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Transparency: A Tale of Three Cities

Although the GFOA (Government Finance Officers Association) Conference is more than a week behind us, I got a chance this week to reflect on my notes.  In addition to the How to Measure a High Performing Finance Office session that I blogged about last week, I attended another powerful session on transparency.  The panelists represented small, medium, and large municipalities which provided an interesting perspective of how resources may vary, but impact on citizens remained top priority.

The City of Sunrise, AZ offers their citizens a “closer look at the city’s books” with a portal called “It’s Your Money“.  Dig into this site and you’ll find easy to access information about all expenditures per department.  And as media requests for salary information remain one of the top FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) inquiries, it makes sense that Surprise puts the information out there instead of spending administrative hours per individual request.

The City of Jackson, MS is embracing open data and the idea that it can be used to create a sense of community.  Check out the JackStats site to learn about downtown development, employment opportunities and financial stability to name a few.  It not only provides the data and dollars spent, but it shows the status of the goal and if it was achieved.  An “open book” allows citizens to feel more engaged and part of the solution.

The City of Los Angeles, CA is striving to meet aggressive open data goals and even open checkbook objectives. Their payroll department alone oversees the pay of 45,000 employees.  And if you want to peruse through this information you just visit the Payroll Explorer website.

Their stats across all facets of the city are fascinating and dive into areas you wouldn’t even think of on your own.  Did you know that their data shows that UPS and FedEx are the top two offenders for parking tickets?  I know, that’s not surprising, I mean how else are they going to get us our packages on time? However, when they looked at the data even closer they were able to determine that this is equivalent to needing 12 Full Time Employees just to manage the parking tickets for these two companies.

Transparency plays a pivotal role in our lives.  The more information we have about our community and surroundings, the better we can advocate for what we need.  And cities can respond with data-driven decisions.

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Tales of Innovation in Government Finance

Just got back from Denver where I attended the 111th Annual GFOA Conference.  Wow, we’ve come a long way in 111 years!  What I love most about attending this event are the stories of innovation that inspire and motivate other communities to want to do more for their citizens.  As I mapped out my agenda of sessions that I wanted to attend, topics like transparency, ROI, engagement strategy, and ERP looked promising.

Naturally, I was looking for some sessions that focused on the workforce and I found it in a session called “How to Measure a High Performing Finance Office”.  This session was so crowded that I had to sit on the floor for the whole hour and a half.  But it was worth it.  Great speakers, interesting perspectives, and very informative.  Brendan Hanlon, CFO at the City & County of Denver kicked things off by addressing data and how it impacts performance management.  He advises to not just look at the data, but look for ways to improve performance.

Denver uses a Business Intelligence (BI) tool to help create dashboards to report and measure using data from different departments.  For example, he showed a chart depicting paychecks issued through direct deposit and those issued with an actual check.  The goal is defined; Get more people using direct deposit.  They use the data they had to measure the progress made over the past couple of years.

The next speaker, Judith Marte, CFO at Miami-Dade County Schools, came in talking about sustainability (and not the “green” kind).  No, this is the sustainability that goes hand-in-hand with succession planning.  Very early in her presentation, she said “I want to have a staff who can function without me.”  That statement can take anyone aback when they first hear it, but what she meant was she should not be the only one who can do her job.  She must have successors who could easily step in should she leave or retire.  She goes on to give advice about looking for “non-traditional” candidates and taking the inexperienced and training them.

To wrap up the session was the City of Madison Finance Director, David Schmiedicke.  David approached the topic of performance by speaking to cross training your employees to address areas with the greatest need and pair up with mentors as needed. He also made an interesting point about turn-over being an opportunity.  That it brings in new people who might have different skill sets and be willing to more freely embrace web-based solutions.

Overall, the theme of measuring and developing your workforce rang loud and clear.  The speakers set a good example of how to engage your employees by providing opportunities to enhance skill sets, grow personally and professionally, and feedback to understand the value they bring to the community.  Your employees are your single greatest asset and these leaders know how to treat them right.

