Friday, February 9, 2018

Public and Nonprofit Management by the Book: Getting to Yes

 A citizen received a call from the town council chair.  After that call, he came to the town council meeting and demanded that the council chair stop bullying and intimidating him. Ever wondered how to handle such a situation.  You can get to yes.  Here's how


Reference:  Fisher, Roger and William Ury.  Getting to Yes. New York: Penguin Books. Any edition

A citizen received a call from the town council chair.  After that call, he came to the town council meeting and demanded that the council chair stop bullying and intimidating him. The chair had probably spoken to him about a major economic development report that the council had approved.  The chair response was that his call wasn’t intimidating. Then he “double downed” and told the citizen should to file an ethics complaint.  Can these two ever agree? 

You sigh and say there is not much that can be done.  Well Fisher and Ury who wrote Getting to Yes give us some ideas. 

It’s clear that personalities are interfering with a solution.  And we really need to know what the problem is rather than guessing.  Find out what might be helpful to both.  In small towns they will meet each other again. 

What are possible options. We need to have someone intervene that’s for a sure, in formal parlance, a facilitator, but in this situation, it could simply be another citizen.  it may be that the citizen simply needs an apology. Politicians aren’t very good at that. The political apology I’m sorry if you feel that way.  That may be enough.

Or it may be that the citizen needs to be heard.  He may not understand that the report is just that only a report. There will be plenty of public meetings before the citizens vote on any expenditure.  Once we narrow down possible solutions, do the two agree that the solution. is fair or beneficial or in the interests of the community. 

Let me give you another example, resolving a conflict in your staff meeting.  I’ve been in two staff meeting where the solution was asking, what do you need?   In a staff I worked with we often had disagreements about what kind of information to convey to the next level.  The minutes of the meeting weren’t enough.  I was chairing that day and asked what do you need to one peeved staff?  He wanted to write a memo.  Once stated I was fortunate enough to be able to say you got it.  Thanks for listening, I hope you can get to Yes.  I’m Carolyn Ball

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Town Manager Neutrality Essential for the Well-Being of our Towns

The Maine Town City and County Managers Association has taken a strong stand against the beliefs of Jackman Town Manager who is not member of MTCMA.  Members adhere to a Code of Ethics to maintain the public confidence. Further, the history of the profession is one of neutrality, to serve all.  A town manager who espouses white nationalist beliefs, even in his private time, can not fulfill the job of town manager. It is a very difficult position.  The town has since terminated this person.  Jackman Maine Town Manager story
Here is the full statement of Larry Mead, Old Orchard Beach Town Manager, President of the MTCMA

Maine Town City and County Management Association Statement

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Blizzards, Cyclone Bombs and Pay

Source: Carolyn Ball, Mount Desert Island Maine, 1/4/2018

Would you go to work if you had to pass this storm surge. Would you pay an employee who didn't come in because of the storm surge above. Almost anywhere in the US and in Canada, you have had to close, partially close your nonprofit or government for a day or part of the day. You may have had essential employees who had to work.  It used to be relatively simple how you were going to pay or not pay employees.  You often paid employees whether salaried or hourly if they worked for part of the day.  You might have paid only your salaried if you closed for the whole day.  In the past few years, employers have become much more concerned about the safety of employees. Last year, one our hospitals closed during a snowstorm!  Yes, the emergency room was open and nurses on the units had to come in, but most support personnel and clinics were closed.  Safety seems to trump the need to control the payroll.

Now you have one more wage consideration.  You have employees, both salaried and hourly, who work from home, all the time, some of the time, or when there is a blizzard.  Your salaried employees will continue to be paid, but how do you manage your hourly employees? Do you pay those hourly employees who can work from home their regular pay and not pay those hourlies who do their work on site?  You may have salaried employees who become hourly employees as they run snowplows.  Particularly for public employers, fairness is a concern but so too is using the taxpayers’ funds wisely.  How have you controlled your payroll during the snowstorms, blizzards, and extreme cold weather? I’d like to know what policies you have in place or did you make a specific decision related to a storm?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Did Your SWOT Really Guide You To Think About The Future?

Nonprofits, cities, and towns, brush off your strategic plan for a moment.  It’s always a good time to do so or else they begin to whither on your website or in a file.  Did you do an exercise, a SWOT,  in which you identified you identified the strengths of your organization; weaknesses, often a limited budget or lack of extra dollars to pay for additional staff; opportunities, a new program to meet a new or existing need; threats, another nonprofit that has a similar mission?  You might have used the word the softer word, constraints, rather than threats.  A constraint for many nonprofits might be regionalization  as fewer staff serve a larger catchment area or for your town it might be the cut back on a service to keep taxes down.

You probably didn’t have a section in your strategic plan called SWOT, but it might have guided a rewriting of your mission, a plan to reorganize staff or programs, or to do more fund raising.  My questions is: did your SWOT really guide you to think about the future?  Futurists think about what will occur all the time.  Of course, we make fun of them when they are wrong, but it helps to think long term.

Accessed 11/25/2017
I’ve recently read the New Geography of Jobs (2012) by Enrico Moretti.  It paints a picture of more and more of our tech jobs clustering with “innovation workers.”  It doesn’t predict a very rosy picture for our small towns throughout the country.  Our cities and towns, if they have a strategic plan, call for a vibrant and diverse economy.  But what to do?  Our nonprofit hospitals and clinics are constantly needing to reevaluate where funds are going to come from and the effect of the latest technology.  But what to do about our small hospitals and clinics?  Our historical societies are thinking about how to protect valuable items over the long term and at the same time provide access to the items.  But what to do when you have no endowment to upgrade to the latest fire safe building.  Our universities are scrambling to provide on-line education, but is this the answer to education of the future?

