Reflections on Working in a Municipality

I recently was asked to discuss, “Managing Your Career from Start to Finish”, with the graduating class of the University of Western’s Municipal Public Administration program.

To prepare for it, I was asked to reflect on the trajectory of my career and provide some thoughts and tips I might have on launching a municipal career.  

It was an interesting task – not one I’d really given much thought to before. 

The graduates were surprised to learn, that when I first became interested in a career in municipal government, many municipalities in rural Ontario were managed by husband-and-wife teams.  Not good financial management at all but back then it worked.  

This is a far cry from the professionalism municipalities deliver today.  While constant changes in legislation are frustrating to municipalities, they really have served to improve municipalities over time.

When my local husband-and-wife team announced their impending retirements, I started taking the AMCTO Municipal Administration Courses and going to Council meetings – not only to understand municipal operations better, but also so the Council would get to know me.  And it worked!  

I applied and my first municipal job was as Clerk/Treasurer/Tax Collector of my local municipality.  

So, here’s some strategies that may help you land your first municipal job

Do some homework;

  • Research the municipality and the department of interest
  • What are the issues? What key projects are they working on?
  • Go to a Council meeting in person once things open again so Council and staff will start to get to know you, or watch some online to understand the protocols
  • Volunteer to help at municipal/community events
  • Look for a summer job in the municipality to get a feel for what it’s like to work there
  • Ask if you can job shadow the CAO for a day (at no charge) 
  • Investigate OMAA Bursary program http://www.omaa.on.ca/en/about-omaa/the-omaa-bursary-program.asp  It’s a Bursary program offering $5,000 annually to support the education of future municipal government leaders and promote the role of CAO. The program runs to 2025.

 

My personal belief is that those launching municipal careers right now have perhaps the best opportunity in recent history, for quick career advancement, because so many municipal employees are eligible for retirement in 2021.

Many are staying on past their retirement dates, however, to help their communities through COVID, but I predict there will be a mass exodus of employees soon as the COVID crisis begins to ease. We’re already seeing an increase in municipal job postings.  

As for the trajectory of my career – well, I eventually became the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) and helped the municipality through restructuring, worked with the province in issues and project management, and eventually decided to set up a municipal consultancy and develop muniSERV.ca. and muniJOBS.ca

To me, a career in local government is still the most challenging and rewarding work you’ll ever do. 

Like I always say, You can take the girl out of the municipality, but you can never take the municipality out of the girl.”  

 

Susan Shannon, AMCT

Founder & Principal, muniSERV.ca & Shaping Organizational Solutions (SOS)

[email protected]  Phone: 855.477.5095

Podcast Interview with Ripple Analytics

Do you dread conducting annual employee reviews?

Ripple is a platform for providing quick, anonymous team member evaluations. By rating colleagues based on the Big 5 Personality Traits, Ripple turns objective feedback into actionable information.

CEO, Noah L. Pusey, brings a unique perspective to growing Ripple, drawn from nearly two decades of experience establishing and building law firms in New York City.  He has counseled and advised individual and corporate clients in various practice areas including business development, growth strategy and general transactional matters.

Noah has firsthand knowledge of the flawed employee review systems used by many companies – having participated in hundreds of annual evaluations over the years, so he has set out to change they way they’re done!

Listen to this podcast to learn more: https://truecomparepeo.com/2021/05/06/noah-pusey/

Municipal Work Opportunities for Our Professional Members!

Ontario Supports Modernization of Small and Rural Municipalities

The Ontario government is providing up to $24 million to support the modernization of 224 small and rural municipalities across the province. This investment will help improve the delivery of critical programs and services that people rely on every day, while saving taxpayers’ dollars.

A total of 254 projects have been approved for funding under Intake 2 of Ontario’s Municipal Modernization Program. Municipalities will use the funding to find efficiencies and implement a wide range of initiatives to digitize, streamline and/or integrate programs and services with neighbouring communities.

The funding will help municipalities administer the cost savings measures in time for the 2022 municipal budget cycle.

Here’s the List of Municipalities who received funding for various Municipal Service Delivery & Efficiency Projects.

