Recreation Management

The outdoor industry has changed. The barriers that newcomers used to face when embarking on new experiences are being replaced with technology that makes recreational activities available on demand. How will you keep up?

Like many people, my first camping experience was with a girl scout troup when I was ten years old. It was with this fine group of pre-teens that I was introduced to the basics of making s’mores, sleeping on the ground, and enjoying the crackle of a fire under the stars.

Fast forward ten years and suddenly I was yearning for a new experience in nature. I wanted to go backcountry camping in the wilderness. Like most things in my life, I dived head first into this exciting new endeavor. I had no idea the amount of planning and investment it would take to make it successful.

I planned out a simple loop in Coosa Backcountry Trail in Northern Georgia, which was a 12-mile round trip hike with dispersed camping along the way. Getting everything I needed for that 2-day camping trip became a real challenge. As a cash-strapped college student, I felt drained as I walked out of REI with well over $300 worth of gear. Rain jacket, water filter, dried foods, stove, fuel, backpack, hiking boots, lightweight tent, sleeping bag. I (thought) I had it all.

Once I purchased the equipment I needed for each of this new adventure, I had to plan out next steps. Where would we park? How much water should we bring? Where were the best camping spots with a view? What time of day should we leave? Which trails were busy, and which could we find solitude?

Funny thing is, when I wanted to try something new again – mountain biking this time – I spent just as much time figuring out mountain bike trails, etiquette, and technique. I spent an arm and a leg embarking on a new outdoor experience. Mountain bike, clipless pedals, helmet, spandex, jerseys. You get the idea.

I’ve learned that mountain biking, camping, and most other outdoor recreational opportunities are often described “Rich Man’s sports.”

Most people think that nature is free, and no one can argue that it’s not. But to truly experience the outdoors (and be prepared), it’s expensive to get involved with these new activities. You can literally spend thousands of dollars on new gear only to retire the equipment after a few trips. This financial burden creates a barrier for low income individuals to try certain outdoor activities.

On the other hand, I know that parks and recreation agencies pride themselves on providing free and low-cost programs to their community. These programs may provide a basic overview of outdoor activities but do not provide the full experience. To truly engage the entire community, even those with little disposable income, we need to make outdoor experiences affordable to remove hurdles for newcomers.

Agencies may not be able to buy equipment for anyone who needs it – that’s certainly not what I’m suggesting. But what if we had a collection of outdoor gear that we could rent out, at reasonable rates, to our community members? Some universities do it. Why don’t we?

We also have to realize that as parks and recreation agencies, maybe our responsibility isn’t to engage everyone in OUR programs, but rather provide the equipment and tools necessary so that they can go out and explore on their own.

Beyond the financial burden of outdoor experiences, we can also make it easier for community members to find our programs and sign up for them. I think we’d all agree that our recreation registration systems don’t always fit the bill.

Let’s talk about reserving campground for a second, because it’s similar to our registration programs.

Take yourself back just 10 years and you’ll remember a world of difference in the camping reservation process. You might have been able to find a campground’s contact information online, in which case you would call and try to find a place that was reasonably priced. You wouldn’t know where you were staying until you arrived. Pleasantly surprised — or not — this was the reality of the camping reservation system.

Platforms like HipCamp, Tentrr, and AutoCamp are paving the way for new campers to try this outdoor experience for the first time. Today, you have access to professional quality photos of the campsite, reviews of the experience, and a full list of amenities. Not only that, but you can book your site right from your phone.

While you probably knew that you could rent out campsites on demand using these apps, there’s a lot more to explore with a new thing called Experiences.

AirBNB Experiences cater to individuals who want to try something new, led by experts in that area. A few examples of current AirBNB Experiences: Hollywood Sign & Summit With a Yogi, $25. Discover the lost art of blueprint photography, $91. Uncover the secret life of honey bees on an urban farm, $39. Bike through the city with a lifelong local, $42.

A good way to find experiences in your area is to search in google “AirBNB experiences [location or activity].”

I believe that this could change the game for parks and recreation. Why?

