Monthly Archives: November 2012

Kansas Certified Public Manager Graduation Speech: Barney Hubert

Comments Delivered By Barney Hubert, Superintendent, Kansas Neurological Institute (KNI)
On November 16, 2012

Congratulations on your success in completing the CPM program!

I was pleased to see such a diverse group of public servants in this year’s class:

  • 13 from several different county governments
  • 26 from several different city governments
  • 24 from several different state agencies
  • 2 from state universities
  • 3 from federal agencies
  • 2 from private industry

There is also a great deal of diversity in the types of work you do within your organizations!

As Charles mentioned in my introduction, I participated in the CPM program in 1999. At that time a much larger percentage of the group came from State agencies. It’s wonderful to see the increasing diversity in the composition of the class.

I trust participation in the CPM program has been a great learning and networking experience for you. During the past week I asked a number of people who have graduated from the CPM program over the past 15 years to share their memories of the program. Many people mentioned the networking opportunities associated with the program, the chance to get a glimpse into the work of other governmental agencies, and specific instructors, class topics and classmates who made a positive and lasting impression on them. Others mentioned the hard work they did, their Capstone Projects and the fact that participation in the CPM program provided a start for them in their desire to work toward a Master’s of Public Administration degree. Still others talked about the fact that participation in the CPM program gave them an opportunity to share their love of the work they do with others, to gain a greater appreciation for the important purpose of their work as public servants, and to help others understand the importance of the mission of their organization.

In the 13 years since I graduated from the program it has been interesting for me watch the contributions a number of my classmates have made as they’ve continued their careers as public servants, or moved on to positions in the private sector. In years to come I’m sure you will see great things from many of your classmates too! I continue to use the core of my capstone project in my work today, and I hope many of you, and your employers, will see lasting value in the work you’ve put into your capstone projects into the next decade.

I was honored when Terri asked me to speak to you at this year’s graduation ceremony. I also found the request to be a bit daunting. Keynote speakers are supposed to inspire and motivate. As Charles mentioned when he introduced me, I’ve spent nearly my entire career in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities. I’ve never felt I was the smartest person in the room, or the most visionary person in my field, or the best clinician, or the most inspirational person. When I reflected on what I have to offer a group like this, I realized that some of the most important things I’ve learned during my career in the disabilities field have a great deal of application to the work of all public servants:

In the field I work in, a respected researcher named Connie Lyle O’Brien found that “the most important factor influencing peoples’ satisfaction with the services they receive is the relationship they have with the people who provide direct support to them”—the people they come into contact with on a daily basis. I’ve learned how true this is in the field of disabilities. In our work at KNI, this makes it important for those of us who are managers, instructors, professionals and support staff to keep in mind that our role is to equip our frontline workers—those who have sustained daily contact with our customers (for us, the people who live at KNI)—to have the skills, resources, and understanding of our mission they need to provide high-quality services to the people we support.

In reflecting on Connie’s research findings, I realize the principle included in this quote is true for all public servants. Whether we work in law enforcement, accounting, public works, economic development, or social services, it’s important that we understand the mission our agencies are working to fulfill and our role in providing high-quality services to the end users—the primary customers–of the services provided by our organizations. A key responsibility of all of us who provide leadership within our organizations or who supervise, mentor and provide direction to other staff members is to be sure we equip those who have direct contact with our customers with the resources they need to be responsive to our customers and to provide excellent service to them.

Years ago, a coworker I admired greatly convinced me that in absolutely the most basic terms, “QUALITY IS RESPONSIVENESS.” She sold me on the idea that the more we are attentive to our customers and strive to be responsive to them, the more they will appreciate us and value and support us and the services we provide. If they see us doing our best to be responsive, and know this is our goal, they will also be more willing to forgive us when we make mistakes.

Several years ago, I met a gentleman who talked about his experience preparing to teach a college class for students who were learning to support people with disabilities. Before the class began, this person met with a friend who has a disability and asked him, “What are the most important things I need to teach people who will go into this field?” His friend told him, “Teach them to respect me for who I am, as I am, and teach them to listen to me.”

