signal.
I am very grateful I had the opportunity for this wonderful experience. It has built confidence in me to go forward and really focus on what matters in my professional life.