If you offer any of the services these municipalities are looking for, select the municipality you would like to work with and watch their websites for RFPs for any Third-Party Review or Implementation opportunities.  You might also want to watch muniSERV’s Find RFP’s section and/or bidsandtenders listings.

For more information on the Municipal Modernization Program and the June 30th announcement, click here.

How To Find Executive Level Talent For Canada’s Municipalities And Broader Public Sector Organizations

How To Find Executive Level Talent For Canada’s Municipalities And Broader Public Sector Organizations

Some thoughts from a search expert in these fields.

In my last article, we discussed the leadership qualities and traits that will be required to transition Canada’s Municipalities and the general Public Sector into a post-pandemic reality. As the pandemic recovery slowly makes its way through the economy in Canada and abroad, industries will begin to bounce back, becoming more resilient, agile and innovative under new leadership. As a result, an increase in hiring has surged through the workforce and is transforming the talent landscape from a “War for Talent” to include a “Race For Talent”. So what is the best way that Councils’ and Boards’ in the Public Sector can reach, engage and attract the best talent to lead the recovery. 

More often than not Municipal Councils’, Boards’ and Senior Management Teams within the Public Sector will approach the recruitment of a Chief Administrative Officer, Chief Executive Officer, Director or other C-level senior executive similarly to that of a mid-level manager. When taking this effort on themselves, they will post the job description, gather resumes, interview candidates and make a final selection. This approach to running a senior level search internally is compromised for many reasons including:

  • There is limited access to qualified leaders beyond your team’s immediate networks.
  • A lot of potential candidates are not “actively looking,” are “selective” regarding their career moves and would not apply for the role concerned about a breach of confidentiality. Dealing with a search consultant, before they commit, makes it easier for these candidates to feel comfortable and seek more details about the opportunity.

Countless times I have seen Municipalities and other Public Sector organizations attempt to take on the hiring for a senior executive leader internally, and end up coming to us eventually for help in managing the search process.

In order to avoid this initial waste of resources, time, finances and frustration, I’ve created a guide for how Municipal Councils’, Board’s and Senior Management teams in Canada can partner and work with an external executive search firm for finding and appointing the best leaders for their organizations and communities.

Step 1: What Is Their Specialization? Success In Finding And Placing Right Fit Candidates Who Can Make A Difference

Firstly, you will need to identify the best search firm to partner with. This will include a close examination of several key areas including the types of executives they have placed, other clients they have worked with in the past (are these past clients similar to you and your needs) and a list of recent or past searches. For example, I specialize in placing Chief Administrative Officers’, Chief Executive Officers’, Commissioners’ and Directors’ for Municipalities, Public Sector organizations and Libraries across Canada. To quickly gather this information, review a search firm’s website. If you are still unclear of their specialization and methods you can dive deeper into their thought leadership that they have published. Look for regular postings of thought leadership articles and content about your industry and ask yourself if these articles provide deeper insights than others you have come across or reveal perspectives that you may not have considered. A truly experienced search consultant should be able to demonstrate and provide value to their wider networks in addition to their immediate clients.

Successful search consultants that exceed client expectations, will also see a high rate of repeat and referral business – it is important to understand what percentage of a search firm’s business is repeat or referral business versus new business. The higher the repeat / referral rate – the better the relationship a search consultant will have with their clients. I am grateful to have a very high rate of repeat / referral business. 

The final consideration for identifying specialization within a search firm when working in the Public Sector, is to confirm that a search firm or search consultant is a trusted partner and vetted provider with prior experience working with Municipalities and Public Sector organizations. A search firm that has been through this rigorous process of verification, certification, approval and documentation, will be accustomed to these requirements and this process. Having this awareness and experience will save you time and resources when looking for an external search firm to partner with.

Step 2: Why Partner with A Search Firm Instead Of Doing It Yourself?