Again, I think this lesson extends beyond the context of services for people with disabilities and has tremendous application for all of us who are public servants. Whoever we come into contact with in our work, we need to “Respect people for who they are, as they are. We need to listen to people.” Given the different fields in which we work, this will be different for each one of us, but the core lesson is critically important for all of us.

A final lesson I want to share comes from an educator and author named Haim Ginott who wrote extensively about the relationships between teachers and students and between parents and children. One of his most famous quotes is titled, “I Am the Decisive Element,” and I’ve adapted it slightly for this audience:

I AM THE DECISIVE ELEMENT

I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element.
It is my personal approach that creates the climate.
It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
I possess a tremendous power to make the lives of others miserable or joyous.
I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations, it is my response that determines whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, whether those around me will be humanized or de-humanized, whether a person’s life will be interesting or boring, comfortable or miserable, productive or pointless. I am the decisive element.

All of you in the jobs you do, as well as in your personal lives, have tremendous influence over the lives of others. As you take the lessons you’ve learned in the CPM program and apply them in your work and personal lives, I hope you will look for opportunities to humor, humanize and heal those you serve, those you work alongside, those you interact with in your personal lives and those you love. I urge you to honor and support those within your organizations—those you supervise, those you work alongside, and those you serve. I urge you to accept others for who they are, as they are. I urge you to listen to those around you and to learn from them.

Thank you for giving me the honor of speaking to you today, congratulations, and best of luck in all your future endeavors!


Speaker’s Bio: Barney Hubert began work for the State of Kansas in 1976 after earning a Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies at the University of Kansas. After spending a year as a Correctional Officer he accepted his first position supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Over the past 34 years Barney has held a variety of positions in the disability field, starting with direct service positions and progressing into a variety of leadership roles.

He completed a Master’s degree in the School of Education at the University of Kansas in 1988 and is a 1999 graduate of the Kansas Certified Public Manager program. He has been Superintendent of the Kansas Neurological Institute, one of the two state-operated facilities in Kansas that provide support to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, for six years.

For the past 18 years he has also been an occasional Quality Enhancement Specialist for The Council on Quality and Leadership in Supports for People with Disabilities, an international quality enhancement and accrediting organization based in Towson, Maryland. Barney serves as a volunteer guardian through the Kansas Guardianship Program and is a long-time member of the board of directors for The Arc of Douglas County, an advocacy organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

 

How Indifference, Intolerance and Selfishness Make a Better Finance Officer (Part 1)

by Kent R. Austin, CPFO
City of University Park, Texas

A famous management handbook, first published in 1946 and reprinted continuously since then, opens with this memorable sentence: “You know more than you think you do.”

The same concept holds true for finance officers, and for public managers more generally: they know more than they think they do. Why? Because experience and learning are continuous processes, resulting in an enormous aggregation of memories, thoughts, feelings, likes, and dislikes in each one of us.

First and foremost, individuals are hired to be problem solvers, whether in government finance or any other line of work. Consequently, what an individual brings to a job is far more than simply specific technical knowledge in a given field. Individuals bring a lifetime of learning that originates from an untold number of sources. Consider:

• Every book, magazine, comic book, and newspaper you have ever read
• Every family member, friend, co-worker, or acquaintance you have ever met
• Every movie, TV show, and Internet video you have ever watched
• Every vacation, business trip, or daily commute you have ever taken
• Every meeting, public hearing, conference, and celebration you have ever attended
• Every class, seminar, training session, and workshop you have ever taken.

Each one of us has massive amounts of information that we carry around every day. Why limit on-the-job problem solving abilities to the technical skills required by the job description? Each one of us knows so much more than we think we do.

