We hear the moniker about getting the most out of your employees and staff. Business books will talk about accountability, as will politicians, but creating accountability requires a first step on the art of management. In any organization there needs to be a vision of where the organization wants to be in 5, 10 or 20 years. Then there needs to be a team of managers who buy into the vision, and implement it by securing employees who can implement it. But it does not stop there. You need to set expectations. Sounds, easy, but it is one of the issues professional employees especially complain about. Assigning work tasks and saying “get it done” is not an expectation. That’s a command. Commands work in the military, but not so much in private practice. The command and control types are notoriously difficult to work with, especially in professional and/or creative environments. Micro-managers fall into this same mode. The creative/professionals are intelligent and are looking for freedom to solve problems, usually more effectively that they can be told. Instead, what needs to be done is to create a set of expectations of what will be accomplished and timelines. Let the creative types and professionals figure out how. Provide them with the resources they need. If employees understand the expectations, and are given the ability to accomplish the goals, accomplishing them becomes an end in itself – that becomes the goal and their satisfaction. But does it work? Well, yes. I have been in organizations where the stars aligned to have a small group of manager who created and bought into a vision. We set expectations and let people accomplish them. Always faster, always less cost, and always effectively. A degree of recognition follows them. The group was easy to spot because they were accomplishing things (I should note that this does come with the price of jealousy among those who prefer to sit on the sidelines and can create some degree of subterfuge there which requires a strong leader to deal with that problem). Students work the same way – set expectations of the delivery and allow them to develop the methods to solve the problem. It is easy to see who the good engineers are, and who perhaps will be less successful.
Even easier are city and county managers, general managers and the like. New officials come into office and six month later they are complaining that the staff and manager don’t communicate with them. First response is to give them more information, which compounds the problem. Still not communicating. Every manager has one of these stories. The problem is that the new folks never revised the expectations from the past. As a result everyone operates on the last set of expectations, until new ones are established. If that never happens, well, the conflict escalates. Someone has to take the leadership role, which creates a quandary with governing boards like the ones utilities commonly deal with because these folks are generally not educated in the intricacies of the operation of the utility, and rarely have any management experience. They simply do not understand how to set reasonable expectations, to identify what is important to them and what is not, how to delegate, etc. Until a sitdown discussion of expectations of both manager and the board is developed, the potential for friction will exist. Some managers are good at recognizing and making adaptation, but most governing bodies are not. This is why it is important to develop education programs that will encourage the community, which often has better connections to the governing members than staff. So as utilities, our infrastructure is vital to the long-term development of our communities and to the public health and productivity of our residents. So how do we make governing bodies understand the need to invest in utility infrastructure when emergencies are not happening? Realizing we are all busy, we need to keep in mind that outreach is a key to creating that coalition of leadership in the community to advance the utility agenda. Again a leadership issue and the need to engage the community, something we all too often forget to do.