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Well welcome everybody. Welcome to LeaderGov's podcast. We're certainly glad to have you with us today. And I hope that you're doing well. This podcast is being recorded in the middle of the Coronavirus epidemic, what I guess is the middle, maybe we don't know what the middle is. But we're in it nonetheless. And so we're glad you could join us. Our purpose in these podcasts is to really equip and edify and build up and support local government leaders with best practices from others from their peers and local government. So today, we have a great guest, a friend, I would say as well. Troy bus edge from Sugar Hill, Georgia, He's the assistant city manager of Sugar Hill, GA, so please. I was gonna say, welcome, Troy Besseche. Troy- Nice to have you.
Thank you very much.
Yeah. Good, good. Good for you to I'm glad you're here, man. It's I have seen you a lot in local government here in Georgia and have, we've met a few times. And I've really appreciated your approach to what you do. And y'all have such a great thing going on. And Sugar Hill is such a cool little town, would you mind just sharing just a minute about where Sugar Hill what it's what y'all are doing? What sort of transformed in the last couple of years here?
Certainly, just by way of background as well, I've been in local government for 24 years. Now, it doesn't seem like that long. But it's, it's been it's been very rewarding. I will say having worked in smaller cities, I've gotten to experience a great number of elements of local government. And some of the things that attracted me to public service. Work was the different experiences that one has the interaction with the public, the challenges that you face on a daily basis, and problem solving. So from a personal side, that I find rewarding, from a professional side with a background in civil engineering, I love problem solving. And it's something that faces you every day, at the local government level. As it relates to engineering planning, laying land use. One of the interesting challenges that drew me to Sugar Hill was a what I would like to call a blank canvas that I saw in their plans to redevelop their downtown. There wasn't much to speak of in the way of a downtown, there was a new highway project that was getting started to widen the adjacent highway. There was a new city hall building. And a plan for a large commercial, mixed use project that was meant to be a public private partnership, including a gymnasium, a theater and commercial space. When I started, I was asked to get that project going and underway. The vision had already been cast, I didn't get to participate so much in the vision part of it. But in the implementation part, it was it was a dream come true for those involved in local government being able to acquire property to get a construction contractor in place the plans for that construction, and be able to participate in a fantastic downtown building and placemaking exercise that a lot of us get to experience at a very high level and with little blocks and Lego people. But you don't get to see it from the ground up. So it was a I felt like it was a once in a lifetime experience. I know there are many local governments out there that are doing what we're doing. But this was a chance for me to participate in that from from the beginning. So that was my background. And what drew me to Sugar Hill, a little bit about what I do at Sugar Hill. Now that we've finished that project is I've gotten to participate in something that was a I guess a pivot in the middle of the project was we did not get a private set To partner. And so we are actually the landlord for 40,000 square feet of commercial and office space, I have had the opportunity, I'll say it that way to participate in negotiating leases with tenants, and then able to function in the capacity of the landlord and landlord representative with those tenants, a challenging task for someone that is not in real estate, nor have I had any kind of training in real estate. And it's challenged me to rely on some others that we've engaged to, to help me along the way. But it's been an interesting perspective on that is that experience, also manage other construction projects along the way along with public works, and, to a lesser extent public safety?
Well, it is, I always have found it interesting how diverse the opportunities are for local government leaders in terms of what they ended up getting involved in, that can be so far from whatever their core, maybe schooling was. Yet, when you come together and bring the right people on the team, you can tackle just about everything. So that's really encouraging to hear. I appreciate you sharing that. You know, today, Troy, we just wanted to ask a few questions around really, largely, I would say management type of topics. So the people that are listening to this podcast are city county managers, maybe Public Works, directors, city clerks, these kinds of folks, and others, could be a fire chief. And so we all have these sort of day to day management functions. And I wanted to ask you about really four areas, and just for a few minutes on each one was around setting goal setting. So it's sort of setting a clear, SMART goals. Another one about this whole topic of internal communication, how, how you keep your teams informed. Talk about customer service, just for a moment. And then lastly, sort of personality styles. And so as far as goal setting is goes, can you just share any sort of story or perspective that you would have on effective goal setting there at Sugar Hill, you know, one of the things that we have noticed is that oftentimes people get so overwhelmed by the day to day, the management of the day to day that they don't set big goals, or they let them fade out because they get overwhelmed by the day to day. So how do you all how do you all challenge each other to have big goals? And then how do you track them and pay attention to them?
