As we all know, maintaining our infrastructure is a ceaseless task. We spend more and more time developing projects that will last a lifetime, but we know they won’t. So how do make them sustainable? How do we maintain them into the future? How do we maintain them now with the limited resources that are entrusted to us?
As a public works director for a large rural county, one with very limited resources, I’ve found that “doing more with less” just doesn’t go as far as it used to go. We’ve been doing more with less and less for years and years. What’s important now is to realize we have to maintain the infrastructure with what we currently have and not expect our resources to improve any time soon. If they do, great: But if they don’t, then our constituents will be better served if we looked after their assets and their welfare more productively as the good stewards that we are.
In a column that ran last moth in the North edition of The Municipal guest columnist, Cheryl Hilvert, did a great job explaining ways we all can step up our planning and budgeting skills to face our leadership challenges. But let’s face it: that can only go so far before the really hard decisions have to be made — which projects get cut, which services get reduced, which employees get laid off, etc. The real solutions to our budgetary problems lie in our greatest assets: our employees.
We must exercise better judgment in first defining our personnel needs and fitting the right people in the positions we need the most. I think all of us have had a position on our staff that make us shake our heads and wonder, “Why do we have this position?” or worse yet, “Why is so-and-so in that position?” By doing a careful investigation into our needs, we can tailor the right positions and then the right people for them.
Briefly, we must first evaluate our mission. Just like Cheryl mentioned in allocating monetary resources to those areas that need it the most, it’s critical in today’s world that we absolutely must allocate the right personnel resources to accomplish our missions. That means starting out by deciding what type of positions and what qualifications each of our positions must have, then selecting the right people who fit those characteristics.
Applicant pools vary from location to location. Even in the largest metropolitan areas you’ll seldom find the right person just waiting to be asked to begin working as your next great infrastructure repairman. You’ll probably have to seek out that person. You may have to be patient. It’s much better to wait until you find a “better fitting” person than just someone who “fits” the job description. Keep in mind that the “best fit” person may not exist, at least just not right when you need him/her. So select the most reasonable person you can for your needs. And now comes the hardest part: Mold them for your benefit and that of the needs of your community.
All of us know that our jobs are just one part of our lives. If we don’t keep that in mind when we hire, train and promote our employees, they’ll just become another part of something else in their lives. In today’s world, we must be more than just managers of assets; we also have to be effective leaders of our personnel assets, so they become the sustaining force to manage our infrastructure needs of the future.
The workforce of today is very different than of years past. Today’s workers want to be involved in their work; they want to belong to it and have it belong to them. The challenge for leaders is to make their employees’ work interesting, meaningful, challenging and fun. If your employees cannot connect to their job assignments, they certainly won’t connect to your organization.
Today’s work is more personal and important than the salary or the organization — although these are very important as well. Leaders today must constantly keep their employees engaged in their work by challenging them, training them and stretching their abilities. Doing this will keep them connected to your organization. When this happens, you can begin the real work of dealing with infrastructure issues. How can you do more with less? How can you provide all the services your constituents require? Those are questions your connected employees can answer for you as long as you can keep them engaged, challenged and committed employees.
Donald Jacobovitz is the director of public works for Putnam County, located in north central Florida. To view, Cheryl Hilvert’s guest column visit www.themunicipal.com/2013/06/perfect-storm-brings-challenges-solutions-to-local-governments.