Aside from the downsides to doing it yourself that I mentioned earlier, there are a number of additional reasons why allowing a well respected third party to manage and run your executive search process will yield better results. In addition to unrivaled candidate access and relationships, a search consultant or search firm you partner with can:

  • Collectively gather information from internal stakeholders to create a summary of ideal core competencies, gain trust and build consensus.
  • Remain unbiased during the research, interviewing and decision-making processes.
  • Conduct interviews to provide a fair and objective process for everyone involved.
  • Assure that candidates have fair representation in the interview process.
  • Garner buy-in across multiple internal stakeholders.
  • Decrease the time to placement / hire by circumventing internal obstacles and politics. 

A search consultant should serve as a trusted advisor to both a client and a candidate. Having an objective perspective as a search consultant, they can lead the charge and the process and instill confidence and trust within the candidate. When a search is conducted internally – candidates often will not trust the process for any number of reasons and therefore lose interest, shrinking the available talent pool. This distrust can manifest from any number of prior experiences including:

  • Mistreatment in a prior internal interview process
  • Losing the role to an internal hire / promotion (for cost hiring purposes)
  • Mishired and not a good fit culturally. 

The candidate experience is becoming more and more critical to finding and attracting senior leadership talent within the Public Sector. A third party search consultant represents both the client to the candidate and vice versa and will have everyone’s best interests top of mind throughout the entire cycle. When candidates are not selected to move forward for any number of reasons, an expert search consultant will assure that the candidate’s experience remains positive by offering additional coaching, feedback, etc. This in turn creates a favorable impression by the candidate and maintains a Municipality’s or Public Sector organization’s reputation. 

Another reason why senior executive candidates do not apply directly to positions is the risk of exposure to their current company which can damage their reputation and career aspirations. As a search consultant, I make sure that the entire search process remains confidential and candidates are informed of their status in a timely and discrete manner – regardless of the outcome. 

Once your Search / Recruitment Committee has selected a search firm to appoint your next senior executive, it is imperative to understand the process of how you will work together with a search consultant. 

Step 3: Understanding The Executive Search Process. 

To set expectations, an executive search process for selecting a new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) or a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) will take roughly 6-8 weeks to complete. First, we interview Search / Recruitment Committees and the rest of Council / Board members to gain insight, get stakeholders actively involved and identify the core competencies (skills, traits, qualities) of the ideal candidate. When completed, this reveals the summary of the most important core competencies, which are then developed and approved by the Search / Recruitment committee and built into a position profile. 

Next, as a search consultant, we go to market to research, find, engage and source candidates that align with these competencies. Our team will often consult with my confidential advisory committee of current and past successful Municipal and Public Sector executives seeking potential referrals for candidates. Typically this initial research will yield approximately 80-100 candidates, who are then scored and ranked against the competency matrix through a round of initial interviews and either moved forward or withdrawn from the process. After this initial screening and research phase, I match the best candidates that align with both the required experience and core leadership skills, resulting in roughly 8-10 top candidates ready to be presented to the Search / Recruitment Committee. 

At this point, a truly experienced search consultant will continue to manage and facilitate the interview process between candidates and the search committee. By facilitating panel interviews as a moderator and coaching stakeholders on key questions to ask, a search consultant will make sure that the process remains fair and equitable. This also avoids any possibilities for potential conflict internally and eliminates favoritism and bias. 

We would then work with Search / Recruitment Committee stakeholders to build consensus of their top 3 candidate selections. Once further interviews are conducted and a finalist is chosen, we also recommend a unique psychometric assessment expert to conduct an independent assessment of the finalist candidate. I will conduct final reference, credential, criminal background and social media checks. An offer is then extended to the candidate who will then either negotiate or accept. 

The above process is an example of a typical search process that has been successful on many occasions in hiring senior executives, however each process is tailored to clients’ specific needs and agreed to in advance. We constantly strive to improve our processes and do so based on feedback from clients. 

