I Have to Ask You: First 60 Days in Jackson, MS

Posted on March 15, 2018

In this series, guest columnists respond to one of three topics selected by ELGL co-founder Kent Wyatt. Jordan Hillman, City of Jackson, MS, Deputy Director of Planning, outlines her strategy when transitioning to a new job.

After four years as Community Development Director with the small but growing community of Brandon, Mississippi, I have transitioned to serving Mississippi’s largest city and my adopted hometown of Jackson, Mississippi as Deputy Director of City Planning. I didn’t plan to change jobs when I was approached with the opportunity. I had an awesome job, one that allowed me to meddle across departments, break silos, experiment, and have contact with all parts of government.  I was handed the planner’s dream when I started with Brandon, the opportunity to direct a new comprehensive plan with a dream team of consultants, oversee a zoning code replacement, and play a part in a downtown coming back to life. Many planners work entire careers without the support I experienced in just my first year in Brandon.  
However, Jackson is an amazing city. One that is facing enormous challenges. Mississippi as a whole faces a variety of challenges , but the one that sticks out to me is our brain drain. According to a report commissioned last year by the Mississippi College Board, 40 percent of Mississippi’s public college graduates have left the state within five years of graduating. Jackson is the capital, and the only city over 100,000 in the state. I personally believe as Jackson goes, the state goes. If Jackson is strong, the state is strong.  I believe a stronger Jackson will be key to solving the brain drain challenge Mississippi faces, and I wanted to be apart of that. I see momentum and am excited by it. So I joined the Jackson team.
With that being said, I am walking into an environment that is unknown to me. While technically my positions are duplicate in responsibility, they differ immensely in scale and challenge.  I will work with 7x the number of employees on a day to day basis than I did previously. I will move from a working department head position to more of a managerial. So here are my three tips for making a successful transition and the tips I am currently trying to follow as I get to know my new staff:

  • Tip #1 Spend a large amount of time in the first 60 days listening. My new team will have a wealth of institutional knowledge. I will need to listen to them to understand how business is done. I will need to listen to see who my most valuable players are and who needs more support. I am challenging my self to not form opinions or jump in and make any large changes during that time. While I am nervous about my new position, I know my team members are probably also nervous about what I will do. 
  • Tip #2 Learn every job. One thing I took from my brief experience in the restaurant industry is the value of being able to perform or at least understand what every member of the team does on a day to day basis.  I will need to spend time working as a permit technician, answering phones, responding to zoning questions, riding along with inspectors, and generally just putting myself into the shoes of each position in my division and those that interact with us. You will learn surprising things about why people are the way the are by working along their side.  This will also hopefully reveal some low-hanging fruit for improvements that can make my staff’s day to day life better. Before implementing large changes to process or procedure, it is important to make sure your team knows you are there to support them as humans. 
  • Tip # 3 Eat lunch and take care of yourself. When I took the department head position in Brandon I jumped in head first. I came in early and brought work home at night. I did everything myself to make sure it was right. I skipped meals, didn’t drink enough water, and probably had very few conversations with my husband that weren’t about the city. I also failed to get to know my fellow department heads as people. While I still plan to jump in head first, I plan to make my personal health a priority while doing so. I will take breaks to eat and take care of myself. I will make my family a priority alongside my new job. I will have conversations that aren’t about the city. I will make it a point to ask my co-workers to grab lunch and get to know them. 

As I write these tips, they are more of a personal manifesto than me offering advice to others. I hope I follow my own advice over the next few months.

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