On November 18, 2021 ELGL members discussed “Permission to Screw Up” by Kristen Hadeed for the ELGL Book Club. We gave away six signed copies of the book to our members and asked them to write reflections on the book. Here’s the reflection post by Ruanda McFerren, Program Manager, Office of Housing Preservation and Development, City of Kansas City, Mo. Connect with Ruanda on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Before reading Permission to Screw Up by Kristen Hadeed, I had not heard of Student Maid. In the book, Hadeed details some of the ups and downs that she and her team experienced while growing the college town cleaning company. From staff walkouts to payroll snafus to a failed second location, the challenges depicted in Permission to Screw Up largely boil down to organizational culture. This business story provides some lessons for us in local government to keep in mind.
Trust: It is probably human nature that we are reluctant to give up control over something we created, something we own. Over the course of growing Student Maid, Hadeed had to learn how to “trust people with enormous responsibilities, allow room for mess-ups, then give them the chance to fix their mistakes so they can learn from them.” In government, the unexpected can come up at any time. When leaders and managers trust staff, the whole organization can grow in experience and confidence.
Value: Hadeed learned that “when we make people feel confident in themselves and in their decisions at work, they don’t want to go anywhere else.” Communicating the value that employees bring to the organization is one way to help them gain confidence in their abilities. By creating a WOW wall to showcase employee complements and achievements and giving positive feedback using the FBI (feeling, behavior, impact) format, Student Maid leadership created a culture where staff knew they were valued. A lot of the work we do in government is taken for granted. By implementing more ways to recognize staff, we can help everyone see what value they contribute.
Goodbyes: Relocation for school, taking a higher paying or better fit position, retirement, taking time to care for family: these are just a few of the reasons why someone may leave a job. Regardless of the reason, leaving should be a positive experience for both the employee and the organization. Student Maid was able to achieve this by having open conversations with students and the leadership team about their long-term goals. This allowed them to be prepared when it was time to say goodbye. Through better succession planning and creating a culture where staff are encouraged to take on new opportunities, even if it is hard to see someone go, local government can better prepare for when employees move on.
While there are plenty of valuable takeaways in Permission to Screw Up, I did have a few qualms with the book that I’d be remiss not to mention. First, this book read as a bit dated to me. It was only published in 2017 but the numerous references to millennials not being reliable, not being dedicated, or not willing to work hard causes the book to read like it was even older. Or, perhaps this mid-Millennial reader was simply not the target audience. Second, in telling her story, Hadeed never mentions or seems to consider how her own various points of privilege aided in her success. Some acknowledgments here may have helped to make the book more impactful to me. Despite these caveats, Permission to Screw Up shows how essential organizational culture is and what can be gained when we keep it in mind.