I just realized that it has been a few months since my last post. I miss gathering my thoughts and sharing them. The fact of the matter is that I was busy affecting change in the organization. It was not easy but it was necessary.
The corporation of the District of Lake Country was created in 1995 and the main concern in the first few years since its ‘birth’ was to ‘learn’ its place and role in the community. Then there was the economic boom and the organization was busy handling and managing tremendous growth, in fact the fastest in British Columbia for a municipality its size. In all this, both Council and the Administration had no choice but to react to circumstances and new realities because the organization was still growing, and, in the process, learning its way through.
When I arrived in Lake Country at the end of 2009, I decided, in accordance with Council, to take the organization to the next step in order to go, as Stephen Covey suggests in his bestselling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, from being reactive to being proactive. The first action was to set a vision and prioritize goals in order to accomplish that vision. Then it was time to focus on the priorities and observe how the organization would respond to the solicitation to change from a reactive state of doing business to a very proactive one. The process was very revealing and it became clear that the organization needed to be realigned to fulfill its newly established vision. The process to ‘reorganize’ began in May 2011. I personally interviewed all staff members and then Council gave the official green light to do a full Business Systems Review of the District. Mainly, the review brought to light that:
- Money is needed to fill the infrastructure needs of the community;
- The organizational structure was out of balance and needed to be changed; and
- The development application process is convoluted and needs to be streamlined and simplified.
There are also other things like the cost of our contracts with service providers, including other government agencies, and investment attraction to Lake Country. But we will address the three main issues first and work on the others as soon as progress is made.
The first two items are certainly related. The strategy is to lighten operational costs and apply the savings against needed capital projects. The immediate step was to reorganize the various departments and cut positions. We went from 7 departments to 5 and we had to cut three management and six union positions. This is an overall cut of almost 14% of our work force.
New development application guidelines are being prepared and Council asked me to review other suggestions and make more recommendations in the next few weeks.
There are some leadership lessons that were learned. Not that I had not known them before, but the District was not really used to them and individuals are still trying to figure them out.
The most evident is that people understand change but are reluctant to embrace it especially when it affects them directly. In our case, the majority of the staff members I interviewed recognized that change was overdue in many ways, including in the numbers of people working for our organization. However, and although changes were communicated very clearly and often, staff felt upset and, in some cases, devastated by what was happening. I call this the “Who Moved My Cheese?” syndrome.
In his book by the same title, Dr. Spencer Johnson tells the tale of two mice, Sniff and Scurry, and two “Littlepeople”, Hem and Haw, who live in a “Maze” and look for “Cheese” to nourish them and make them happy. “Cheese” is a metaphor for what is wanted in life – a good job, a loving relationship, a possession, health, etc. – and the “Maze” is where we look for what we want – the organization we work in, or the family or community we live in. In the story the characters are faced with unexpected change. Eventually, one of them deals with it successfully because he looks for new cheese and by trial and error he finds it. He writes what he learns through the process, which, if applied, helps individuals how to deal with change, enjoy less stress and more success (however we define it) at work and in our lives. I really recommend everyone read this book. It is an easy read but very profound in the concepts delivered.
What I found is that people don’t like change because it makes them go out of their comfort zone. But it’s a false assumption. There is no comfort zone. It is a creation of our mind that is naturally developed to stifle conflict, which creates tension. The actual reality is that change is constant. We change by the minute. Although we may feel we have a routine and we like to stick to it, the reality is that the routine is only a guideline and it varies as things happen around us. Our physical structure and appearance also changes all the time. We may think we are the same person we were 20 or 30 years ago but in reality we are not, we just need to take a look at a picture of ourselves 20 or 30 years ago and then look at ourselves in a mirror. The same can be said for the natural and social environments, both globally and locally.
So what is the only stable thing for the District of Lake Country? Simple: change is and will be the norm. We will continue to accept and foster change as part of our business modus operandi. We will continue to challenge ourselves and even our policies to bring the best to and into the community. Finally, we will become the community of choice for those who want to live, play, invest and work in a progressive and yet protective and protected environment where the value of the beauty we have will be joined by vibrancy and prosperity.