I will say just from a planning and engineering perspective, there are compliance related constraints, I'll say, that force us to keep to a schedule. So those are probably the easy ones. And we all have them, regardless of whether it's public safety or management related, it's audit time, it's the end of the fiscal year. It's a regular recurring reporting requirements that you have to meet deadlines. So those are state imposed, those are largely easy ones to address. They are the urgent matters that require your attention. The challenge comes when you know there are important changes, projects, research that has to be done in order to either comply with certain requirements, or are ones that are going to benefit the organization in the long term. And those are the ones that you're talking about. So I'll get down to it here very quickly. And those are ones that require you to be ruthless with your planning process on a daily and weekly basis. For me that that takes the form of a weekly priority list. I am for those that have known me, I'm one of those types that have to have pen and paper. And for me that does two things. It helps me remember what I wrote down. And it's also something that is interactive and helps reinforce the content. For memories sake. There are some tools that I've seen use that to take advantage of technology and regardless of how you do it, it is is a regular occurrence that you have to get in the habit of doing in order to establish what those are. So those really addressed the task level, incremental steps along the way to your your goal achievement. As far as setting the goal itself, that's one of those times where, again, you have to be ruthless with blocking out an afternoon, or if it's a day, at a key point in in the schedule, where you can establish what those top three top five goals are for the next six months for the fiscal year for the calendar year, and identify what those are. And then from there, it's a matter of blocking out time as needed to fill in the framework of what those goals are. So if there are three to six, high level goals for 2021, you know, you're going into budget development season. And so if you haven't already, now would be that time to block out time to establish what those are long, long before you get to that point where it is necessary to have the details completed. So I would say that from a personal standpoint, and one that I've not really heard mentioned too frequently in presentations and training on the subject is being ruthless. I've used that three times now in my comments. And when it comes to how you treat yourself, it's important to do that to hold yourself responsible for your time your schedule, and make yourself do the things that you're not going to get to if you don't make yourself do it, because it's going to be the interruptions, it's going to be the daily fires that have to get put out. So those are some some initial thoughts is we've talked to this, or as I've talked about this subject, I'd like you, if you wouldn't mind bill to come around to the specifics that you want me to address. And I can do that.
Yeah, no, I, you're really probably hitting on one of the one of the more important points that I think you could cover. And so what came out is perfect. And that is this word ruthless. And what's underneath that it sounds like are a lot of potential distractions. And we say, the good gets in the way of the great, right, so we got a lot of good things, but what are those great things. So there's this prioritization, that sounds like you have to filter through. And then lastly, I would just the other an observation of what you're saying, it sounds like you're also implying that the delegation is important along the way, and that your team is your team skill level goes up, so you can delegate when appropriate. So you can focus on your two or three. But no, I think that, you know, the only only question I guess I would have is, how do you press into your team? So you have directors, I think reporting to you, how do you encourage them, equip them, inspire them? To set these very clear, kind of challenging goals? What's that process like?
That usually comes in the form of at least bi weekly interactions on an individual basis. And those are largely in person conversations. I think we've all become accustomed to technology, but I find that an email gets buried, the message gets, how should I say this? Not not so much watered down, but the tone with which the email is delivered, gets muddled. So either it comes across as being improperly phrased or, or the tone doesn't just get communicated. So and what I mean by that is, is largely cannot provide as much emphasis of the importance of a matter if you're not face to face with someone. So that means that I cannot communicate to my Parks and Rec director, how important and urgent matter is and that He keep to the schedule or he keep to the budget or he identify what the the promised or scheduled delivery is for that week. And that that is what I would say is important to me is having that one on one time with that person. So and I try and do that every few weeks. Thanks. But I I see most of my direct reports daily. And a lot of this gets covered in those one on one conversations every day.
