by Gina Peebles, Assistant County Manager, Alachua County
This year’s Winter Institute took participants from the management style of the Industrial Revolution through the present. Between 1870 and 1970, management was through strict supervision. Tasks were small and repetitive. Human capital was expendable.
Post 1970, rapid change occurred, much of which was due to technological innovation. It was discovered that workers who were engaged were high performers and that three factors lead to better performance: autonomy, mastery, and making a contribution. Attendee Doug Thomas stated, “I think everyone wants their team be recognized as a high performing team. This year’s Winter Institute presentation really focused on the participant’s understanding of the key issues it takes for employees to be engaged to reflect the mission, vision and values of the organization.”
An engaged employee is one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about, his or her work, and will act in a way that furthers their organization’s interests. Assistant County Manager for Alachua County, Carl Smart, was “surprised to see the numbers of engaged versus actively disengaged employees.” Don Duckworth, stated that his key takeaway from this year’s Winter Institute was “…fully understanding and appreciating how important employee engagement is to satisfying high levels of performance demand in every aspect in your organization.”
Ernesto Reyes, Assistant to the City Manager in Pompano Beach, questioned “how do we implement what we’ve learned because everyone is at different stages in their leadership culture…?” He then answered his own question, “very carefully.”
And I agree with his sentiment. While we would each love to have a magic wand, it doesn’t exist, therefore it will take time to implement and, I believe, it really boils down to hiring the right people in the right job. Our facilitator mentioned that hiring is a 20-year decision, so it is essential for hiring managers to realize the consequences of their selection.
Some practical ways to implement what we learned over the two-day Winter Institute is to ensure everyone in your organization has a job description, especially one that includes your values. In my agency, before a position is posted, we review the job description to ensure it is accurate. We also add, “advocates building organizational culture through aligning decisions with core values including: integrity, honesty, respect, diversity, innovation, accountability and communication” so our future hires understand our desired culture.
Participant, Rob Duncan, is a proponent of behavior-based interviewing, which is another way to vet candidates. Instead of asking hypothetical questions during interviews, candidates are asked to, “tell us about a time you…” or “give us an example of when…” or “describe a situation where…” These questions are not your run-of-the-mill interview questions and will certainly get your candidates thinking about the skillset needed to be successful in your organization.
You can also task a larger diverse group to tackle an issue, which is a method proven to outperform smaller, less diverse, groups. More insight and experience will only improve the outcome of the situation at hand.
Finally, you can move the authority to where the information is. Just as the litter crew felt empowered to reach out to the Economic Development Director to contact them in advance of a prospect tour so they could ensure the route was trash free, your front line staff should be trusted to make decisions within their authority to create an environment for thinking. Supervisors should give control and create leaders who are engaged.
The nature of our work in local government is no longer transactional, but transformational. We are “stewards of the whole.” Your organization will perform better when your workforce is engaged.