MILLENNIALS REINVENTING GOVERNMENT . . . FROM THE INSIDE OUT
This blog article is NOT about politics, or about reinventing government politically (from the outside in). It’s also NOT about state or federal government administration.
Plus, I’m NOT going to be reading the report card of Baby Boomers who have been in charge of government administration during the last 50+ years.
No, this blog is about Millennials and the opportunities they have to take over where Baby Boomers left off to improve local government. Whether it’s at the City, County or Special District level, I’m going to talk about respecting politics and the Administration dichotomy while making positive change in municipal organizations from the inside out.
These are three main points I will discuss to explain how Millennials can reinvent government, to effect change specifically in local government:
1. Baby Boomers had their ride. Scoot over baby − it’s Millennial’s turn.
2. Entrepreneurial spirit can re-energize government organizations.
3. Need for “professional” re-engineering government has never been greater.
I – SCOOT OVER BABY (BOOMERS) ─ IT’S THE MILLENNIAL’S TURN
By age 55, most municipal employees have retired from local government, leaving behind management and leadership positions for the new generation we call “Millennials”.
So, this blog article is written for Millennials − the guys and gals who may already be holding leadership positions in local government. But wait! A lot of Millennials aren’t that young anymore. Sorry, but by most definitions, Millennials were born after 1980, which means many of you are now 40 years old. Millennials have lived through a lot. You saw firsthand the DOT.COM bust. You’ve lived through Y2k (remember that?). You were likely working in local government when the 9/11 tragedy happened. You worked through the Great Recession of 2008/2009. And now, in 2020, you’re witnessing and having to manage and lead through the COVID-19 pandemic − unprecedented times, aren’t they?
MILLENIALS DON’T ADOPT THE FEARS OF BABY BOOMERS
This is YOUR time! Be yourself and don’t act like a Baby Boomer. As Millennials, you have your own mission, value, and vision for the future life you want for yourself and your children.
You’ve been handed the baton and are at the helm of many different government departments and agencies − ships in the armada up any one of the 100,000 local government organizations across America. Of these 100,000 municipal organizations, about 20,000 make up the incorporated City organizations throughout the country where many Millenials are working and will make their careers.
My dear Millennials, you have another 20+ years to work in local government organizations. Leave your footprints on the earth and the digital domain, to show you made a difference in the world. And you have so much work to do!
POLITICS – ADMINISTRATION DICHOTOMY
Remember in our last CitySpeak blog podcast we talked about how the dichotomy, or separation, between politics and administration needs to be respected? Basically, municipal employees need to stay out of the politics (the guerilla cage) and stay inside the administration − that is, from the level of City Manager / CAO and below.
I urge you to: Insist on thorough discussion of organizational issues! Insist on thorough analysis of management proposals! Insist on inclusionary consideration of public policy issues! Furthermore, keep insisting to advance transparency and accountability at all levels of your municipal organization!
Continue championing transparency and accountability until the City Manager or the top administrative manager tells you that they’ve heard you. Even if the Governing Body (i.e., City Council, Board of Directors, etc.) has already decided to go in a different direction, you’ve made your voice heard.
Think about the scene in the 1982 movie The Man from Snowy River where the Harrison’s Ranch boss tells Jim Craig, “I don’t make the orders, but when I give them, that’s the end of it”! Just like in the movie, as municipal employees we must accept it when the City Manager (or other top executive) tells you, “I don’t make the orders (of the Governing Body), but when I give them, that’s the end of it”.
As Millennials in positions of authority, it’s your responsibility to keep upholding and advancing best practices in local government. But, do this ONLY within the professional side of the Politics – Administration Dichotomy. Never venture into the guerilla cage of the elected officials. Municipal employees must stay out of politics!
MILLENNIALS CAN CHANGE GOVERNMENT FROM THE INSIDE OUT
Politicians can and do make change in local government − change from the outside in. However, their ability to make change this way is limited. This is because they are usually elected for limited terms and are subject to powerful interests that can influence even elected officials with the best intentions.
Municipal employees who hold management and leadership positions are in a unique position to effect more meaningful change from the inside out, through effective administrative decisions.
STATUS QUO – NEW PARADIGMS FOR MILLENNIALS
Are you currently being forced to abide by the status quo in your organization? If you’ve been in local government for any length of time, you’ve likely become familiar with the bias toward the status quo.
Local governments, and government in general, have traditionally held fast to this thinking. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and “it’s the way we’ve always done it here” are typical comments you’ll hear from the Baby Boomers and long-time government employees you’ll meet during your career. Expect to face resistance if you want to make a difference.
For example, one City Manager I worked with did not appreciate the “progressive” management ideas I was learning in my MPA program. He said to me in a loud voice, “John, why don’t you practice your paradigm shifts somewhere else! That is not the way we do things around here!”
I have been one who respects the chain of command, and I firmly believe that municipal employees should stay out of politics. However, within the realm of Administration, by all means Millennial public administrators should practice their craft as municipal employees seeking to improve local government.
