Public Sector Trends
Succeeding in a Downsized Organization
Industry Expert - Mark F. Weinberg is a retired City Manager with 35 years of public service experience in California and Washington.
For generations the hallmark of government employment has been rock-steady job security. Career public sector employees often cite job security, together with generous retirement and fringe benefit packages, as factors which initially attracted them to their jobs and serve as a powerful retention force. However, the Great Recession has seen venerability turn to vulnerability. Government employees now increasingly have to deal with furloughs, layoffs, salary and benefit cuts and cries for pension reform from state legislatures and tax-burdened communities.
The current fiscal crisis requires government employers to consider, and perhaps embrace, a broad spectrum of financial management strategies. Organizational streamlining and consideration of alternative service delivery models are common approaches. Employees who retain their jobs following a “down” or “right” sizing, or after implementation of new service models, may well have to contend with new job duties, increased workload, less resources and lower overall compensation. To compound these new working conditions, most elected leaders and community members are not likely to readily accept potential service cutbacks. The following are some ways that you can not merely survive, but flourish under such strained and unorthodox working conditions.
Maintain Job Focus and Positive Work Attitude: Resist the herd mentality that often grips workforces when there is uncertainty in the workforce and results in reduced productivity, low morale, and general malaise. This is neither easy nor common but it will help distinguish you for your maturity and leadership traits and is certain to be noticed and appreciated by all levels of the organization. Managers and supervisors invariably cite “attitude” as a critical component of job success, so as with many of the factors on this list, why not demonstrate it under the most adverse conditions?
Become a Creative, Innovative Problem Solver: Conducting business in the same old manner is not likely to produce the efficiencies or economies necessary to emerge from the present fiscal crisis quickly, nor will it make your organization stronger and more resilient in the future. “Think outside the city seal”. Vocalizing innovative ideas carries less risk than most fear, and the rewards can be substantial for your organization, communities and personal career advancement. Innovators are seldom jettisoned from progressive organizations.
Take on New Responsibilities and Shape Your Own Destiny: Sacrificing and feeling underappreciated, many employees in shrinking organizations retract into protective shells and are reluctant to take on additional workloads or new responsibilities. However, those willing to do so graciously and enthusiastically will be richly rewarded in the long run. Never will you be needed more, or have the opportunity to create, expand and shape your own role than when an organization is being recast. Service gaps occur. Work units may be combined, positions merged, and new jobs created to offset other losses. To the extent possible, actively participate in these plans and discussions; architects of reorganization often are tapped to fill new key positions.
Create or Strengthen Your Leadership Role: Organizations in crisis or transition invariably experience voids in leadership. This is particularly true during fiscal crises when senior managers are encouraged to retire early. Leadership opportunities will surely arise in both formal and informal settings, in both the board room and the coffee room. In the community. In management and organized labor meetings. One misconception about leadership is that it must be a function of some particular factor or elements such as seniority, age, technical knowledge or job title. Or, that it needs to be appointed or bestowed. Leadership is more often a product of how much people respect your character and ideas, trust your motives, are encouraged by your optimism, and have confidence in your ability to perform. “Step up and be a stand out”.
Do Not Neglect Relationships: The bedrock of success in the workplace, like most other areas of life, is how well you cultivate and nurture relationships at all levels. Tumult in the workplace may shift focus to other areas, but do your best to find time to connect with colleagues on both a professional and personal level. If you are a manager or supervisor recognize that employees cope with crisis and vulnerability in different ways and may need compassionate understanding, counseling and guidance. Collaborative efforts are likely to succeed on the basis of strong, enduring underlying relationships more than demands borne from vested authority, and the results are certain to be more satisfying to the team. Networking beyond the office can leverage idea and resource sharing that mitigates other losses. And, in the end people will always remember how they were treated by you long after the memories and details of other aspects of the crisis have faded.