  • Finally! A way to reach a broad audience on a very established platform to advertise our programs and services
  • We can move away from free programs (that aren’t sustainable) to charging reasonable rates for the programs and services that we offer. Learn more about cost recovery here.
  • We can start being more creative with our programs and services. With this platform, you can try a new program, post it online, and see if you get traction.
  • Why do ALL of our programs have to be sent to the rec guide 4 months in advance, only to be cancelled if they don’t fill? You have no way of knowing the true potential of programs unless you try it out.
  • Variable testing will allow you to find out which programs are popular by listening to the response of your community.
  • Many long time outdoor enthusiasts and managers may dismiss this new trend. They may call it a fad that will fade. But for those of us who are passionate about making outdoor experiences accessible for all, this movement may be the kickstarter for the change we wish to see in the outdoor rec scene.

We can see the viability for small business and land owners to utilize these online apps? But what about park and recreation managers? When will we start to truly value innovation?

What do you think? Would you ever consider using these platforms for your programs? Let me know in the comments!

What happens when the field of parks and recreation reaches its potential?

Will your recreation provider also become your healthcare provider?
Will the best and brightest people compete to work for their local parks and recreation?
Will we finally invest ample money – not only into new parks – but to maintaining and marketing parks, services, and facilities?

That’s what I keep wondering, because I know the potential is there. But not everyone sees it.

We still have many communities without quality parks, programs, trails, and staff. At the crux of it all, we see communities that don’t have the funding to invest in what some would call these “nonessentials”: parks and recreation.

We all know we need roads, stop signs, and schools. But parks? Some would argue that they are amenities, not necessities. Even though they increase property value, improve personal health, and reduce crime, parks and recreation services are still undervalued. Local governments don’t have sufficient evidence to increase budgets to allow for additional funding.

In addition, I’m not sure that the people who work in parks and recreation are the best advocates of the benefits we provide. In fact, I would say that they cannot be.

I’ve seen (and experienced) that the majority of time and energy of parks and recreation professionals is often spent navigating the bureaucracy and inefficiencies of local governments, rather than working to provide additional value to the community through our services.

I don’t believe that it’s any one’s fault – it is the system in which we are operating. However, I also believe professionals have the responsibility to fight for the resources, ideas, and innovations that keep parks and recreation programs alive.

What if we didn’t have to stand alone?

Some of the strongest advocates of local parks and rec programs are the community members themselves. Dog owners. Pickleball players. Volunteer coaches.

Too often, these vocal advocates are seen as a nuisance rather than a strength. In public meetings, they are the ones fighting for what they want. Do you see it as an annoyance? Just another thing to add to your list? What about when they call your office and ask for more lighting in parks, more gym time, and more field space? You can’t please them all, so why even try, right? Is that where your mindset is? Then it’s time to change the way we think about community engagement.

I’m still wondering about the future of parks and recreation. As we all continue to become more busy and stressed, I know this for a fact: the need for parks and recreation programs will increase exponentially. We will need to increase our efforts to justify the value of parks and recreation programs, while working with vocal community members to make it happen.

When we are able to embrace the full value of parks and rec, then our communities will thrive. It’s only a matter of time.

Have you ever taken an Uber on a busy Saturday night, only to be shocked by the prices due to a surge in the area? Then you’ve been given a recent reminder of the basic principles of supply and demand. The additional fees that occur when you ride during a “surge” is something that will make you reconsider your plans for a late night out.

But consider this: would you reconsider your plans to visit a National Park if the price rose 250%?

Because that’s exactly what’s being proposed.

The National Park Service is suggesting the implementation of higher fees for some of its busiest parks, especially those in the West, in order to curb the crowds and improve visitor experience.

Here are a few details, but more information can be found on this project proposal site, which is accepting public comment until November 23, 2017.

The proposed fee hike would impact 17 National Parks during the following times:

May 1-September 30 for Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Denali National Park, Glacier National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Olympic National Park, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, Zion National Park
June 1-October 31 for Acadia National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Shenandoah National Park
January 1-May 31 for Joshua Tree National Park
The suggested fees increase significantly for many of these parks. For example, Rocky Mountain National Park currently charges $20/vehicle regardless of the day you visit. The proposed fees would bump that up to $70/vehicle. All of the fees would help fund long-needed repairs for aging infrastructure.