The country of Turkey moved from an Arabic related script to a Latinized European script.  That now means that today’s Turkish youth can’t visit the cemeteries of their ancestors and read the grave stones, and they can’t read old historical documents.  The seemingly harmless change of no longer teaching children cursive in this country means that historical societies of the future will need “translators” to provide access to documents.  

Do you take any photos and print them out and put them in a photobook identifying the people and buildings in the pictures?  Probably not.  What happens to our understanding of history when we no longer have pictures?  Sure, a lot are on the web, on Facebook, on Instagram, on your phone, in the cloud, but can we access them in a meaningful way to tell a story of the past?

What small, perhaps, incremental changes are going to have a big impact on your city, town or nonprofit?  Was it discussed in your strategic plan?  Please share with us.  

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Can You Make Decisions Quickly?

I have taught students about decision making theory from incrementalism to rational decision making.  I’ve taught and used tools of decision making  such  as statistical process control, flow charting, to various forms of brainstorming to help groups make decisions.  I’ve seen the problems of group think, the description by Janis of the pressure team members feel to agree on a decision. I’ve seen the problem of “taking a trip to Abilene,” the description Harvey describes when a individuals in a group feel self-imposed pressure to agree because of irrational fears. Yet I was unprepared to handle a minor ruckus.

I was getting on a bus going between Portland and Bangor, Maine.  By all who take this bus, it is convenient, comfortable and easy.  As I got on a disagreement was taking place between a passenger and a bus employee.  I didn’t really pay much attention.  It continued and I heard, you didn’t pay.  Yes, I   did. Where are you going? We’ll call the police. It went on for a few minutes inconveniencing a full bus of 40 or 50 passengers.  We were  already a little late starting even before the incident.  Being a little late isn’t quite the issue, problem solving concern, it once was. Almost all of us can call and tell friends or family we’re running late.

Suddenly I decided that this was silly.  For $25, this problem could be ended. I became stressed as I tried to get my wallet. I had a knapsack on wheels so had trouble getting out the wallet. By the time I made my way to the front, the passenger was showing his driver’s license and presumably was going to be billed.  If only I had been quicker to find a creative solution, just giving a passenger the money the problem could have been solved quickly.

Although we talk about the need for creative and innovative employees, I found it was natural for me. I don’tI train groups to be more innovative explicitly, only through the tools I previously mentioned. I’m sure I and others wondered whether “they” would solve the problem.  It wasn’t up to me or you or was it?  Have you been in a situation where your quick thinking solved a problem?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

I recently took the mandatory on-line training on sexual harassment and sexual assault prevention at the university where I teach courses in public management and human resources.  Imagine my surprise when I missed a number of questions.  The training approached the problem in a very active way: what should you do to prevent assault and harassment?  This training emphasized your obligations to ensure that students and employees are in a safe environment.  When the subject is approached this way, it is not just another training employees have to take.  You are a member of a community of people who work together.  It made me remember that I have been a beneficiary of colleagues reaching out.  I was pressured by a male employee and began to feel demeaned and harassed.  They talked to my fellow employee, informed him of his behavior and ensured me that they supported me.  He apologized to me.  We continued to work together because the problem was stopped. 

Most of the nonprofits and local governments I work with and volunteer with are small and do not have a sophisticated packaged on-line program, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a supportive environment.  Beyond providing your employees with your policies and state laws, how do you inform employees?  Have you experienced harassment and had a fellow employee reach out to help you?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Why Not Publicize Your Success?

I’ve been talking to a lot of nonprofits lately about performance measures. If you ever have received a grant from government or a foundation or funding from the United Way, you’re familiar with measuring your performance. You know you are rated on your financial management by Charity Navigator. Such organizations as the Urban Institute provides templates for measuring a variety of program areas: employment training, youth mentoring, and assisted living, for example. The United Way, when it funds programs, want these programs to lead to improved health, education, or income. 

Despite this push, I find that nonprofits don’t share their successes very well even though most nonprofits have a clear mission to distinguish themselves. What I find most often is annual reports that tell us outputs, the number of kids who attended, the number of seniors served, but not measures that tell us how the number of kids who attended helped them meet their mission.
One step would be to provide information to compare with last year. Number of kids served tells us little if we don’t know how many kids were served last year. Another simple way is to relate it to the size of the program budget. That way we have a realistic idea of how many kids can be served. It better answers, how is my donation being used.
Another way is to tell how you are doing in comparison to other similar agencies, to benchmark yourself. This is easier for national organizations that can readily share information such the Red Cross, the Ys, Scouting, but organizations such as animal welfare organizations, food pantries, and museums would have enough similarities to do so as well.
Even these improvements don’t measure the outcome we want, domestic violence victims who successfully find a new home in which they are secure or kids who successfully graduate from high school or who are physically fit. We may know this information, we just haven’t recorded it. 
Many nonprofits are small, but that can’t be the only reason we don’t see more performance measurements reported. Performance measures do also show where we need to improve. Is that the reason they are not reported? Why do you think nonprofits don’t publicize their successes more?