Yeah, that's good. I, you mentioned pen and paper. And you mentioned in person meetings. So this sounds kind of old school, which, which, which I like personally, because it's, it also involves more relational interaction as well. Question for you about switch gears on and talk about communication for a minute. One of the, besides this issue of, of setting the goals, and clarity around goals that we see a lot is this issue of communication. And in all of our frontline employee workshops, we're talking to frontline employees. Literally, the biggest thing we hear about is a lack of communication, or maybe not enough of certain things or silos of communication that, you know, it's a big topic. So just just one question there on communication is, you know, how do you all ensure that that your teams are communicated to properly? And where has it failed? You are aware what happens when it doesn't when people aren't communicated to? So could you just speak to kind of your current framework? How do you all get the word out to everybody, so they know what's going on in the city, and they feel like they're a part of it? What's been your experience in these different ways of communicating to your employees? What's going on?
Well, let me back up one step, which has to do with the subject of pen and paper and old school and technology. And I will say that, I think there is. There is a place for technology, and I use it every day, I think my message to most of the folks that I talked to, is that just don't become overly reliant on that technology. Whether it is a pandemic, whether it is a 911 event, somewhere along the way, you're gonna have to pivot to some other tool or technology, whatever that is. So in this case of a pandemic, we've had to pivot towards technology, and not away from it. So there's a place for it. And quite honestly, the senior management team at Sugar Hill has had to warm up to technology, in terms of meetings in terms of teleworking, in terms of being able to get the job done, while keeping our distance and being saved from a virus pandemic standpoint. So we've had to do that. And that is actually one of the methods that I will say has benefited us recently, is being able to meet virtually via technology. So this one, for example, is not the platform we typically use. But we do have meetings virtually, with our staff on a weekly basis. And that gives us a chance to make sure that everything that we're doing is getting getting communicated. What we're experiencing right now is somewhat artificially focused, if I can say it that way. It it deals with reopening deals with response to the pandemic services that are affected by the pandemic. And we have focused a lot on that one subject, the virtual meeting, and the technology that we use to survive this difficult time is one that we plan to carry with us, because it gives us chance to meet on a regular basis, face to face, so to speak, and address a lot of different matters, with everyone in the same place without bringing one to everyone to the same building, or having the challenges of meeting different scheduling issues along the way. So it is one of those tools that we do plan to use regularly. Up until the pandemic we were we were meeting weekly with a small segment of our management team. And that was largely to cover priorities for the week and and to discuss the communications plan for those priorities. There the larger management team would meet monthly to discuss monthly priorities and that was an in person meeting. And again, we'll we'll continue that process after the pandemic, but we will probably take advantage are the technologies that we have grown accustomed to? And we've gotten to use. And just like any other tool in the toolbox, we've become more proficient at it. Especially as most governments have had to conduct public meetings. Virtually, we've gotten better at that as well.
How do your directors convey the information to their managers and supervisors and employees? How does that trickle down? Or maybe ultimately trickle back up? But how does that trickle down effectively, at Sugar Hill?
That is a question that I'll say warrants. Many perspectives. Sugar Hill is not a large organization, we have about 80, full time staff. FTE is on the order of about 100. And when we convey these messages, about priorities, about projects about goals, it's given to the direct report from me via one of these meetings via an email, and communicated largely in person at department staff meetings that are then held throughout the month. So they are firsthand exchange of information at that level. I think once you get to a larger organization than what I'm experiencing, it probably needs to be a little bit more formal at that last step. And it's just one that because many of our staff or our field staff, they're not going to get an email, they're not going to stop to read a message at the bulletin board. It is important to communicate to them verbally, what the messaging is, what's available, when the deadline is and what the priority is, and steps to get there. So that's how we are delivering most, if not all of the communication along the way.
That's that's good. Yeah, I appreciate you saying that. And we run into that a lot with the cities we work with where a lot of employees, and maybe it's a generational thing, maybe it's some of the older employees don't don't like computers and don't like emails, and we obviously can't leave them out. I appreciate that perspective. Only to ask you a question. You know, since you all have become landlords in downtown Sugar Hill, and I've been there, I've seen the facilities, it's a beautiful city, downtown area. I'm suspecting on this switching subjects on you're here to customer service, I'm suspecting that you're maybe wrong. So credibly, that you're bent toward customer service, your focus on customer service, your insights around customer service might have changed in the last two or three years. In other words, before this big downtown got built out, you were providing some level of citizen interaction with people getting permits these kinds of things, which I would call that customer service. Well, now you got folks working in a gym setting, right, and you've got other sort of customer facing roles at the city, I think probably have more now than you did before. I don't know. But how is your customer service? Focus improved or changed or grown? Since your development happened down there?
