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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Make No Mistake . . . Work Should Be Fun and Passion-driven

    As 2012 starts to wind down, so too does the semester at Sacramento State, where I've had the privilege of teaching a graduate course on the advanced administration of parks, recreation and tourism.  I taught this course once before 6 or 7 years ago and focused on management, but this time I took a different approach.  This semester the areas of focus were on leadership and customer service.  While it is fun to teach this class (and I believe I have the experience and qualifications to do so) I find that I am as much a student during the semester as any of the dozen graduate students I have.  The course is billed as a 'workshop', and it is very much an open forum during class and we supplement discussions using our class Circle on Google+.  Using social media to further our discussions and share new information and experiences has really added value to this course - so much so that I will use Google+ in all my classes in the future.

    One shared post that really hit home with me was called the 9 Crippling Mistakes CEO's Make (thank you Jen Smith).  For me it was affirmation on my leadership and management beliefs and practices, but it also made me think that it is some of these very points that may keep me from ever becoming a parks and recreation director.  

    I see a trend in our profession that concerns me: director and administrator positions being filled with people who may have a strong business or finance background, but lack a true understanding of, and passion for, parks and recreation.  While I would agree that it makes sense to apply smart business practices to what we do, we are not the same as a small business, a large corporation, a non-profit or just about any other department found in local government.  Leading a parks and recreation department around by the budget as a means to make it perform (a.k.a. - avoid going over budget), isn't how a leisure service agency is going to excel.  Squelching the creativity of people whose jobs are to create opportunities for their customers (residents) and whose jobs are to help foster positive emotional connections within the community is a sure way to under-perform.  The role of parks and recreation is to help improve the quality of life for the people living within that community. Do that and your customers are likely to talk about how much they love their community and others will want to make that community their community.  That's how you grow and maintain a healthy bottom-line.  I've seen this happen.  It's has happened in the community where I work (West Sacramento) because of the vision, talent and love my staff have for the community and work we do.

Whether it's celebrating Stars Wars Day (May the 4th), Talk Like a Pirate Day, or some other reasons to play with our customers, community and staff, setting the tone for a fun work place yields positive business results.

   And it's not just my department.  The other department's in our organization are similar in their passion for their work and commitment to serving the community. Beyond that there has been the political-will to take West Sacramento in a positive direction.  It really is a wonderful place to live, work and play!

   So back to my point.  Our department - Parks & Recreation - is successful because we follow our mission and strive to deliver exceptional customer service.  Item #3 in the linked article is You ignore the importance of company culture.  I'm big on company culture and feel one of the main roles of a leader is to help set the tone, then get out of the way and let your talented staff do their jobs.  You foster an atmosphere where people want to work because it's fun and challenging and the customer feels it.  Make the customer 'part of the show', and they become a partner in your success.  Not sure about that?  Look at Disney theme parks.  Need I say more?

    Item #4 is You focus too much on the numbers; I review our budget once a month to see how we're doing on expenses and revenue, and I see purchase orders almost daily - that's about it.   Unless I see something that's not trending as it has the past couple of years, or see expenses higher than normal, or revenue lagging lower than projected, I don't worry about it.  My staff know what they have to spend and they know their revenue targets.  It is working because once again we came in under budget and exceeded revenue projections (we did have a rough few years due to budget cuts, but the City has managed this challenge very well).   Here's my thinking about managing a budget.  It's a tool (as my Director likes to say) to help me do my job.  That means the budget is not my job, but a means to help me do the business of parks and recreation.  

The last point in this article is the most powerful: #9 You forget the noble purpose.  Why did we get into parks and recreation in the first place?  Why do we put so much time and effort into programs and events?  Why do we design, build, and maintain parks and facilities for people to use?  The answer is passion.  I've heard colleagues describe their career in parks and recreation as 'a calling'.  Like me, they can't see themselves doing anything else.   It makes us happy.

How about you?  Are you passionate about what you do?  If you're a leader in your organization, work group, or team, do you see yourself as a successful leader or are you hindered by some of the 9 Crippling Mistakes CEO's Make?