It is our understanding that the average tenure for a Chief Administrative Officer / Chief Executive Officer in the Public Sector is roughly 3-5 years. If you have any questions regarding the Canadian marketplace or are considering a new executive hire to your leadership team, I am happy to answer any questions you may have. Below are a list of our current searches that we are working on:

Some of Our Past Successful Searches Include:

  • Chief Administrative Officer – City of Pickering
  • Chief Administrative Officer – City of St. Catharines
  • Chief Administrative Officer – Township of Uxbridge
  • Chief Administrative Officer – Town of Niagara – On – the Lake
  • Chief Administrative Officer – Region of Waterloo
  • Chief Executive Officer – Burlington Public Library
  • Chief Executive Officer – St. Catharines Public Library
  • Director, Economic Development Services – City of Oshawa
  • Director, Planning Services – City of Oshawa
  • Director, Transit Services – Region of Waterloo
  • Director of Municipal Works – City of Niagara Falls
  • Director of Operations and Environmental Services – Town of Ajax
  • Director of Communications – City of Cambridge
  • Director of Information Technology – Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC)
  • Director of Finance – Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC)
  • City Manager – City of Cambridge
  • Senior Manager, Economic Development – Town of Whitby

About The Author

Kartik Kumar is a Partner at Legacy Executive Search Partners and has over 15 years experience in successfully executing 250 projects within the Public and Private Sector industry segments, including Municipalities and other Broader Public Sector organizations. Kartik has a Bachelor’s in Business Management from Ryerson University and an accredited certification in Diversity and Inclusion from Cornell University.

Prior to joining Legacy Executive Search Partners, Kartik has held several Managing Director and Partner roles within large national and international executive search firms. He has successfully developed an executive search practice across Ontario and Canada within Municipal Government and the broader Public Sector.

Contact Kartik Kumar at [email protected] for Senior Leadership Recruitment within the Public Sector across Canada. 

Considering a SaaS Platform for Citizen Request Management? Here are Some Key Questions to Ask

Local governments are continually looking for ways to streamline their operations. But with increasing citizen demands for more modern and accessible digital services, along with limited and declining budgets, bridging all of these needs can be a challenge. A growing number of municipalities are moving to manage these challenges by adopting Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms for core operating functions.

In this article, we take a look at some of the key things to consider when selecting a SaaS solution specifically to underpin your citizen request management process.

Does the Service align well with your operational needs?

The answer to this question obviously needs to be a resounding yes, however when evaluating cloud-based citizen request management solutions it is critical to start with a clear understanding of what your true needs are – both immediate and longer term. First and foremost, preferred solutions should be designed from the ground up with the needs of local governments in mind for the best chance of a successful implementation. Where not the case, adaptation to your process requirements will likely be more difficult and prone to failure. Be equally wary of solutions that offer feature functionality that you can’t or won’t actually use as this will normally drive unnecessary cost, and also lead to sub-optimal usability and poorer uptake by staff. To fully benefit from the cost savings promised by moving to the cloud, also look for solutions that include tools that can be used by trained administrators within your organization to configure and customize the SaaS solution to your specific requirements without costly custom software development.

What considerations exist to keep the citizen fully engaged in the Service Request Management process?

In all aspects of local government operations, citizen engagement as a strategy to create better and more livable communities is seeing increased emphasis. Yet too often citizen involvement in the service request management process takes a back seat to internal tracking against the municipal assets that the requests relate to. Solutions that keep citizens at the forefront will leave them feeling well served and more compelled to contribute to the process. For example, a well-designed citizen request management platform should support multiple channels for the purpose of accepting requests so that citizens can interact how and when it works for them. Solutions should also be mobile friendly, automate communications for real-time status updates, respect WCAG guidelines for accessibility, and include on-line capabilities for citizens to view and comment on the requests they raise.

What do the SaaS vendor’s track record and reputation look like?

As is the case with any product or service purchase, an understanding of a vendor’s previous experience is a great leading indicator or whether their offer is right for you. When it comes to citizen issue tracking, look for companies that have been around for several years and that can demonstrate success with local governments having similar operations to your own. Speaking directly with appropriate reference customers should be a given. Credible software review sites like G2 and Capterra are also highly useful to gauge customer experience and success and to compare the different options that are available to you.

What happens to my pre-existing data?

If you are currently using an on-premise system for citizen service requests or have other sources of data that you have invested in over time, it is worth understanding the potential and ease with which this data can be preserved. Ideal solutions will provide administrative tools to simplify the data import process. And where source data needs to be cleaned or transformed to make this possible, your SaaS solution vendor should be able to provide professional services expertise to support required ETL efforts.

