Let’s get real. Sometimes your job sucks.
Micromanaging Council members, misaligned staff, rowdy residents – tiptoeing your way through the nuance and politics takes commitment and skill. Add in the increased demands for transparency and information, polarized opinions, and passions that border on fury and it boils down to the cold truth: your job is harder than it used to be.
So, as a local government leader, how do you move your community forward and hopefully keep your job? One word: communication.
It may not be the only answer, but it’s a critical piece of the solution. As a leader, you should constantly be communicating with your three core audiences: your Council, your staff, and your community.
Here are a few quick tips for successful communications:
7-10 am: Get Micromanaged by a Councilmember (over a casual coffee)
10-11 am: Put out staff fires (plural)
11:15-17 am: Enjoy an angry rant from citizen on way to lunch
1. YOUR COUNCIL
- No surprises. Council members don’t like to learn new information from the person they ran into at the grocery store.
- Find the right depth. Council needs enough information to make decisions, but not so much that it’s overwhelming.
- Embrace Switzerland. Although we often have personal opinions, your job is to provide the information needed for decision-making and offer your professional opinion.
- One on one’s are worth the time. If you’re not already meeting one-on-one with each of your elected on a regular basis, start now. This provides a chance for you to hear concerns, suggestions, and compliments that might not be aired in a more public setting.
- Mayor’s matter. Even in communities that do not have a strong Mayor system, a respectful and productive relationship with your Mayor is critical.
- Beware of the vacuum. Are you suddenly hearing crickets every time you reach out to your Council? Unreturned calls? Unresponsive via email? That’s a warning sign that you’re no longer communicating effectively.
2. YOUR Staff
- Share news with your staff before you tell your residents. It shows respect.
- Create champions. Generate excitement and pride among employees and turn them into your best communication tool.
- Give them the right tools. Your staff can’t be expected to remember the key details of every project. Provide them with fact sheets, web pages, and other resources to help them stay informed.
- Prioritize face time. Just as it’s important to sit down with your electeds, it’s equally important to prioritize face time with your staff. Meeting in person demonstrates your recognition of the important role they play and it provides a necessary venue for two-way communications.
3. YOUR COMMUNITY
- Simplify. We live in a world of short attention spans. Get to the point.
- Use visual communication. Visuals are processed 60K times faster than text. Plus:
- Invest in your website. Even in the world of social media, your website is still you number one communication tool. And for God’s sake, make it mobile friendly.
- Get social. This one goes without saying. Meeting people where they are is a critical communication and engagement strategy. It’s time to treat and prioritize social media as the legitimate tool that it is, not as a necessary evil.
- Show some respect. When you produce and distribute half-hearted materials packed with sloppy language and clip art, you’re essentially telling your community “I don’t care.” Invest time and resources in quality.
- Share the good and the bad. It’s easy to talk about what went well, but it's equally as important to share what didn't go as planned.
- Tell a good story. People will forget statistics and data, but they never forget a good story. Stories bring issues to life.
4. Verbal Communications
So much of what you do on a daily basis comes down to how you communicate in person. Whether a one-on-one conversation or a presentation to hundreds of community members, verbal communication matters. Many of us have been around long enough that I’d bet we all think we’re pretty good at it, but I’m here to tell you that we could all use a little practice.
Resources to Help
Orai – a simple and fun app that aims to give people the confidence and skills to speak more powerfully. Orai uses artificial intelligence to offer instant insights so that you can practice and improve: click here.
- Inc.’s 6 Apps That Will Turn You Into an Expert Public Speaker. Apps to help you practice based on your weaknesses: click here.
- GovLoop Online Resources – The good people at GovLoop pulled together a great list of online public speaking courses: click here.
And one more thing, your job is hard, but don’t forget that it’s worth it, and just as importantly, it’s appreciated.