You probably were staring me in a particular direction and what the the final part of the question, but I would say that in our experiences with I'll call it city sponsored entertainment. City sponsored functions that are quasi entertainment, like performing arts, like the gym setting that you gave the example of, like our position as landlords has influenced how we provide customer service at City Hall. So I will say that we're we're certainly more sensitive to the response, the reaction, the way something is communicated. The I think the way it was expressed to me very recently was it's so important how you say no, but it's okay to say no. And how we tell a resident that we simply cannot fix their stormwater issue that's on their private property, that that that whole exchange has probably taken on some of the characteristics of our new role our expanded role in, in our downtown in in the area of what local government is. And local government, as I've experienced it along the way in my career has different characteristics and different meanings. And I don't mean to be cryptic, other than, you know, sometimes local governments provide fire and police. In our case, we contract for that service. But we also provide a lot of other things that those governments that are more in a traditional role, don't. So sometimes that means a utility and former city of mine, we provided cable service and internet, something that, say very few cities do anymore. But you know, those are the things that you think about is related to that question. It's influencing how you conduct business, whether it's government business in a traditional sense,
concessions at a concert.
How do you? How do you define success, then in this customer service area? You're You're certainly taken engaging more citizens directly with some of these public venues, this theater you mentioned is beautiful. How do you how do you define success in customer service?
I think the answer to that question should be by way of formal survey. What actually happens, Bill is that we wait for complaints to arise. And just speaking very honestly, that's largely how my experience has been over the years is that complaints really drive that reaction and response. And it is. As I just said, reactionary, it's not very proactive, and certainly not good management. I will say that we have from time to time used formal surveys to get responses and input on new direction we're taking changes to the way we offer a service to other things, but it has been too infrequent, I would say to really respond to and adjust any kind of customer service practices.
Yeah. What Yeah. But Oh, one
other thought on that is, is with regard to technology now, and the advent of social media is that is a faster feedback cycle. And one that is, is a little bit more reactive than even what we've experienced before with regard to complaints is, we can't manage at that level, we really need to slow it down and perform these regular response surveys. And I think we've all experienced that when you go to a website, and Federal Highway Administration or somewhere, there is the request for survey response. And I think at the local government level, we've got to get to a point where we're doing more of that, whether it's that particular method or something a little bit more old school either way, we are being proactive then.
Yeah, I really like where you're going with that. I remember in the Atlanta airport when they first put in they put in these buttons in the men's restroom as you're walking out of the restroom. Green smiley face yellow, not quite happy and red, red frowning face and you literally just touch touch the button when you leave the restroom. I thought wow, what a simple way to get feedback. And with all these web tools and apps and Survey Monkey and all these kinds of things, I think there are a lot of opportunities for local governments to to measure. You can't expect what you don't inspect you know, and so we need to know where we're trending. Last Last question I had for you had to do around with again, we're kind of talking management type things today but it had to do with personalities. We are fortunate and blessed we We are certified on the DISC personality assessment. So we help our city customers learn learn their own style, and how to moderate certain things about their style and then how to interact with others on their teams styles. How Have you seen personalities, certain personalities? Maybe when they go over the line? How have you seen that hurt the team, the team development, reaching the goals, and maybe conversely, have you seen personalities operate in a healthy way because I think Troy about A D personality, the driver, the dominant, we need those people in local government, they make decisions, they're they're self confident, they move fast, they want results. But the The downside is that you become overbearing, and that you cover over you, you sort of push away quieter people who actually have something to say, because you're so dominant, you're so talkative or whatever. So that's, that's a negative tendency of indeed, personality. So I'm just wondering, you know, kind of this is a big topic, and we don't have a lot of time to explore it. But just how have you seen personalities? This going over the line hurting the team growth and development? Or have you seen personalities really mesh well, and work well on a team?