Can I take a graduated approach to switching over?

Setting aside the many benefits of a cloud-based solution, new technology will always involve change for your staff and, for this reason alone, you might be interested in starting small and evolving the use of the new platform over time. For managing citizen service requests, solutions that you consider should easily support adoption by a single department or limited number of users in parallel to other departments continuing with existing processes. This can reduce risk, provide an opportunity for user feedback and help to validate the business case for other departments.

What assurances can the vendor provide regarding security, performance and resiliency?

Continuity of your operations and security of your data are critical considerations, and a cloud approach necessarily involves placing trust in your selected vendor to have these in hand. For vendors with any significant customer base, the good news is that these requirements should have received a lot of attention and certified experts will likely have been involved in architecting and securing the hosting environment. But given the nature of citizen request data, you will want to make sure that an acceptable privacy policy exists and that handling of personally identifiable information is understood. It is also important to know what safeguards exist against DDOS attacks or other malicious behaviours, and whether redundancy exists for high availability and disaster recovery purposes. And finally, you will want to ask questions about data backup procedures that are in place, including frequency and location.

How well is integration with other systems supported?

If you find yourself in a position where you need to integrate the citizen request solution with other back-office systems, ask how these integrations can be supported for your unique use case. The principal needs are for the vendor to provide open APIs that allow for secure data exchange between systems, along with professional services to support these efforts. If a vendor has created pre-built connections to leading application integration hubs like Zapier even better as this could greatly reduce the effort and cost involved.

What onboarding, training and support resources are provided?

No evaluation would be complete without gaining a high-level of confidence that onboarding will go smoothly and that your vendor will be there to support your success with the selected citizen request management platform over the long term. Mature vendors will employ a customer experience team and provide a proven process to get you up and running quickly, train your administrative personnel and end users, and guide you through branding and configuring the solution to meet your specific needs. Also look for a searchable online knowledge base where answers to common questions can be found, and a robust and responsive ticketing process for situations where additional vendor expertise is needed.

What are the details of the pricing model?

A clear benefit of moving to the cloud is that it avoids any upfront CAPEX spend when municipal budgets are tight, however the SaaS solution that is right for you should result in lower total cost of ownership over the long term. Costs for available citizen request management solutions are highly variable so, first and foremost, look for a service that is priced right for the operating scale of your municipality. Depending on the simplicity of the pricing model, costs may vary based on metrics like user counts, data storage requirements, transaction volumes or number of modules included. As discussed above, your use of the platform could very well expand over time and any potential price increases should be easy to understand and reasonable.

How to Persuade Employees to Embrace Records & Content Management

Records and Electronic Content Management (RM/ECM) solutions increase effectiveness, efficiency, and compliance with regulations. A big challenge can be to convince employees to actually use the new software. Unfortunately, nearly a third of RM/ECM migrations fail due to a change management issue.

Issues can arise in a number of forms, such as: 

  • Employee fear. Employees may be afraid that they will lose their jobs because the new system will make them redundant. Such employees may be actively hostile to the change and attempt to sabotage the transition; 
  • Employee routine. Some employees may have worked with a paper-based records management system for decades and be very comfortable with it. These employees may be hesitant to change their routine if they believe that they will be unable to work with the new software;
  • Key people averse to change. Even if the majority of employees are willing to change, the transition may not work if key members of the team aren’t. If the team lead or an otherwise respected or admired employee refuses to change, this attitude may spread to other would-be RM/ECM converts as well; 
  • Employers not putting the time in and/or abandoning the project. Managers can be very busy and if they don’t see quick results they may stop pushing for employees to adopt the RM/ECM solution and move on to their next project;
  • No culture shift. Switching to an RM/ECM solution is a big shift, not only in terms of efficiency and effectiveness but also in how employees think of their work. In an RM/ECM system information can be easily shared across departments, eliminating silos. RM/ECM solutions also reduce the need to print information. If employees don’t adopt these new ways of thinking it can be problematic;
  • Non-supportive software vendors. Vendors are often unaccustomed to working with local governments and don’t realize their unique needs. These vendors may be unwilling to shift their policies or customize their software to meet government requirements.

