Today’s Morning Buzz is by Jessica Hoffman, Assistant City Administrator for the City of Wentzville, MO. Connect with Jessica on LinkedIn.
If you Google “Government Waste Memes,” you’ll find no shortage of Ron Swanson snark-filled quotes. The Disney movie “Zootopia” even has a sloth for their government worker in the “Department of Mammal Vehicles.” This perception that government employees are lazy and inefficient is one that we have to start changing or we are never going to get youth involved in our field. For ideas on how to get youth involved in local government, check out my previous Morning Buzz on this topic. What if we lived in a world where local government was the leader in innovation?
I grew up wanting to work in the nonprofit sector. In this field, limited resources are standard. I have completed hundreds of hours of (unpaid) internships in development offices at nonprofit organizations. If you are unfamiliar with these departments, they are the ones responsible for ensuring service providers have the money to do their jobs. This means lots of FUNDRAISING. At these organizations, we were beyond frugal. Everything can be reused and if you need something, you should try to get it donated because every dollar you spend on pens or fancy scissors means less for you to provide service to meet the mission. At one organization, IT support was provided by 2 volunteers. Not only did we work with limited resources, but we worked with limited time, so we had to innovate. Not out of motivation, but out of absolute necessity. We had to figure out the best and most efficient way to accomplish our goals in day to day operations because even our time was constrained.
Whether it’s because of my experiences here or otherwise, I usually ask, “Isn’t there an easier way to do this?” I do know that part of my motivation is that it takes a lot of energy for me to be detail-oriented. In my last position, I took a lot of registrations for various training and every entry came through email. It is very easy to miss a registration or cancelation or change when you have hundreds of emails coming in every day. After a few mess-ups, I HAD to find a better way. So I worked with IT and we implemented Google Forms. It saved me a lot of time and the errors were essentially eliminated.
Fast forward to almost a decade later with the pandemic and now we are looking at how we can provide services at a high level both remotely and in-person when possible. We are looking to the future and how we can “do more with less.” I know that there are cities with entire departments that are committed to strategic operations and efficiencies. Unfortunately, we don’t have those resources so we are focused on delivering skill-building and building the basics of what it means to gain efficiencies.
I am far from an expert in this field and I have spent lots of time on ICMA’s performance management webpage. Here are a few quick tips from my experience to help yourself be successful if you are looking at doing the same in your own organization.
- Stay Positive. You will be met with lots of negative comments, groaning, eye-rolling, and general resistance to change. I have found that adopting a positive attitude (or as we call it here “Care Bear” attitudes) goes a long way!
- Understand that some folks just like doing things the way they have always done it (and sometimes that is okay). If there isn’t really a gain to changing a process or procedure, it’s okay to compromise. Pick your battles and think about the big picture. If it’s not impacting your long-term goal, maybe just make a note to come back to it later.
- Try to help people understand that you are not “taking” their time now, you are GIVING them time later. When you are helping departments look at streamlining, you will be met with “I don’t have time for this.” I think most of us know, taking the time now to do it properly and better in the future almost always pays off many times over.
- Get feedback from front line employees. Our front line employees know so much more about what’s going on in the community than many of us do in Administration. They know the community personally through their interactions with the public. They know who will be impacted by big changes and why they’ll be affected one way or the other. Get your front-line employees on board and at the table! You will learn so much insight and get buy-in to your new processes.
- Keep pushing. I know it sounds a little ironic, but USUALLY things don’t change overnight. Don’t give up. Keep asking questions and find folks throughout your organization who like to streamline and measure.
This list isn’t all-inclusive, but from my experience, these have been successful techniques for implementing change. If you have a success story or other suggestions to share or would like to chat about your own challenges, please feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].