Making significant improvements in the development processing system is a very difficult and risky venture from the perspective of the staff members involved in the effort. Staff (and customers) are being asked to change old habits and embrace new ideas for providing information and processing permits or applications. As an individual, you could be leading an improvement team or you may be asked to participate as a contributing team member. So, how can you optimize your participation in the improvement effort? How can you be viewed as a contributing team member?
In my 30+ year experience working in and consulting with local development processing agencies, it is clear that if you have any hope of making key changes happen successfully, the “movers and shakers”….the informal leaders in an organization have to be included in improvement efforts. This is no revelation, but who are these people? I have coined them as the “Creative Team Member”. These individuals must have their “feet on the ground”, their “head in the clouds” and be willing to put their “rear on the line”. Let’s take a closer look at these characteristics and I’ll give you my view.
“Have Their Feet on the Ground” – Most development services agencies have well grounded individuals in engineering, building codes, zoning and planning, and a host of other regulatory specialties. “Grounded” can be a positive characteristic if that means consistent, ethical, an “options thinker”, and has political acumen to understand the community’s needs. However, “grounded” can also mean being rigid in their interpretations of the codes and policies. You know the image….arms crossed talking to a customer and the look of “It’s in the Code; I am not your designer. Come back when you have something that works.” Being creative necessitates consistency, but also sprinkles in the ability to keep an open and flexible mind when interpreting codes, policies and processes. Being rigid can be destructive in a change effort.
“Have Their Head in the Clouds” – This is a challenge in government. I have run across a lot of really qualified, committed, and well intentioned staff members in my years working with agencies. However, when it comes to thinking outside the proverbial box, leaving your turf at the door, or willingness to accept new ideas….these attributes gets much harder to find in development services agencies. Usually the staff members with the affinity to be real, dedicated change agents or renaissance artists don’t last long in organizations because they don’t fit in with the culture of being safe and “going by the book”. They are refreshing. However, substantial peer pressure forces them out of an organization unless leadership embraces the changes and supports them publicly. If they don’t get pushed out, they get fed up with the bureaucracy and its unyielding resistance to change.
“Willing to Put Their Rear on the Line” – Accountability can be a scary proposition for government staff members. In general, I find in development services agencies that staff member usually have a “bunker mentality”. Staff would rather go with the flow, use previous interpretations, not push for changes, and do the all things that are safe. Why stick my head up out of the “bunker” and get it shot off? Why should I be personally responsible for being flexible in my interpretations or to make process improvements happen? Taking ownership and being accountable for making decisions is the biggest problem I have seen with development services staff members. Who wants to suffer the consequences of making a “bad” decision or buying into new ideas if they may not work? That is unfortunate since the number one thing that customers have said they want is for “agencies to make decisions and move their projects forward” or “implement service improvements”. For change to be successful, we need involved staff members to step up to the line, accept ideas, and take ownership for implementing them. We need staff members who are willing to take responsibility for making decisions and sticking to them.
So, if you are looking to set up a design or implementation team, try to assess the kind of individuals you will be dealing with. Preferably the individuals you select represent a particular division or discipline, but you need folks that embody as many of the three attributes as possible. You can’t do it alone. Look for those 3-star prospects. Your life will be much easier if you find people that are willing to share the load.
If you are going to be a team member on a design or implementation team, understand that you can be much more valuable if you strive to achieve all three characteristics. Be the Creative Team Member! You won’t regret it in the long run. I have seen it over and over….you make the effort and it opens up doors for you.