Thoughts about business and economic development in rural areas.


January 2009
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Archive for January, 2009

This isn’t your last job.

I haven’t directly managed large paid staff in any of the positions I have ever held. But in several positions I was responsible for the hiring, managing and day-to-day care and feeding of one or two paid staff members. Sometimes I was paying them out of my own pocket and sometimes the organization I was part of was their official employer. That particular distinction never mattered.

In looking back I find there was one thing I did that had a tremendous impact and was in effect the best management technique I ever used, although I don’t think I ever actually thought about my actions in terms of ‘management techniques’ and this process did evolve over time.

Basically it worked like this. Shortly after each new person started with me I had a one-on-one discussion with them. I started by informing them that this would not be the last job they would have in their career. No, I wasn’t already planning on firing them. In fact just the opposite was true. At some time in the future I was hoping that they would have the opportunity to ‘fire’ me. I made it clear to them that I wanted them to grow during the time we worked together. I wanted them to develop their skills to the point that other businesses would be knocking down their door with offers of better and even more challenging opportunities in the future. I not only encouraged them to reach for their next career opportunity, I offered to help them do so from day one. 

I also wanted to stress to them that this position they were starting was going to be exciting, fun, challenging, rewarding, somewhat unpredictable and more of an adventure than a job. This wasn’t a dead-end job. This was a pathway to ‘somewhere’.

I asked them to think about ways they could use this job to develop their skills. We always had a training budget and I told them that it was their responsibility to bring me ideas on classes they would like to take or conferences they would like to attend on our nickel. There were some guidelines as well. I asked them to just show me how this would also benefit our current situation and I would find a way to say yes. If you want to finish your degree in another field that might not be appropriate.

I ended by giving them some homework. I asked them to write down what they wanted to be when they grew up and to write how they could use this current position to help make that happen. I asked them to think about what they wanted from this position. They had to return that document to me within a week and I then kept it in my top desk drawer.

Bottom line is this. I had the opportunity to work with some of the finest, most talented, creative and motivated individuals one could hope to be associated with. Every one of them made me look better than I ever had a right to deserve and every one of them grew during the time we worked together. And every one of them went on to new opportunities.

And to this day, none of them has had their last job.  

They don’t live here anymore!

I’ve dealt with the subject of people moving and the impact it is having on our communities before but something that happened the other night brought this back to mind. I was speaking at a chamber banquet to an audience of just over 100 people. I asked the question, “How many of you were born in this community?” About 10 hands went up. Just 10 hands! If I had it to do over again I would have changed the wording of the question a little bit to, “How many of you were raised within 15 miles of this community?” There might have been a better test. After all, the technical answer to where you were born might not have anything to do with where you consider your ‘roots’ to be. For example, I was born in Green Bay, but was likely only there for a few days. I was raised near Rock Springs.

Even though I could have asked a better question, I doubt that the result would have been significantly different. It’s a fact. The vast MAJORITY of everyone who is part of your community today were not raised there. Don’t believe me? If you’re one of those folks who live in the community you were raised in get a copy of the mailing list for your last high school reunion. Told you!

And why is that important? Well in this community’s case there are several significant issues that literally haunt them today that go back generations. And you know what. When you get down to the guts of it many of those issues are only really important to the folks who were raised there. The new folks, well let’s just say they are very likely to have a different viewpoint.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “How many decisions are we making based on who we used to be instead of who we really are today.” 

The buildings might be the same…but the people in them are vastly different. Now what do you think makes up a ‘community’? The buildings…or the people?

And the people you went to high school with, they don’t live here anymore!