Back in early 2016, Disney made the decision to follow a similar guideline – charging up to 20 percent more for admission during peak hours such as holidays and weekends. Not coincidentally, park attendance rose 10% prior during the last quarter of 2015 (up from the previous year). This rise in visitation meant additional crowds and wait time for attractions. In order to maintain Disney’s standard as the “Happiest Place on Earth,” it only made sense for them to raise rates and control the crowds. This encouraged visitors to find an off-peak day to take advantage of lower prices and fewer people.

Of course, Disney, NPS, and Uber aren’t the only companies to adopt dynamic pricing for their products and services. The question lies in how these principles will be perceived and adopted by visitors for public parks. Will there be a backlash from the public if they are unhappy with the higher fees? Will that in turn lower demand and reduce revenue overall?

Time will tell, but my hunch is that higher fees won’t send the NPS down the tank. Everyday, more and more people are realizing the necessity of parks to our physical and mental well-being. And there’s something about finding quiet within those giant landscapes that provide true value and meaning to your experience. To me, that’s worth an extra $50 any day.

Not to fret… If you think ahead, you can avoid all of this by purchasing an annual pass instead. It’s $80 for the year for all National Parks, so you can make your money back (and more) just by visiting two parks during peak days.

What do you think about the proposed fee changes? Do you support it, and if so, why or why not?

Trails and parks are becoming increasingly popular these days.  It seems like almost every weekend that I trek to my favorite trails, the story is the same.  The parking lot is full.  Picnic tables are taken.  The trails are packed with hikers, bikers, equestrians, and dogs.  I wonder if I would even consider this enjoyable.  I wonder if others feel the same.

 

Then I remembered back to a college course, aptly named “Outdoor Recreation,” that taught me about people’s perception of natural areas and how one’s enjoyment of an area depends on their perception of crowds, management, and other uses of the park.

 

I also remembered a term called the “recreation opportunity spectrum.”  This topic didn’t mean much to me at the time, but I now know how important these are to recreation professionals and members of the public.    That’s what I’ll be diving into today — the six different types of opportunity factors that determine the spectrum of recreation opportunities in natural areas.  I’ll also be talking about how this applies to local and national parks, and what some managers are doing to combat the crowds.

 

In a paper titled, The Recreation Opportunity Spectrum: A Framework for General Technical Report 1979, written in part by the National Forestry Association in 1979, Recreation Opportunity Setting is defined as “the combination of the physical, biological, social, and managerial conditions that give value to a place.”

Recreation Opportunities Depend On:

  1. Offered by the land’s natural features; through the landscape, topography, vegetation, views, etc.
  2. Provided through recreational opportunities – what activities are available and how technical are they?
  3. Determined by the conditions of the natural area, including the maintenance, roads, and the policies for the area.

 

Thus, there is a multitude of opportunities for visitors to natural areas, which depend on a variety of factors.  Therefore, there is a spectrum of possibilities to serve the diverse audience of a natural area.

 

As an example, a basic campground might include tent sites, RV sites, primitive sites, and backpacking sites.  Each one of these camping opportunities appeals to different size groups and individuals based on the experience that they want to have.

In the late sixties, the ORRRC (Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission), sought to establish a spectrum of uses, ranging from the most primitive and wild to the high-density urban areas.

The driving factor behind the ROC is the assumption that quality recreation experiences occur when there are a diverse variety of opportunities available.  Just like each person has different interests and strengths, the outdoor environment should support those endeavors on a personalized level.

A study by Shafer in 1969 confirmed that managing programs and services based on the “average tastes” do not serve much of anyone.  Instead, by catering to the average, you cater to no one.