It’s risky business, and you may have to “risk your neck” as my MPA professors warned me, but it’s worth the effort. We were put on this earth to make a difference in our world. And, if we learn the rules of our craft as public administrators, we can champion change that will improve the quality of life for all community stakeholders and the efficiency and effectiveness of the municipal organizations that serve them.
During my 30 years in City government organizations, I had to face managers who hid behind the “we’re a government, we can’t make those changes” mantra. Most times when I made innovative recommendations to improve operations in my City, I often faced responses like these.
Even when fairness was at stake, like when DUI collections were unevenly or illegally collected with racial bias, the City Attorney as well would drop the legal bomb on me and say in a loud voice, “It’s the law John!”
TIME HAS COME FOR MILLENNIALS
We Baby Boomers were the “yes sir” generation. I have to admit, many of us were raised with spankings if we talked back to our parents or elders. Baby Boomers often learned respect for people in authority, including teachers and law enforcement, through fear. On the other hand, Millennials were raised differently and are more comfortable challenging authority when needed – and, that’s a good thing!
This is why I believe Millennials can be the generation that makes positive change within our local government organizations. They’re not afraid of speaking up when they see something that they feel is wrong. They may be criticized for doing this when working in local government, but this is unlikely to stop them since Millennials are motivated differently than Baby Boomers.
So, what I’m saying to Millennials is stick to your guns, follow your True North. We need your fresh perspective to fix much of the mess that we Baby Boomers left behind.
You can do it! The few Baby Boomers that are still trying to hold on to 20th Century solutions to 21st Century issues will be gone soon. Hang in there Millennials and keep upholding best practices to improve local government!
II – ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT CAN RE-ENERGIZE GOVERNMENT
Governments rely on their ability to be responsive to the needs of the people that they serve. Their entire reason for being is to represent the wishes of the population and provide sound responsible government to communities. Having said that, local government institutions, like other complex organizations, can become set in their ways and sluggish in their ability to offer needed services in a manner that best meets stakeholder expectations. How may times have you heard politicians running on a platform of cutting red tape? It’s not uncommon for these aspiring government leaders to be business owners.
To keep local City or county governments relevant, an entrepreneurial spirit is needed. Millenials, be ready to invest “sweat equity” to realize change. City managers and other officials must be open to new ideas, new ways of doing things, clever plans to provide services and progressive thinking. Enter the Millennial generation. These young people were raised with a lot of technology and innovation. Therefore, creativity is one of the strengths and traits of these folks. From the moment they could push a button or use a keyboard, Millennials have had amazing tools at their fingertips.
With computers at home and in the classroom and having access to smart phones and tables, this younger generation has quickly learned to use technology for education and entertainment. As a result, they’re extremely comfortable with navigating new technology and experimenting with what it can do.
The growth of the internet and the absolute explosion of online platforms, including social media, has exposed Millennials to an incredible variety of instructional and cultural experiences. They’re energized by what they see others doing and eager to innovate themselves. The ability to quickly share information and collaborate online has opened their eyes to endless possibilities and synergies. In turn, they’ve developed a can-do attitude and are ready to bring this energy to their positions in local government.
Entrepreneurial government is an important topic I will bring back to CitySpeak as a special episode, however, for now, it is important for Millenials to recognize its value, especially through the use of their technology.
III – NEED IS GREAT FOR RE-ENGINEERING GOVERNMENT
Re-engineering is not just for the P.E. math nerds who design bridges and other structures. Governments require ongoing re-engineering too. Communities evolve as population demographics shift. New industry might come to the city, bringing with it new housing developments and need for more infrastructure, schools, medical offices and shopping centers. This means local government services have to change to meet these demands and that’s were innovative re-engineering comes into play.
In addition, immigration patterns can readily alter cities and neighborhoods. This is especially true in larger counties and cities where there is a greater influx of new people. For Los Angeles County, for instance, with over 10 million residents, continually re-engineering government to address the changing needs of its residents is critical.
Over time, government statues and regulations also change. Whether it’s national or state laws, these can impact local governments with new requirements. When different procedures are introduced as a result, good local government must be maintained and this means innovating for what works best.
As Millennial public administrators who lead and manage our local government organizations, they can bring their academic and practical experience to re-engineer government. Working together, we can improve service delivery and make it as efficient and effective as possible for stakeholders in the communities served by our municipality.
City Managers and other municipal executives who are good at their jobs and are forward-thinking will recognize where re-engineering local municipal operations can produce the most benefit. These are the leaders who will be able to support successive Mayors and City Councils with invaluable advice while respecting the boundaries of their positions. They are also the leaders who will attract important Millennial talent. Having well-qualified City employees who build a career working for local government is key to identifying opportunities for re-engineering and implementing change.
In conclusion, with the important task of continually re-engineering local government to meet the needs of the communities who rely on us, having Millennials in our workforce is a definite asset.
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