Luckily, Ricoh has over a decade of experience working with local governments and boasts the ability to implement efficient and effective transition processes. We recognize when local governments perform this transition well. One particular municipality who excelled in its transition to RM/ECM was the Township of Springwater, Ontario. Springwater implemented several of our best practices as it: 

  • Created a team including members from different departments who met frequently and discussed desired results. This ensured that the departments could request the functionalities that they needed;
  • Started the transition process from the top down. First they convinced the council to switch over to the new system, then senior management, and so on. This ensured that employees weren’t change-averse due to the attitudes of those above them. Employees could also ask their superiors if they had any questions about the system. As the superiors had received training first, they were able to effectively answer these questions;
  • Maintained open communication. Springwater regularly polled staff to learn of any questions or concerns about the software and allayed any issues. This also involved assuring employees that the RM/ECM solution would make their lives easier and not harder as some of the monotonous tasks they did before could now be automated, allowing them to focus on more important things;
  • Addressed the culture shift resulting from the transition. Springwater’s transition team spoke to each department about their current information silos and how that would change as information became easy to share. The team also spoke to employees who were used to piling paper on their desks and explained to them how the new system would make their lives easier; 
  • Replicated the old filing structure within the new repository so that employees would feel comfortable with working on the electronic records. Springwater also kept the paper records during the beginning of the transition process until employees were sufficiently comfortable with the new system and saw that the paper system provided no benefits; 
  • Arguably most importantly, Springwater decided to work with a knowledgeable RM/ECM vendor – Ricoh! As Ricoh is extremely experienced in working with local governments and creating custom solutions, Springwater received exactly what they needed. Ricoh provided extensive support throughout the transition and ensured that everything was running as requested. 

Effective RM/ECM solutions make employee lives easier and allow them to work faster. However, employees often need to be convinced of this fact. Follow Springwater’s lead and persuade your employees to adopt RM/ECM. We’ll help you do the rest.

Being aware – situationally aware

Our world has always been in a state of perpetual change. Now more than ever, it is perceived to be doing that at an ever-rapid pace.

Positive changes such as economic growth, and technology advancements to note a couple. Unfortunately, with the positive, comes the negative. A continuous cycle of persons who wish to do harm.

Safety and Security experts inform us that violent events will continue to happen. The violent extremist motivated and driven by an ideology, to the targeting of individuals, place of business, worship, acts of violence that permeate into every vertical, sector of business and government.

Active safety and security programs are continuous reviewed, modified to face existing and the new challenges of tomorrow.

To make your safety and security programs more effective, the program needs ambassadors, staff.

Ambassadors need to be aware. Situationally aware.

Situational awareness training provides your staff with valuable intelligence & time when facing safety and security situations of potential harm or danger.

Being situation aware is truly a change in mindset.

It is a way of thinking that will focus a person’s behaviour, their outlook, and their mental attitude. People that are aware are no longer vulnerable but capable.

Capable individuals are always prepared. Capable individuals are not complacent, they use technology to enhance their preparedness and response and their planning always includes a contingency plan.

Situationally aware staff improve the effectiveness of your safety and security program.

Situationally aware individuals enhance the workplace and enhance their personal safety and security.

We can Help.

Plan the Work. Work the Plan.

Should your Municipality need assistance in Situation Awareness training, contact Michael White Group International today, and we will be happy to answer your questions.

Michael White Group International is Arcuri Group LLC approved Situation Awareness Specialist Certification Training provider.

 

Congratulations to the Municipality of Meaford!!

Congratulations to our AccessE11 customer, the Municipality of Meaford for receiving the 2021 CAMA Willis Award for Innovation!

The Municipality of Meaford has received national recognition for its “Report a Concern” AccessE11 Website Portal from the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators (CAMA).  The Municipality was presented with the 2021 CAMA Willis Award for Innovation, in the Under 20,000 population category, during a Virtual Awards of Excellence Ceremony held May 11th.