Recreation Opportunity Factors

There are six defined opportunity factors which are outlined in depth in the report.  They are:

Access

Includes TYPE of access  –  trail, road, river, cross country, sidewalk
Includes MEANs of transportation –  boat, train, vehicle, bike, walk

 

Other non-recreational resource uses

 

  • Commercial activities may include logging, mining, electrical work, etc. influence outdoor recreation.
  • From the noises to the debris, recreationists may feel the impacts of non-recreational uses.
  • Acceptability depends on each visitor’s perception and expectations of their experience.
  • Clear-cuts may not be considered appropriate for the backcountry camper who seeks a wilderness experience, but it may be deemed suitable for an urban dweller.

 

Onsite management

 

  • How is the area being managed?  Does the landscaping involve native or exotic species?  Are the materials mostly man-made or natural?
  • How are the facilities and amenities built?  With just a few natural supplies, or with imported materials?  Are there indoor/outdoor showers, bathrooms, towels or hand dryers, energy efficient lightbulbs, solar panels, etc.
  • All of these management decisions contribute to the range of recreation opportunities and perception of those opportunities.

Social interaction

 

  • How much social interaction is expected and tolerated?
  • Primitive areas – social interaction is anticipated to be very low.

    Therefore, “crowded” is a subjective term that differs based on expectations.

     

  • Just as I might think it is unacceptable to see 20 people on the trail, others might believe that it is unacceptable to see zero other visitors (Heberleim 1977)
  • Social carrying capacity is determined based on how many people there are, the space and time that separates them, and the natural landscapes that are in the area (if a tree blocks your view of the crowds of people, were the crowds ever there?)
  • Users may find similar recreationists acceptable, but others not…  Mountain bikers may find it acceptable to see several other bikers on the trail, but unacceptable to even see one equestrian.  This is what Lucas confirmed in 1969 when canoeists in the Boundary Water Canoe Area deemed seeing up to 5 other canoeists completely acceptable, but seeing one motorboat was not.

Acceptability of visitor impacts

 

  • Think pollution, noise pollution, social trails, graffiti/markings

    Any use creates some impact; thus, the relevant question for managers is not “how can impacts be prevented” but “what level of impact is consistent with the type of opportunity being supplied.”

  • How much impact is appropriate?  This is based on of the magnitude (purely objective, measurable), and the importance (subjective, value based)
  • Acceptable level of regimentation
  • Managing a recreation site may involve using controls; some of which may be as subtle as providing information to educate the public, or designing the sites in certain ways.  On the other hand, management could be much more extensive – possibly using legal methods such as rules, regulations, laws, etc.

Case Study: Crowding at Zion National Park

Zion National Park
Zion National Park

2016 brought in over 4 million people to Zion National Park, one of Utah’s finest gems.  Zion has seen record numbers every single year. The increase in visitors has been at least partly attributed to tourism and advertising efforts.  Last year’s Centennial Celebration encouraged everyone to “Find their Park,” and Zion happened to be one of the most popular.

According to an interview by Nevada Public Radio with Zion’s Chief of Commercial Services and Partnerships, Jack Burns, parks that receive more than 1 million visits per year are seeing increased number, but those parks that are less than 1 million visits, are experiencing declines in numbers.

In Zion National Park, park managers want to preserve the park for the enjoyment of future generations, inline with their mission.  Guests experience more crowds than ever before even just waiting to get into the park, finding a camping spot, and along the sacred trails.  Jack Burns notes that there are twice as many social trails as there are designated trails, an unfortunate trend for popular parks.  Managers know that social trails have a lasting impact on the land, causing erosion and unintentionally impacting wildlife in the area.

Summer Camp

Every year, Parks and Recreation departments hire an influx of seasonal staff to run their camps, programs, and daily operations.

We depend on these seasonal staff to help us through the busiest time of year!

Before you get started calling those next employees, follow the process below.

Take Your Time

Hire slow, Fire fast.

Give yourself and your team plenty of time to make this hiring round great.  Do not rush this.  If you are hiring for seasonal employees, start early.  Like in the fall.  Especially if you are are updating the job description. We do not work in the private industry!  We must learn to work with and appreciate the hiring process of your Human Resources Department.