 

 

A History Lesson in Public Pensions

Whether you love them or hate them, pensions have given employers a way to put money aside for their employees’ retirement for ages.  With so much media attention on the negative consequences of public pensions, it’s important to be educated on the history of pensions to keep an open mind about the pros and cons.  Pension reform is happening across the country, but how did we get to this point in the first place?

There is evidence that the earliest retirement plans can be found in the public sector, dating as far back as the early Roman Empire. Fast forward to the 18th century in the United States of America.  The Army and Navy began their pension plans as disability and severance pay, but by the 1800’s these turned into more formal retirement plans with Congress approved criteria. The Civil War had a major impact on military pensions with the imminent need of officers, soldiers, and other personnel to support the battles.

By the 1900’s states and local government began adopting defined benefit plans to offer to its employees.  What began primarily with just public school teachers, police, and fire quickly spread into state government.  Federal Government came into the picture with the Civil Service Retirement Act of 1920 after the end of World War I.  And the private sector was also getting into the mix at this time. Companies like General Electric, Goodyear Tire, and Eastman Kodak were offering pensions to their workforce.

As we reached the end of the twentieth century, the funding of pensions began creating a major drain on public budgets and resources.  Though in theory, these plans were supposed to be pre-funded to avoid any pay-out issues, it just wasn’t feasible.  Our government, in the early 1900’s, did not predict the mass exodus of baby boomers, people actually living longer, and the volatility of the market/economy.

States and localities are taking serious measures to reform pensions, but many employees are still grandfathered into very lucrative pensions so we won’t begin seeing the real benefits of reform for some time.  Employers are responsible to incorporate visibility measures into overtime, and other accepted compensation that increases pension pay-outs, to ensure there isn’t misconduct on the part of the employee.  Too much overtime is not only costly, but can result in fatigue issues which poses its own set of problems in itself.

The landscape of pensions has certainly changed since the inception of our country.  Pensions provided employers with a way to recruit and retain workers and for a while that made sense.  But longevity at one organization is becoming scarce as employees want to move up the career ladder and realize moving to another organization is the only way to accomplish that.  This is an opportunity for public sector to rethink benefits and look for ways to make good use of the limited time an employee will be there as pensions are no longer a lure.

 

A Shout-Out to our Public Servants

Public Service Recognition Week is upon us again.  The time of year to reflect on all the big (and little) ways government employees have supported our community.   There are so many people out there trying to make a difference.  Every meaningful act impacts our daily lives sometimes without even realizing it.  I am fortunate to live in a great community.  Just 40 minutes northwest of Boston.

On a typical day in my neighborhood I might see the van to pick up my elderly neighbor and bring him to the Senior Center.  Without that service he’d be stuck in the house with little interaction to the outside world.  As I drive by the park, I might see the Dept of Public Works out maintaining the soccer fields or assessing land for a new sidewalk.  Without this service, the safety of our children are at stake.  Speaking of children, I have two in the public school system.  They care for my children’s individual needs and challenge them in a way I could never do by myself.  Without them, our future wouldn’t look as bright.

This weekend our town will have it’s annual Apple Blossom Parade.  I feel a sense of pride when I attend this every year.  It brings the whole community together and, honestly, without the assistance of our town’s great employees I can’t imagine it being a success.  The children’s faces light up when the police cars and fire trucks roll down the street blaring their sirens.  They crack up when they see what silly theme the library staff will dress up as this year (last year it was Minions).  They chase after candy thrown into the crowd by town officials.   And they dance to the sounds of the high school marching band.

Take a moment to reflect on the endless ways those who serve the public make our lives a little better.  It starts as soon as you walk out the door.

 

The Dangers of Connectivity

Let’s face it, the work culture has evolved and technology is the responsible party.  Older generations could have never imagined we would be so accessible to so many people after the work day is through.  Even if you were “on-call” it was still only one person who could get in touch with you.  So, what makes us compelled to respond to calls or emails during our personal time.  Is it pressure?  Or is it a great benefit?

