Search This Blog

Monday, January 7, 2013

Leadership and Customer Service - Key strategies for the business of parks and recreation

    "Government should be run more like a business," is a line I've often heard, and is mentioned in the article, Comparing Business to Government, by Arnie Biondo (from the February 2012 issue of Parks and Rec Business magazine).  I've struggled with what this means, but Biondo's article does a very good job laying out the differences between business and local government, as well as detailing some strategies professionals and agencies can do that are, as Biondo states, "more business-like practices." 
    The first strategy mentioned is the delivery of excellent customer service, which is something we strive to provide at the West Sacramento Parks & Recreation department.  Just to say you have great customer service isn't enough, and it can't be inconsistent (great by one staff member, but poor by another).  It has to be a cultural norm, but it can only be the norm if the leaders are working on setting the tone and nurturing the culture to help it grow and mature.  I'm pleased to say that just this past Saturday I spent some time with some of our recreation center front-line staff (front desk, lifeguards and child care staff) as they participated in another leadership/management/customer service training.

    William Davidow and Bro Uttal, in their best-selling book, Total Customer Service: The Ultimate Weapon*, provide a list of three (3) principles that they say leaders of customer service oriented companies do:  
1.      Foster a service oriented culture. Leaders help create and nurture cultures by communicating use. They put values into action by treating employees exactly as they want employees to treat customers.

2.      Make customer service everybody's business. Unless every employee assumes responsibility for the customer’s experience, service dies.
3.   Declare war on bureaucracy. To produce effective, efficient Customer service, leaders keep policies, procedures, and other formal control mechanisms to a minimum, relying instead on cultural control.
    As I go down this list of strategies, I find that we are applying these business strategies.  Leadership is key (and we are fortunate to have a department director and City Council who provide solid leadership) and having and implementing a thoughtful and deliberate customer service strategy is critical if parks and recreation agencies are to deliver on their vision and mission and not run like stereo-typical government.

*This is a great book, but was published in 1989.  While some of the examples given are antiquated, the definition and strategies are still very relevant. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Sir . . put the iPhone down and step away

It needed to happen.  I think I started to feel it was becoming an issue over the summer, but it finally came to a head on Christmas Day.  "You're always on your phone or tablet when we're together," my wife told me.  She was right.  If not for Alene speaking her mind (not something she has trouble doing by the way) I don't think I would have made the decision.  And while her words did sting a little, I decided to turn this issue into a positive.  I would make a decision that shows her that I respect her feelings, while trying to strike a balance in my life.  This knuckle-dragger may evolve a tad!

Social media, personal and work email, videos, a few games, news, and blogs - it had become a problem and she was right to point it out.  Having a smartphone, tablet, laptop, and a PC at both home and work have made it very easy to be online almost every waking moment where I am sitting down, standing around, and, occasionally, while walking.  I had become one of them . . . one of the people who had become too connected . . . one of the people I hear others comment about.  I see this behavior lampooned in Facebook posts . . .
as well as the old fashioned way - the comic strips . . .

So, the day after Christmas I developed a strategy to not only minimize using my devices when around my wife, but I developed four (4) simple guidelines for how I want to use technology out and about during my day, as well as while I'm at home.  I want to make sure I strike a balance and don't go to the other extreme or set rules that will result in my failure.  While I suspect this list will be modified over time and possibly grow, it's a start .  Check it out and let me know if you think I missed something or if you think something should be tweaked a bit.
  • Be present for them (even though they may not be). When with the wife or family don't be checking your smartphone or tablet for emails, texts or social media. Save that for when everyone's gone to bed, especially your wife.  Exception:  if asked by a family member to take a picture with my smartphone or to check something on Facebook, do so, but then put the device down when finished - don't continue to stay on checking statuses or emails.
  • Place books you want to read (in most cases this means books you mean to finish) in places where you sit around the house.  Time spent checking Facebook posts or emails could be spent reading some books you've wanted to finish and finally start some books you'd really like to get into.  You could also practice guitar more . . . which you enjoy and really need to do.
  • Challenge yourself to not check your smartphone when you are meeting with other people.  Wait until you have time to yourself afterwards or are back in your office.
  • It's so easy to check your smartphone when standing in a line, walking around, as a passenger in a car, in between sessions at a conference or during baseball or football games.  Challenge yourself to not do so because you've got nothing else to do or are bored.  Exception: you like taking pictures and using filters (often times for work purposes) - as this is one of those great features of your smartphone continue to do so, but be sensitive that you are not missing something or are a distraction for others who are trying to enjoy the moment or your company.
Mobile devices are fantastic, but like watching too much television, mobile devices, I believe, can have an adverse affect on my ability to engage in daily living and take away from my quality of life.  But the pendulum does not need to swing all the way to the other side.  I can find that balance.  I do not want to be dependent on mobile technology or social media.  Instead I want these things to serve my interests and enhance my life.  

It needed to happen.  Using these guidelines to shape my own behavior will be a challenge, but making these changes may help me be more engaged with others, give me time to read more books, and practice guitar more.  Who knows . . . by this time next year playing an F7 may be a piece of cake, and both China Grove and Sweet home Alabama may actually sound like music.