>5 Months Before (December)

Update the Job Description (consider starting in the Fall…depending on HR)

Starting this process in December can seem downright silly.  But don’t forget, you work in the government!  Give yourself the time to plan out your hiring calendar.  Work with HR to determine how long it takes to update a seasonal job description.  It may not take this long, but it’s better to start early than be scrambling at the last minute.

The first step in hiring well is to make sure that you have a updated job description.  I know how tempting it is to use the job description from years before.  After all, not much has changed.  But consider this.  When the economy is going well, like it currently is (May ’17), you’ll need to compete for the best talent.  Most of your college-aged, recent grads fall within the Millennial Generation.  And guess what?

Millennials long to make an impact.  They need to know that their work is making a difference to their organization and their community.

A fine-tuned job description that accurately reflects the actual tasks and responsibilities of the position is a critical component of attracting and retaining talented employees.

After all, if you don’t truly know what you’re hiring for, how can you expect to find the right candidate for the job?

Try to put in phrases that would entice new employees.  Make them feel special.

  • We are seeking an innovative and creative individual to join our tight knit team of leaders
  • This candidate should be self motivated and driven to make positive impacts in their community
  • This position is best suited for a “jack-of-all-trades;” you will be leading a team with many different skills
  • We will be relying on you to set the tone for an out-of-this-world summer experience

One extra tip here is to not only look at job descriptions for other parks and rec jobs, but also to look outside of our field.  Indeed or LinkedIn is a great place to start.

Please realize that updating a job description might take up to 6 months. It may be best to start in the Fall.  Work with your HR department.  If all of your tasks and responsibilities stay the same, but you just need to change a few opening statements, you may not need to go through the process of “Seek and Consider.”

Three Months Before: Recruitment Matters – Getting Applications

When hiring for a position, you should know that the number of applications you receive determine the quality of your potential employees.

Many organizations already have an effective recruitment plan in place.

The optimal size for a candidate pool is somewhere in between too much (200) and too little (5).  Helpful right?  It all depends on your specific needs.  A pool of twenty might be sufficient if you are only hiring for one position.  But if you are hiring to fill 20 camp counselors, you probably want a list of candidates of about 100.

It is important to realize that hundreds of applicants might complicate the hiring process; being able to look through hundreds of qualified people might simply be inefficient.  I’ve experienced firsthand the complications of this many applications.

My advice on this is to use NeoGov to sort your candidates by exam score.  Again, work with your HR department.  As a general rule, you can create a list of the most qualified candidates based on exam score IF you are able to develop relevant questions on the on the job application.  I would recommend about 10 questions with a mix of multiple choice and open ended questions.  This will give you a great starting point to choose the best of the pool.

Too few candidates means you probably don’t have enough qualified applicants to make the best decision possible.  Somewhere between 6-100 candidates should provide a well-rounded pool of applicants.

A realistic job preview (or RJP) is a term used to describe a document that contains the details of the job, a realistic preview of the scope of the job, in addition to positive and negative aspects of the job.   I personally believe that RJPs are incredibly outdated, but the purpose of them can be pivoted to serve our current needs.  The ultimate goal of RJPs are to reduce turnover by providing a realistic idea of what should be expected in this role.  Why not make a video instead?

Two Months Before: Advertising Can Help

You can use advertising as the main way to improve the pool of candidates.

Ways to Not Get Attention:  Use traditional forms of advertisements (such as radio, flyers, career fairs, press releases, etc.)

Make Your Organization Stand Out: Use digital marketing, facebook ads, instagram ads, snapchat, talk to schools, email blasts, post on school job boards, Create a lead page, Make videos.

 

If hiring for a large number of positions (camp staff, aquatics).  This would be a fairly aggressive approach to recruitment when searching for multiple positions.

A director level position would require a nation wide effort, using a career board service or working with an agency to recruit.

The level that one advertises might also be dependent on the economy.  When the economy is poor, and unemployment is high, you may not need to advertise as much.

Questions you might want to consider when determining the level of advertising are:

  • How many positions are you hiring for?
  • Is this an entry-level or experienced position?
  • Should you consider hiring an outside firm to guide process?
  • Based on the economy, should you be more aggressive with the recruitment?
  • Should you distribute info through professional associations website/newsletter?

