An Opportunity Awaits

Stability doesn’t have to mean boredom or a lack of imagination. It can mean that teams can dig in and succeed.

There’s been another rash of resignations at Delray Beach City Hall.

That’s not good news, despite the perfume put on the issue by some.

Turnover and instability in an organization is never a good thing. Of course, in a large organization people are always leaving and sometimes you have to get rid of a bad apple or two. It’s called addition by subtraction. But this feels different.

As of now Delray is searching for a city manager, an economic development director, a utilities director, a finance director, a public works director and a CRA Director. I might have missed a few positions. But that’s a pretty robust list. And that doesn’t include the resignations of the  two top senior officials in the Community Improvement who resigned last week in the wake of an investigation into alleged misappropriation of grant monies.
Folks, this isn’t normal. And it’s not good.

Still, like most problems/issues there’s a silver lining and an opportunity.
But only if we recognize the situation and make this a teachable moment. That’s going to require self awareness and that can be a challenge.
Delray has had a stability problem for a few years now. Before 2013 or s0, City Hall was known as a very stable place.

Not a perfect place. But a stable place. A place where lots of good things got done on behalf of taxpayers and stakeholders. It was also a prideful place, where people seemed to collaborate and work effectively across departments. Again, mistakes were made and things weren’t always a well-oiled machine but for the most part City Hall was a happy and productive workplace, the kind that attracted talent and retained it as well.

It doesn’t feel that way anymore.

And it hasn’t for a while now.

This isn’t a criticism of anyone or anything. For the record, I like the interim City Manager and respect a lot of people who work at City Hall. I wrote a whole book about what I felt worked and what didn’t during my seven years as a commissioner and mayor.

I learned that for a city to create and sustain success, you need solid leadership and talented, stable management that work well together. That’s not rocket science. but I don’t know of a workaround. You need both.

Instability breeds inefficiency.

It’s expensive on many levels and the loss of institutional memory is an added concern because when experience walks out the door so does a whole lot of intangible value.

Few would argue that stability is a bad thing.

It’s hard to build a team, organization, business or any other complex endeavor when your human capital is constantly in flight.

That doesn’t mean you allow bad actors to stay or that you don’t have a culture of accountability. But it does mean that if people are leaving in droves, that you might want to pay attention, especially if many who are leaving have had success here or elsewhere.
Did they suddenly become incompetent and ineffectual or is there something wrong that we can fix?

Without pointing fingers, I don’t think what we are seeing is an aberration or the normal course of business. Something fundamental is wrong.

And this should not be news to those of us who pay attention. Our leaders have been told by executive recruiters that the city has a challenging reputation in the marketplace.
Therein lies the opportunity.

Now is the time to ask some hard questions, make some changes and find out why what’s happening is happening. It’s also a chance to transform the culture and make this city the very best place to work.

Working —and just as important staying —in a city as unique and special as Delray ought to be a compelling proposition.

These days and for a few years now,  the evidence says something is up.
Perhaps it’s time to figure out what’s going on.

Because like any other business, cities are only as a good as their people.

If you attract good people and create conditions that enables that talent to thrive, you’ll have a smooth running machine and solve a lot of problems; but if you lose that talent or can’t even attract it. you’ll be spinning your wheels which is expensive and exhausting. You’ll end up in a costly spiral.

Human capital is everything. It just is.  It’s not technology–that’s a tool. And it’s not always wages and benefits, which are important but aren’t the only factors in a stable workplace.

A revolving door of senior level managers is not a recipe for lasting success; it’s a sunk cost.

 

Comments

  1. Your general comments are right on, losing good people is an expensive proposition. You nicely alluded to the problem but never specifically pointed it out. As a former city official you are much closer then the citizens of Delray to what ails us. I personally would like you to spell it out to all of us. We cannot fix the problem if we do not know what’s causing it!

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Thanks, Bob.
      All I have is a theory. If I were still a city official, I would look in the mirror and ask myself if there was anything I or my colleagues could do better. I would also take the time to anonymously survey employees and consult with HR professionals to really understand what’s going on. We should be confident enough to do that and then commit to fixing whatever ails us. Too many people come to Delray and get put through the grinder only to be spit out at the end. Again, some may deserve it, but most don’t. And if we are making bad hires then we should look at that too. Some of the CM’s we have hired were coming here at the tail end of their careers–kind of like a victory lap. In my opinion, for what it’s worth, we ought to be looking for aspirational managers who want to come here and make their mark. It’s not an age thing (heck, I’m up there) it’s an attitude. We are not an easy city…we are very, very complicated with some extraordinary dynamics. We need to be able to attract a workforce that wants to make their careers here, people who will dig in and build the best little city in America. We can do it.

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