I started my career at a telecommunications company.  It was before smartphones, but not before laptops and cell phones.  Suffice to say, I was in an environment that was conducive to bringing work home with you.  I saw this as a benefit.  It provided some flexibility to my work/life balance.  But there is another side to always being connected.

Employers are beginning to look at the effects of after hour work.   Flexibility is a benefit, but to what extent.  Balance will play a crucial role in how we look at this in the future.  France has gone as far as implementing a “right to disconnect” law all in an effort to reduce stress caused by staying connected.  There may not be one right (or wrong) solution to this problem.

Public Service: Is it still a career choice?

As younger generations contemplate what their career paths will look like, public service still remains an area of interest for many college students.  But what does a career path for someone just entering the job market look like?  Author Gayle Cinquegrani wrote an article recently for Bloomberg BNA describing the new modern worker.  This persona values happiness and career development when considering their job or career choice.

The article, Workers are More Willing to Change Jobs, points out that millennials in particular who don’t find what those values they are looking for, are willing to leave to in pursuit of what really motivates them.  So how do public employers embrace this new way of thinking?  What can they do to continue to encourage careers in public service while adapting to a changing culture?

The answer requires each agency to look at their current retention strategies and will likely be different for everyone.  According to the paper, Understanding Millennials in Government, written by Peter Viechnicki of Deloitte Services, LP, governments should consider some strategies not geared towards generations, but rather lifetime milestones such as buying a car or starting a family.  There are also particular benefits that may attract younger employees like student loan repayment assistance programs.

In reality, committing to a lifelong career in public service is probably not what employees fresh out of college are prepared to do.  Viechnicki goes on to say “governments may wish to develop different recruiting and career progression strategies, which allow them [Millennials with specific skill sets] to perform public service for shorter but still meaningful stints.”  In other words, it’s better to have them for some time rather than not at all. This is where having a succession strategy or knowledge transfer plan would come into play.

Compensation among the Generations

Compensation means many things to many people.  What motivates people to want to work for the public sector, or any job really, is in the eye of the beholder.  It’s a quandary HR Managers everywhere are facing.  Some have taken a look at this by generation which seems to give a pretty accurate picture of the wants and needs of employees in different age brackets.  Although we know money is a motivator for most, there is more to compensation than just a pay check.  What drives employees to say yes to one job and no to another?  The four prominent generations in the workforce all say something a little different when it comes to compensation.

Millennials are the most talked about generation these days mainly due to the fact they are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce.  Since the average Millennial graduate is $24K in debt, money is a driver and health benefits are a must. However, they also put a high value on learning new skills because it makes them more valuable.  They may be skeptical about ever seeing a pension, or Social Security for that matter, so benefits that give them options to invest in their future are appealing. 

The Gen Xers consider themselves “stuck in the middle” between two behemoth generations according to a study done by the Pew Research Center; like being the middle child. They generally have a lot going on in their lives between children and/or aging parents and desire that work-life balance to help them keep their sanity. This could be in the form of flexible work schedules, adequate time-off policies, and easy access to amenities to support their well-being. 

Baby Boomers have begun exiting the workforce, but not as fast as it was originally anticipated mostly due to the 2008 Recession.  This generation is loyal and could potentially be convinced to stay on even if it’s a part-time or contractor role.  Like the Gen Xers, pay and flexible hours will be an incentive. It’s a way for them to continue to keep some cash flow going and still spend time doing things they would if they were retired.  Many will qualify for Medicare so health benefits aren’t always necessary.

While Traditionalists are technically past retirement age, some are still employed.  They typically feel a pride in what they do and want to continue making a difference.  Respect is a value this generation takes seriously. Though it isn’t necessarily something you can compensate on, there are ways to show respect with a reward like a plaque or gift. 

Public Service is an honorable career.  Employees, regardless of their generation, take pride in adding value in their workplace and community.  A salary and benefits provides employees with a means to function in their day-to-day life, but there’s nothing like that feeling you get when someone pats you on the back and says “You Made a Difference”.