Sometimes, you may receive applications for a position that hasn’t yet been posted; these kinds of unsolicited applications will be considered when a job reopens.

Employees may also provide referrals for other potential hires.  While this might resolve temporary staffing shortages, referrals within an organization have the power to create more conflict with internal relationships and preferential treatment.

Conclusion

I’ve just barely covered the beginning of hiring for seasonals.   I will come back periodically to update this page with more information, additional steps, and new approaches to this common process.  Good luck with your summer!

Updated February 1, 2018

A curated list of the best parks and recreation blogs for the dedicated professional.  Great for entry level programmers, facility supervisors, tech-savvy leaders, park planners, playground inspectors, parks and rec directors.  All the above.  This is a list that you can refer back to in order to find interesting and new trends in our field of parks and rec. Leave a comment below if you know of another blog or site I should add!

 

For Tech-Gurus and Innovative Leaders:

 

[maxbutton id=”1″ url=”https://www.civicplus.com/” text=”Civic Plus” ]

Civic Plus creates websites for governments, but they also write about innovation in large organizations.  They have “how-to guides” on using social networks and user interface, in addition to covering topics specific to parks and recreation.  Have you thought about how to use LinkedIn for finding job talent and engaging employees?   

 

[maxbutton id=”1″ url=”http://www.activenetwork.com/blog/” text=”Active Network Blog” ]

From the creators of Active.net software, this “Always Active” blog posts every month or so about a trending topic.  A go-to resource for new trends like how to capitalize on evolving membership models, or how millennials are driving the outdoor camping industry.

 

[maxbutton id=”1″ url=”https://www.nrpa.org/blog/” text=”NRPA Blog: Open Space” ]

A blog and podcast from the National Recreation Parks Association that covers a wide variety of topics for the entry level professional up to director level.  Their blog covers trending topics, sometimes politically, with regard to advocacy for parks, relevant information, and news for leaders.

 

For Camp & Programming Pros:

 

[maxbutton id=”1″ url=”http://www.summercamppro.com” text=”Summer Camp Pro” ]

Creatively crafted activities and ideas for summer camp professionals.  If you are in parks and recreation and leading camps of any kind, definitely take a look at Curt Jackson’s wide variety blog posts and resources.

 

[maxbutton id=”1″ url=”https://patchworkmarketplace.com/” text=”Patchwork Marketplace” ]

An online store made by and for parks and recreation professionals.  If you are looking for a place that you can find unique program ideas, templates, and guides for an affordable price, look here.  If you have ideas to share, then you can get paid to do so!

 

[maxbutton id=”1″ url=”www.thecampnerd.com” text=”The Camp Nerd” ]

Patti Sampson, the brilliant mind behind “The Camp Nerd” is one of my favorite bloggers in our field.  She’s a real human being, she’s kind, and she’s creative!  She’s worked in the camp world for 17 years and is now starting her own camp! She writes about activities to try, in addition to sharing her thoughts and feelings about her journey!

 

[maxbutton id=”1″ url=”www.recgympros.com” text=”Recreation Gymnastics Professionals” ]

Ali from Rec Gym Pros has been involved with gymnastics for many years, and decided to put all of her resources and ideas in a single place for all recreational gymnastic professionals to share.  She’s got a TON of resources, an avid social media following, and a consistent presence on her site.

 

For Park Planners and Community Builders:

 

[maxbutton id=”1″ url=”www.tpl.org” text=”Trust for Public Land” ]

For the love of public lands, the TPL covers a variety of topics around outdoor recreation, land conservation, and preserving cultural/historical places.

 

[maxbutton id=”1″ url=”www.880cities.org” text=”8-80 Cities” ]

A nonprofit dedicated to bringing citizens together to create more vibrant public places.   The blog focuses on walkability, creating a sense of place, and new innovations for a more livable community.

[maxbutton id=”1″ url=”http://www.gpred.org/initiatives/redline-survey/” text=”GP RED” ]

GP RED is a nonprofit dedicated to the Research, Education, and Development for Health, Recreation, and Land Agencies.  Their offerings on their website include a variety of research briefs, news, guides (like the Small Community Master Plan Guide) and the Redline Survey.  