Meaford identified the need to adopt technology that would integrate and provide a streamlined process in managing citizen requests.  As a result, the municipality partnered with AccessE11 for the implementation of a cost-effective, robust, cloud-based software solution focused on the supporting the municipality’s requirements related to customer management. This is a “lean six sigma” software solution, which is deep-rooted and focused on addressing the needs of the customer first.

 “CAMA is pleased to recognize the Municipality of Meaford for the innovation and best practice being demonstrated by their website portal,” said Jake Rudolph, outgoing president of CAMA and Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Nanaimo, BC.  “Using technology that allows residents to report their concerns online is a great way to enhance limited resources, put the customer first, and gather data for planning purposes.”

Watch the video here

Congratulations Meaford!!

Turn Stress into Good Stress by Choosing Your Response

Life is a parade of stress-inducing situations ever looming on the horizon. Which helps explain why, the more you resist stress, resist the inevitable, the more painful it becomes. For instance, say that your stress was an egg. And imagine squeezing and squeezing that egg. It’d finally crack under the pressure, right? What a mess! But if you gently hold the egg, you can easily handle it.

Stress can make us stronger, smarter and happier

In a Stanford News article by Clifton B. Parker, the author interviewed Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal who talked about her research indicating that “stress can make us stronger, smarter and happier – if we learn how to open our minds to it.”

 

McGonigal states that “The three most protective beliefs about stress are: 

1) to view your body’s stress response as helpful, not debilitating – for example, to view stress as energy you can use; 

2) to view yourself as able to handle, and even learn and grow from, the stress in your life; and 

3) to view stress as something that everyone deals with, and not something that proves how uniquely screwed up you or your life is.”

a cascade of health-promoting physical responses.

Studies have shown that when we embrace stress, our bodies release a cascade of health-promoting physical responses. A life-saving “biology of courage” that helps you endure and thrive even under the most daunting, stressful conditions.

In a Q&A with the Rotman School of Business, McGonigal responded to one of the questions with the following: “The profound ‘mindset reset’ that I’m encouraging involves embracing stress because you understand that there is no way to live a stress-free life, and that the presence of stress in our lives is important to being human. We need stress in order to experience the things we want most in life — whether it’s health, happiness, love or growth. I am convinced that when you choose to see the upside of stress, you increase your resilience, add meaning to your life and make more personal connections.”

A Story from Real Life…the horse is out of the barn!

In 2008, my husband, Stan, of 8 years was diagnosed with Stage IV gastric cancer. “Sorry, the horse is out of the barn” is what we were told over and over. Sorry, too late for surgery, the horse is out of the barn. Sorry, too late for radiation, the horse is out of the barn. “Maybe oncology can help.”  

 

In no time at all, here we were, our world suddenly turned absolutely upside down. It felt surreal and almost like we were watching ourselves in a movie. Alas, an oncologist who embraced Stan’s situation and wasn’t about to allow the horse to keep running until Stan ran out of breath. Instead, he told us that “Sometimes aggressive cancers respond to aggressive treatment.” Okay then – let’s get started, we responded. Keep in  mind, he continued “you have less than a 5% chance of living 5 years.”

 

That was a defining moment and one filled with immense stress – the life or death kind…literally. At that moment, we had a choice, we could feel defeated,  go the chemo course and hope for the best.

 

Instead, we chose our stress response. For Stan, it was an attitude of I’m not ready to leave my wife and my family – I still have so much to live for. Stan also looked at the odds and chose to respond by taking on the perspective that somebody is in that 5% that makes it so it’s going to be him.

 

The stress response I chose was one of combating this evil force. I could see it, it had a shape, it had a colour and it was voracious. Well guess what, I could be voracious back – “no I’m not going to let you win” I thought. 

Choice gives us power

This stress response was a choice and with choice comes power. There is so much more about this journey but today I just want to focus on just one of the techniques for mastering stress – choosing your stress response.

 

That choice is what kept me going as the caregiver, researcher, on-demand cook, chauffeur, part-time coach, communications head and wife. My choice gave me the courage that I needed to continue although inside I was filled with fear, particularly in the early days.