To help harness this huge knowledge base, think how it relates to three traits traditionally considered undesirable—indifference, intolerance, and selfishness. Turning these negative traits inside out leads to an understanding of how to renew one’s approach to life and work—a personal “reboot.”
Indifference
Traditionally, “indifference” refers to a lack of caring or a deliberate decision to ignore or avoid certain ideas, places, or people. Around 1543, Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Roman Catholic order of priests known as the Jesuits, developed a radically different definition.

To him, the purpose of man’s existence should be to love and serve God. Everything else should not matter.

Thus, by centering one’s being on the single goal of loving and serving God, a Jesuit would seek to be indifferent to all other things—being rich or poor, fat or thin, intelligent or slow-witted, and so on. All else paled besides pursuit of the central mission. This Ignatian indifference gave a tremendous clarity and focus to the Jesuits, which drove them to accomplish incredible things in the service of their goal.

Mission Focus
While theological concepts from the 16th century seem far removed from local government challenges of the 21st century, the Jesuit emphasis on mission is instructive for today’s finance officers. So often it is easy to become consumed with an increasing number of tasks, which seem to accumulate with each year. We become busier and busier, never feeling caught up or never spending the time on planning that we claim we want.

Barnacle Theory
This phenomenon is similar to the accumulation of barnacles on the hull of a ship below the water line.

Over time, the barnacles increasingly act as a drag on the ship’s ability to move through the water; although everything looks fine above the water line, more effort and engine power are required to make the same rate of progress. Periodically, then, the ship must be taken to dry dock so that the barnacles can be removed and the ship’s performance restored.

Lyrics from the song “Reboot the Mission” by Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers (2012) sum up the solution succinctly:

“Eyes on the prize/Reboot the mission.
I lost my sight/But not the vision.”

Periodically one must stop and remember, or formulate for the first time, what the essential mission of their unit is. This does not require lofty vision or mission statements, elaborate goals and objectives, or detailed action plans.

Instead, it simply requires some reflection on what it is that an organizational unit brings to the services delivered by the organization. Is the department helping or hindering this delivery? Is the department an overprotective watchdog or a helpful resource for departments trying to provide front line services?

Popular culture reinforces: Indifference –> Focus on the Mission
• Books: The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz (2004).
• Movies: Moneyball (2011); Twelve O’clock High (1949); The Untouchables (1987)
• Music: “Reboot the Mission,” Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers (2012)
• Historical figures: Abraham Lincoln; Ulysses S. Grant; Vince Lombardi

This is part 1 of Kent Austin’s article “How Indifference, Intolerance and Selfishness Make a Better Finance Officer” which will appear in GFOA’s Government Finance Review in February 2013. We’ll publish part 2 and part 3 here on the blog in the coming weeks. Kent is a 1988 graduate of the KU MPA program. He serves as the director of finance for the City of University Park, Texas and is the 2012-13 president of the Government Finance Officers Association of Texas.

Gaining the Trust of Your Citizens

Reprinted from the Kansas Government Journal October 2012 issue

Kansans enjoy autumn for many reasons. For farmers, the last harvest of the year is a time to get paid for months of hard work. For others, it’s a brief respite from our often-brutal summers and winters. But for me, autumn’s always been about football.

My dad got me hooked at a young age, but once I started playing the sport I had no chance of ever kicking that addiction. I know it’s cliché for a grown man to think back to the “old playing days,” but one part of those Friday night battles has stayed with me–how much teamwork was required for success. You’ll never gain one yard on a football field unless you work together with your teammates, and that requires a commitment to an important value—trust.