 

For Outdoor Recreation Professionals

[maxbutton id=”1″ url=”https://www.recpro.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=173:news-from-sorp-11-9-17&catid=22:news-from-sorp-archive&Itemid=173″ text=”SORP” ]

The Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals offers a members only area to access webinars, articles, and forums, but anyone can access their recent newsletters.  Their newsletter is a ready resource for outdoor professionals who are looks for trends in the field.

Did you find this list of parks and recreation blogs helpful?  What else would you be interested in knowing about?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

Additional Resources

Beyond blogs for parks and recreation professionals,

Finding Authenticity as a New Leader
“the hardest person you will ever have to lead is yourself.”
― Bill George, Discover Your True North

 

As Parks and Recreation Professionals…

many of us are in leadership roles where we have the great responsibility of managing people. Beyond excellent communication and organization skills, there’s another skill that you need in your tool belt.  That trait is authenticity, and that’s the topic I’d like to explore today.

Authenticity seems straight-forward, and at it’s core, simply means genuine, bona fide, and true.  However, if you have over had a leader that wasn’t authentic – who didn’t come across as “real” – then you know the importance of this characteristic in the workplace.  This is the story of my journey to discover what authenticity meant in my role as a new supervisor in parks and recreation.

 


After two long months of applying…

interviewing, and waiting, I finally heard the news: I got the promotion!  In competition with most of my qualified coworkers for this role, I somehow managed to be selected.  But instead of feeling overjoyed, I felt a knot in my stomach as the realization came in that I was not entirely prepared for my duties.

The responsibility was overwhelming.  Not only would I be on-call for emergencies, but I would also be expected to know how to handle many different types of difficult situations.  I needed to be able to manage and coach my staff through conflicts, many of which I had never experienced before.  I would need to be an expert in Active.net (our registration system), in addition to taking on another load of technical and time-consuming responsibilities like payroll, financial uploads, and deposits.

And finally, as if that wasn’t enough, I would need to be a supervisor to 6 standard staff, many of whom were either older or more experienced.   A few of them were even my friends before I had stepped into my role.  Should I act as if I know what I’m doing?  Fake it till I make it?

 

As a sat in my new office with this fear radiating inside me…

I remembered a quote from one of my favorite actors & people in the world, Amy Poehler.  “Great people do things before they are ready.”  And since I wasn’t ready, I decided that this must mean that I destined to be great, right?

Amy Poehler Quote: Great People Do Things Before They Are Ready

 

I also heeded the advice of Marie Forleo, a generational thought leader who lives by the idea that “Everything is Figureoutable.”  Meaning, if you are smart, and you know where to look, you can figure out just about anything.

These two quotes were relief to me as I stumbled through the first few months of the job.  The technical side of things wasn’t nearly as much of a challenge as I thought it would be.   I learned I’m pretty adaptable and can pick up tech skills quickly.  I used the power of evernote to write down instructions, create email templates, and store all of the meeting notes.  It was my lifesaver as I was expected to soak up (and remember) as much information as possible.

 

But the whole “people” side of things…

the side that I knew was most important – that’s what made me lose sleep at night.  I couldn’t help but wonder if I was showing up as a leader.  I knew that presence contributed to their perception of me, so I tried a number of techniques to show up professionally.  Amy Cuddy has an excellent TED Talk about how your body language shapes who you are and how you are perceived.

I heeded her advice closely, and found myself (somewhat embarrassingly) doing power poses in the bathroom before my coaching meetings.  The idea here was not to “Fake it till you make it,” but rather “Fake it until you become it.”  I liked that approach.  It helped me gain confidence in those intimidating moments.

