Viewpoint: Working in the new reality
The budget has been purged of every extra dollar that can be found. Every staff member that can be spared and some that can’t have been laid off or work reduced hours. The work plan has been revised, updated and revised again. Projects and programs that have been long considered untouchable are no longer safe.
Today we have a new reality in the public sector, one that has been here for a decade or more for many of us. We have been left to carry on the mission of enacting policy, services and programs; with the loss of friends and coworkers; with fewer dollars to complete similar workloads; with high expectations; and with less training and growth opportunities, lower salaries and benefits. We are left with the feeling of being overwhelmed and frustrated daily, not from the losses but from not being able to get everything done we know must be done. Today’s municipal employee is a doer, a problem solver who insists on making a difference and wants to feel the joy of being in service.
I know there are exceptions and many of our residents may disagree, but when I sat down with my department to create a work plan after announcing cuts, my team never considered doing less as an option. However, the new reality calls for a new approach.
How do we meet a future that is so drastically different from the past? First on the list would be managing expectations. Doing more with less has been the battle cry for years. As we have found, trying to do everything and please everyone pleases no one. Managing the expectations starts with educating political leaders and residents about what can be done well and what needs to be deferred or eliminated. However, the most difficult expectations to manage are our own. We have created many challenges in failing to realize that we can’t solve every problem.
The new reality demands that we make sure everyone in our organization understands the importance of their role in serving the community. Knowing how one individual affects the lives of others in a positive way is how a desire to serve is developed into enthusiasm.
Resources have a new meaning in the new reality. Gone are the days of having more staff, more budget and more equipment to get the jobs done. The new resources to be cultivated are training, technology, creating and maintaining enthusiasm for the mission, partnerships, innovation, and using the skills and passion of everyone to the fullest.
I recently overheard a conversation with a receptionist at a nearby city who had just been yelled at by a frustrated resident. She was asked, “Why would you put up with that every day?” She responded, “He left understanding and calm. I like having that effect on people.” The heart of those who serve is to please, to meet the need and to find a way to say yes. They are the most important assets in our industry.
The mission of public servants is to meet the needs of our communities to the highest level possible while continuing to build the public trust despite the challenges. Now is the time for those of us who are left behind to reinvent our industry. Our communities, our industry and our country are looking to us, as always, to get it done. I, for one, believe we have never been so prepared to do just that.
What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.
Glenn Akramoff, public works director for Covington, Wash., has worked in public works departments in four Washington cities for more than 20 years. He has developed empowered work cultures and effective work programs in varying political and economic climates within municipalities.