 

Months later, as my husband continued to make phenomenal progress and defy the odds, the oncologist shared that when he first saw Stan, he didn’t expect him to live 6  weeks! In fact, he said that the majority of people that don’t choose a positive stress response don’t make it.

 

There were so many life lessons learned in that time and yes, Stan continues to be super healthy and almost impossible to keep up with as we approach the 12.5 year mark as I write.

 

How can you shift your perspective to choose new ways of responding to stress so that you turn stress into good stress?

Submitted by:

Sophie Mathewson, PCC

Strategic Advisor & Coach

Prism Group

[email protected]

prismgroup.ca

 

Unlock the Power in Your Citizen Service Request Data

There is no question that the Covid-19 pandemic is creating hardships for local governments as recreation, illegal parking and transportation revenues decline and more money gets directed into public health initiatives. Budget cuts, where not already underway, are looming and municipal governments will need to find operational efficiencies and direct scarce resources to where they are most needed and have the greatest impact. In this post, we look at how 311 or citizen service request data can be an extremely valuable component in the toolkit of a local government trying to maintain services with fewer resources at its disposal.

It comes as no surprise that, as part of the open data movement, larger cities have been at the forefront of investing in data hubs that consolidate data from 311 service requests and multiple other sources. New York City, for example, has been relying on sophisticated data analytics for several years to measure performance and better inform the allocation of the city’s financial resources, equipment and personnel. Like many large North American cities, New York maintains a portal where the public has access to critical performance measures from multiple agencies. The benefits of this treasure trove of data for city managers are obvious, however, the very significant investments in time and cost required to get there are out of reach for smaller municipalities.

But concerns about cost or complexity should not prevent these smaller municipalities from pursuing a data-driven approach to finding efficiencies in their operations. The trick is to have a clear idea of the keys to success and the right set of tools to get there. For example:

Data Focus

When considering a goal of optimizing resource allocation in the face of budget constraints, the value across various types of data is not necessarily equivalent and therefore prioritization is needed. 311 service request data is particularly powerful because properly implemented, there should be a documented record of every touchpoint with the concerned citizen and assigned staff from the time an issue is raised to when it is resolved and closed. From a management perspective, this is extremely valuable.

The Right CRM

Regardless of municipality size, aggregation of the required data is unlikely to be successful without leveraging a CRM to manage service requests. CRM implementations should not, by default, be cost-prohibitive and there are cloud-based solutions available today that are easy to adapt and built specifically with the needs of smaller municipalities in mind.

Seamless Data Collection

The aggregation of comprehensive service request data that can be used reliably to inform operational decisions needs to happen by default. Local government service delivery will likely continue without staff increases for the foreseeable future, meaning that technology used needs to make the work of municipal staff easier in general and at the same time avoid any extra effort to collect and store the desired performance-related data. And since the primary data sources are the citizens themselves, an omnichannel approach that makes it simple to report service issues is critical. Citizens that are engaged in the way that best suits them will be far more likely to participate in making their communities better.

Flexible Analytics and Reporting

Once the data is available in one place, making sense of it is the next challenge. For smaller municipalities, the tools needed to visualize and report on service request data will, ideally, be baked into the solution used to manage day-to-day requests. Regardless of the technology that is applied, however, there are several imperatives that should be in place to fully benefit from this type of data analysis initiative. In all likelihood, various stakeholders including the city council, CAOs, and departmental managers will have different objectives when looking at the data, and these objectives will evolve over time. This speaks to the need for simplicity and flexibility for configuring and saving reports and dashboards on an individual basis. Access to configurable GIS views of the data can be highly useful as well in identifying trouble spots, prioritizing work plans, and scheduling the activities of field staff.

The bottom line is that there are opportunities for governments of any size to invest in a data-informed and results-oriented approach to finding savings in their operations. And although the pandemic will hopefully be in the rear-view mirror soon, it is not too late for municipal governments to start unlocking the power of service request data. This is a natural evolution for those with a suitable CRM already in place, but even where not the case adoption of suitable technology does not need to be onerous. Doing so will help with the immediate need to recover quickly from pandemic-induced shortfalls, and will continue to pay dividends for many years to come.