Budget, Performance and Keeping Your Job

The Story

I was watching the news the other day and they were interviewing a school superintendent who was speaking about a new school that they paid $1.3 million to build but was going unused because the district lacked the budget to staff the school.  The reporter asked the superintendent for a solution to the problem and the superintendent answered that the solution was for the economy to improve so that the State could provide the district with more tax dollars so they could hire a staff.  Now there’s a guy who just doesn’t get it and probably never will unless he takes a hard look at himself and accepts some leadership responsibility.

If the man was a thoughtful leader who looked to himself first when things go wrong he would have admitted that he unwisely planned on money that was beyond his sphere of influence and that the dip in the economy is nothing new – his budget shortfall was completely predictable and that he should have had a contingency plan in place.  So how does this relate to policing?  It is perfectly analogous – both school districts and police departments are public service entities dependent on tax dollars for survival. Today it was announced that 39 thousand public sector jobs were cut in the last month and we all know of Departments that are laying off.

What does this mean?

When we rely on federal and state tax dollars over which we have no control and we fail to do contingency planning we set ourselves up for failure.  Our sphere of influence is related only to our local tax base and our contribution to the success of our communities.  Success in the form of a healthy tax base means a vibrant community that enjoys a great quality of life.  While the police are not the only factor in quality of life (schools and jobs being the other big factors) we certainly have a lot to do with it.  In terms of performance measures, the perception of quality of life for our employers (taxpayers) is key.  Reported crime rates and quality of life are not necessarily the same thing.  Departments who ignore this reality do so at their peril.  The customer chooses another Department’s services with their feet and your budget shrinks.  Even public sector organizations need to be concerned with customer satisfaction when viewed from the need to compete with other municipalities in a challenging economy.

What to do?

At the line and direct levels of our organizations we need to be aware of the nexus between the community’s perceived quality of life and the security of our jobs.  I have never heard of any agency that began layoffs with the command staff rather than cutting at the junior levels.  These are your jobs that are being lost.  This is not to say that you are going to make everyone happy – in fact many times you won’t make anyone happy.  What it does mean is that we have to do our jobs professionally, treating people with respect, demonstrating equity and explaining when we can.  We don’t like it when our leaders give us orders without giving us a window into their purpose and motivation.  The community views us through the same place and we need to be concerned about their collective evaluation of our contribution to their quality of life.  Its your job or your promotion that is on the line.

At the organizational level we have a responsibility to lead our environment.  We are part of open organizations which means that we are dependent on outside resources.  We need to constantly evaluate the availability of those resources and have a plan for ensuring that our organizations are properly funded.  Relying on sources beyond our sphere of influence (State and Federal) is foolhardy.  We need to have contingency plans to ensure that the failure of these funding sources does not cripple us.  We need to ensure that we are contributing to the perceived quality of life for our customers to promote the health of our local tax base.  Performance measures need to be congruent with this goal – and this may mean that reported crime rates are not the be all, end all.

Today’s economy has brought home the truth we should have known all along.  We are all in competition to provide the type of quality of life for our customers that encourages them to live in our communities and provide their hard earned dollars to support us.

I am interested in knowing how the economy is effecting your organization and what steps your leadership has taken to ensure your survival.

As always THANK YOU for what you do and BE SAFE!


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