A Great Place to Work

I believe the City of Albany is a great place to work, although I am sure there are differing opinions on the subject.  Job satisfaction has been widely studied over the past century, and there are a number of theories about why some people are happy in their jobs while others are not.  Some common themes run through job-satisfaction literature.

Relationships to supervisors and coworkers play a critical role in our attitudes toward the workplace.  It makes sense to me that if you like the people you work with every day, you are going to have a better perspective than if your colleagues are disagreeable, untrustworthy, incompetent, and/or unkind.  I remember working for a difficult employer many years ago where my relationships with my fellow employees were so good that I stayed with the job and generally enjoyed it.  I’m sure one of the reasons I enjoy working for the City of Albany is the quality of the people I work with every day.  I have been privileged to work for some excellent elected officials through the years, and I think our current mayor and council are among the best.  I think they stopped reading my blogs some time ago, however; so my shameless, albeit accurate, pandering may be wasted.

No matter how much I enjoy my colleagues, it’s safe to say I would not show up to work every day if I wasn’t getting paid.  Salary and benefits are important reasons why people choose to work where they do, a fact that should come as no great surprise to anyone.  Our organization offers an attractive compensation package by almost any standard, which explains why we are generally able to attract good people to fill job openings and our turnover rate is relatively small.

The dispositional theory of job satisfaction concludes that one of the major factors affecting our view of our jobs is our individual disposition.  I remember reading a news story some years ago about a postal worker who never took a vacation in over 30 years with the organization.  He just gave up years of vacation over the course of his employment; and when asked why he did it, his response was that he enjoyed his job so much he had no reason to take vacations.  I am sure this worker’s attitude toward his employer had as much to do with values he brought to the job as with his actual working conditions.  I would guess most of the people who work for the City of Albany were raised with and believe in similar values, even though we may not be willing to give up our vacations.

Finally, almost all job satisfaction research suggests that people need some form of “enrichment” from their work.  Solving problems, learning new things, or generally having a sense they are making a contribution to something important are key reasons why people report satisfaction with their jobs.  I believe most city jobs offer these intangible rewards in one form or another.

No employer fulfills everything we might want from a job.  The test I use for myself is to ask the question, “Am I as happy about my job today as I was when I was told I was hired?”  My answer is “yes,” and I hope that’s true for all city employees.

Translating Romantic Ideals into Events to Serve People

Most of the experiences I count as successes during my career as a city manager began as romantic ideas.  Before anyone starts to make salacious assumptions about what constitutes “romantic,” the following definition from Webster’s explains the word as follows:  “marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of what is heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious or idealized.”  I can even find these attributes in our new wastewater treatment plant or while helping someone when a rat finds its way into her toilet.  All of this may explain why I have always jumped at the opportunity to do work in other parts of the world.  During the past 20 years, I’ve been fortunate to work in rural Japan, Indonesia, Iraq, Croatia, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Ethiopia.  The assignments ranged from a few days presenting at a conference for ICMA in Pakistan to seven months in Iraq.

International development work is, to me, both a selfish pursuit and a chance to do something positive for people in need.  I enjoy travel and the opportunity to see how people in different places live.  These experiences are even more gratifying if I know that through my efforts I can help solve a problem or make people’s lives a little better.

Anyone who has ever lived in a house where the pipes froze or the pump in the well went bad knows how difficult it is to live without easy access to water.  I have experienced both situations and, as a city manager, have believed throughout my adult life that I fully understood the critical role of water in our lives.  During my first week in Iraq, I visited a village where the only source of water was a polluted irrigation canal.  Village women and children scooped the water into various sized containers; carried it to the village; boiled it; strained it; and finally had something their families could safely drink.  People were literally spending hours to do what we can do in our own homes in a matter of minutes.  I had no real appreciation for the plight of the majority of people in the world who live without home access to potable water until I was able to see it firsthand.  Our team was able to work with village leaders to bring in a portable purification plant and deliver potable water to taps throughout the village.  The selfish parts of this experience were the good feelings of being able to help and the personal understanding I would otherwise never have obtained.

My experience in Ethiopia last year helped me see the effects of rapid urbanization in a rural area and directed my attention to the often painful transition from subsistence agriculture to a different economic base.  Reading about how a village is affected by government policies is a much different understanding than what is gained by talking with people and seeing their situation firsthand.  I have also learned the frustrations of trying to change things for the better in almost every assignment I’ve undertaken for ICMA.

A wealthy friend of mine told me a few years ago I was the most widely traveled poor person he had ever met.  I don’t believe I am poor by any standard, but I have been blessed with opportunities to pursue ideals important to me without having to amass a personal fortune.  I am most grateful for those chances and for the good work ICMA is doing worldwide to promote local capacity building.

The Importance of Competent IT (and everything else)

Clackamas County’s tech woes lead to crashed server, e-mail slowdown and website overloads

The headline above came from a recent article in The Oregonian that detailed problems with the county’s information technology (IT) infrastructure and electronic records retention policies.  Government problems make headlines even when, as the article explains, the slowdown was short-lived and steps were being taken to correct it.   I know the county manager in Clackamas County, and he is a very competent and dedicated public employee who will insure that the issue is addressed.

Being in the public eye is part of the job when you work for government, and I think the knowledge that our performance is being monitored by the press and public makes us better at what we do.  If, however, we are only judged by our problems and mistakes, the public runs the risk of exchanging good service for something worse.

The latest issue of Governing magazine highlights the problem of term limits for Michigan legislators in an article entitled, “Termed Out.”  It points to a 12-year university study finding “…that term limits have dissolved important checks and balances and increased lobbyists’ influence.”  Constantly pointing the finger at state legislators led voters to adopt policies that apparently have reduced the competence of their policy-making body.

While I’m sure most people can think of a number of media outlets that specialize in attacking government, I can’t think of many dedicated to defending it or the people who make it work every day.  Many newspapers and some radio and television shows do provide balanced reporting, but there is a long-standing and increasing emphasis on the negative.  Important stories that describe how jobs are performed every day often do not get told.

I received a letter this morning, originally directed to Police Chief Ed Boyd, telling a story about local government service that most of the community will never hear.  Brian Rosenberger, with Fred Meyer’s Loss Prevention program, wrote to compliment Officer John Trantham for his help in successfully resolving a theft case and apprehending the thief.  He added, “A little over a year ago, I transferred to Albany and was pleasantly surprised to see case after case being worked and solved by Albany officers.”  I routinely see examples of City employees doing their jobs well and, in many cases, going beyond what might be expected.

I would also like to commend our IT Department for what I believe is the extraordinary service we receive every day.  Our folks quickly resolve individual problems and also think ahead to prevent issues like those occurring in Clackamas County.  The collaboration among several departments to implement a legal and practical electronic records retention policy is a great example of addressing an issue before most of us were aware it could become a problem.

Competence and good service is not the result of an alignment of the planets.  It comes from hiring and retaining people with good training, experience, and values.  Recognizing these attributes by appropriately compensating and occasionally commending deserving public employees is a wise investment.