Unfortunately, beyond the gridiron, America is experiencing a trust-deficit. Public trust in institutions has been decreasing since the 1960s, and it’s now at record lows. Only 44% of Americans trust organized religion, 29% trust the criminal justice system, 25% trust the media, and 21% trust banks and big businesses. The federal government is possibly the least trusted, at only 13%. And although institutions closely connected to people like small businesses and local governments are still trusted (65% and 61% respectively), they too are garnering record-low levels.1

This diminished trust should matter to local governments. Studies have shown that as trust in government diminishes, so the does the rate of compliance with the law. Additionally, trust is necessary for a community to work together to fix problems, and without it there can be paralyzing inaction. Trust is also a fundamental component of a healthy democracy, as it encourages citizen engagement in politics and enhances support for democratic ideals.2

Why is contemporary trust so low? That debate is best left to the thousands of academic papers on the topic, but there are a few key factors worth mentioning, many of which are beyond the control of city officials. There is a strong relationship between economic growth and institutional trust, and sometimes trust just depends on the individual (citizens who are younger, have lower life satisfaction, and have more education, all tend to have lower levels of trust). Residents of bigger cities are also less trusting of local governments than those of smaller cities.3

But luckily, there are trust factors that local officials can influence. For example, residents that participate in community improvement activities tend to manifest higher degrees of trust in their municipalities.4 One organization in our state that’s been instrumental in coordinating these trust-building activities is Kansas PRIDE. The Kansas PRIDE Program is a partnership of Kansas State University, the Kansas Department of Commerce, and Kansas PRIDE, Inc., that assists local governments and volunteers in making their communities better places to live and work. PRIDE has facilitated the restoration of a mini-park in Smith Center, maintained historic structures in Greeley, started the farmers’ market in Elk City, and initiated hundreds of other projects in cities across Kansas.

Fighting the perception of corruption is another way to build trust. Even if corruption is non-existent, citizens are skeptical of entities managing large amounts of public funds, so municipalities should be as open as possible. Although transparency on its own is ineffective, educating the public about the local governments’ structure and decision-making processes is a proven way to build trust.

Overland Park, which was one of three Kansas municipalities to receive a 2012 Sunny Award from the Sunshine Review, a non-profit organization dedicated to state and local government transparency, has taken some great steps to build trust with public information. The City’s website, www.opkansas.org, gives the function and contact information of all governing body members, City departments, and City boards. The City also posts their own governing body manual online, which describes how specific decisions are made. These small steps demystify local government and increase citizens’ trust in their city officials.5

As many city leaders would probably guess, the most powerful explanation of public trust is the degree of satisfaction with municipal services. Recognizing the importance of high-quality city services, the City of Wichita has set up “Neighborhood City Halls.” These halls are in several convenient neighborhood locations, and allow residents to meet with city council members, talk to representatives of the city police, inspection, and health departments, enroll in parks and recreation programs, and get assistance with issues like trash, loose dogs, and dangerous structures.6

The City of Gardner has also taken action to improve municipal services. Each year, the City conducts a citizen survey to see which services its residents are satisfied with and which it needs to improve. This survey provides a comprehensive overview of the quality of municipal services, and is an important tool in its resource-allocation decisions. By providing tools that respond to citizens’ service demands, Gardner and Wichita have increased their residents’ trust in their local governments.

Any municipality trying to gain the trust of its residents needs to remember that trust can only be built up over time, and that any initiative requires the involvement of both parties. Whether that means creating volunteer opportunities, educating residents about how local governments work, staffing centers to respond to service requests, or simply asking residents how they feel about their community, trust can only be established by creating tools for residents to interact with the local government. Once that happens, the city and its residents can work together as a team to build great a community.

Michael Koss a student in the KU MPA program and serves as the Membership Services Manager for the League of Kansas Municipalities. He can be reached at mkoss@lkm.org or (785) 354-9565.

1 http://www.gallup.com/poll/1597/confidence-institutions.aspx
2 Sofie Marien and Marc Hooghe, Does political trust matter?, European Journal of Political Research, Volume 50, Issue 2 (March 2011).
3 http://www.vanderbilt.edu/lapop/insights/I0835en.pdf
4 http://www.vanderbilt.edu/lapop/insights/I0835en.pdf
5 http://igitur-archive.library.uu.nl/USBO/2010-0127-200123/Grimmelikhuijsen.pdf
6 http://www.vanderbilt.edu/lapop/insights/I0835en.pdf