I'll start with the latter part of the question, which is maybe the more positive answer part of the answer, which is that it really does depend on the environment that the person is operating in. First example is the dominant personality type. And my reliance on that particular personality type to perform a valuable function with regard to construction management, for example, there is really no room for flexibility or for accommodation in that setting. And that personality type is invaluable in that particular environment setting where it's probably not as important to be accommodating to different personality types or styles. So that's just one of those examples, in in a mixture of personalities and meetings, for example, I, I kind of monitor and listen to the conversation as we go along. And then I'm usually looking for those that are not engaged for some of the reasons that you mentioned, whether they feel steamrolled or bullied out of the conversation. And I'm usually looking for an opportunity to ask for their input before we move to another subject. So it's a it's a moderator, that is functioning in the capacity of trying to get all viewpoints expressed. And on the table. One of the roles that I might see missing from this type of setting is is one that I will oftentimes interject which is a dissenting opinion. Because a lot of the places we find ourselves, maybe political setting may be an opportunity where you're just not hearing all sides presented. And you've probably seen or heard, talk about some of the approaches that Supreme Court justices use in the hearings is they ask some questions that may not telegraph their, their opinion, but they just want to know what's out there. And so a lot of times, I'll ask some questions like that, or in certain instances where there's just not enough people, I will express a viewpoint that I may not agree with, but just to get the conversation to a healthy level where we're not, you know, in some kind of groupthink rut, where we just need all these people. Yeah, yeah. Spread positions expressed. Yeah,
I love that. Yeah. Good, good finish. Well,
you know, and you've kind of expressed what the negative side of that is, is that someone with really good ideas is just not going to express them in in a setting where it's either not safe to do so or is not encouraged or they get bullied out of the conversation. So I kind of you know, you just kind of sensitive to, to the the dominant personality type. Sometimes I refer to them as conversation bullies, but, but you get the idea that they're very strong personality types, and they're gonna get the job done. So There's there's certainly some value in in their role and in your organization.
Yeah, the person that you were talking about when you said descent, that brought to mind the the, on the disc, di SC disc brought up the see this letter C is for cautious or conscientious. And oftentimes the C person, which is a valuable person on a team, they're very, they're very strong on quality. They're very strong on process. And, and oftentimes will come across as a critic, they'll sound like a critic or dissenting voice. And, you know, we need those voices to your point, you know, we need dissenting thoughts to improve the idea. And so I guess, you know, for us, the point is for local government, whoever's listening, we're not picking on any one for one of the four styles. And we're not necessarily complementing one over others, they're all needed, but in their excess, or in their being restrained too much. It can it can cause conflict, and really not bring about the best on the team. And so I really like your your, your your sounds like you've been able to be very sensitive to either that that need for more of a dissenting perspective or to bring others out. And I appreciate that because that sometimes we need a another voice to sort of bring out some of those qualities. So thank you for that. Well, we covered a lot of ground today, I know we kind of jumped all over the place, I appreciate you kind of going along for the ride here. Any of these topics? Is there anything else that you would add, as we kind of close up, we've talked about goal setting, we've talked about internal communication, customer service, we've touched on personalities, a lot of kind of day to day management things in local government, anything else that sort of resonates with you that you would maybe share with some of the folks that are listening?
Yeah, I would just like to, I guess, emphasize the importance of face to face interaction of things that don't really fall into the normal category of meetings and business type interaction. So what that means to me is that we oftentimes will have lunch opportunity where we're encouraging wellness participation in in a particular program. So I say launch, it just happens at lunchtime. So I'm not talking about eating together. But what that does is it provides a very disarming setting with which to interact with different folks in the organization. And also it provides that the the feedback loop that I think is important in making sure that the messaging is getting down to certain levels, it's important to hear back from the employees to make sure that the priorities as established pre previously are making their way down. And so that that is what I would say is something that probably warrants some emphasis. It it's not one of those things that I'm talking about with whether the general public necessarily, but it's an important part of of the health of the organization.
Yeah, wow, very well said, I love that. It's, it gets back to, you know, getting projects and things accomplished, but doing them within three people and having those opportunities to, to be with people and listen and just hang out sometimes is some of the most valuable trust building things that we can do. So Right. Yeah, appreciate that. Well, thank you, again, for your insights and thoughts, and for being willing to share with others again, our purpose here is just to make these sort of best practices and insights available to other local governments around the country. And I appreciate your time doing that and hope you have a wonderful rest of the spring as we enter some are here.
Always a pleasure, Bill. Thank you. Yeah. Thank you.