Fake it Until You Become It - Amy Cuddy Quote

As I continued to focus on showing up professionally, I also had the responsibility of making sure that all of the day-to-day responsibilities were being accomplished.  Giving direction and assigning tasks to my staff seemed daunting at first.  How do I tell them what to do in a way that doesn’t damage our relationship?  I knew that when someone told me what to do, I generally didn’t feel invested to do it.  But if someone asked me, then I felt as if it was an opportunity to take on something new.  I anticipated I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

Deep inside, I just wanted there to be open communication between us, and the idea that I would “boss them around” (no pun intended) seemed counterintuitive to that value.  That is, until I discovered that simply ASKING them was actually a really polite way of gaining buy-in from them.  After all, if they hear the offer, they have to reply.  By replying, they are agreeing to complete that task – which gives them the power and control to make it happen.  I know it seems simple – asking rather than telling – but more and more evidence shows that this simple method builds trust within workplaces.

I also saw the unexpected impact of casual conversation with my staff.

When I spent time talking to my staff as a human being first – asking about their kids, their goals, their classes – they in turn treated me as a human too.  When I made mistakes, they became incredibly forgiving.   Giving them feedback and delegating tasks to them became easier as this relationship grew overtime.  I started to become very open and honest with them – letting them know when I was unsure about a particular transaction, or the next step in the process.

Then, I noticed that they would start communicating similarly.  They would tell me when they didn’t have enough information to finish their project, or what obstacles were holding them back.  This kind of open communication became the catalyst to accomplishing more great things together.  Luckily, there’s research to back up the benefits of these casual conversations, as noted in the HBR article, “Leadership is a Conversation”: 

Smart leaders today, we have found, engage with employees in a way that resembles an ordinary person-to-person conversation more than it does a series of commands from on high.


On the surface, it seems like authenticity can be summed up in two words:

“Be yourself.”

But putting yourself out there as a real human being who makes mistakes is vulnerable.  Especially as an emerging leader, you are constantly paving the next few years by your first few actions.  So then you must set standards for yourself in this new role, in the midst of feeling slightly under qualified and scared.

  • Will you show up honestly, vulnerably, and authentically?
  • Will you listen more than you talk?
  • Will you assume the best intentions?
  • Will you set professional boundaries?

And truthfully, if you don’t feel just a tad bit scared, then maybe your missing the point.  I’ll leave you with a few lines from the HBR Article titled: The Authenticity Paradox

“My research also demonstrates that the moments that most challenge our sense of self are the ones that can teach us the most about leading effectively.  By viewing ourselves as works in progress, and evolving our professional identities through trial and error, we can develop a personal style that feels right to us and suits our organizations’ changing needs.

 

That takes courage, because learning, by definition, starts with unnatural and often superficial behaviors that can make use feel calculating instead of genuine and spontaneous.  But the only way to avoid being pigeonholed and ultimately become better leaders is to do the things that a rigidly authentic sense of self would keep us from doing.”

 

Running to the Exit - Emergency Planning

In a little over three months, we will be hosting our annual emergency safety training.  This training opportunity comes about once a year and this time, it’s my turn to plan it.

Resources I’ve Used in This Article:

*Note: This article is a work in progress!  I am currently working on steps 1 and 2 as I write this.  1/7/17

Step 1:

Come up with a list of potential emergency situations based on prior knowledge and prior incident/accident reports

  • Major medical events (drowning, cardiac arrest, spinal injury, unconsciousness)
  • Minor medical maladies (soft-tissue injury, uncomplicated muscular/skeletal injury, illness)
  • Facility evacuations (fire, bomb threat, chemical leak/spill)
  • Missing child
  • Physical assault/fight
  • Any others deemed necessary.

Step 2:

Develop a matrix that ranks risks and the probability of each situation

SEVERITY

3 Moderate
Risk
Substantial
Risk
Critical
Risk
2 Tolerable
Risk
Moderate
Risk
Substantial
Risk
1 Minimal
Risk
Tolerable
Risk
Moderate
Risk
1 2 3

LIKELIHOOD

Chart adapted from: http://www.facilitiesnet.com/emergencypreparedness/article/How-to-Categorize-Risk–10691

 

Additional Resources:

Evacuation Plans: Minimum Requirements / Emergency Action Plan

How to Categorize Risk

An emergency planning guide

Emergency Training Plan Template