A New Perspective on Civility

Civility means different things to different people. So, when we start dialogues in our workplaces about civility or the lack there of, plus the expectations of civility and what that looks like, we have to consider how each of us approaches the topic in a different way.

For example, I was taught that nice little girls are polite no matter what. I spent a large part of my younger years giving a social answer or self-deprecating answer, always folding under in the face of a louder or more strident opinion. Don’t rock the boat; never take a chance on offending someone. INPE0576

Let’s say someone else has the idea “It’s okay for me to always speak my mind, and I don’t care who I offend, it’s my right to say what I think.”

It is upbringing, experience, personality, emotional capacity, moral compass, and more that effects our actions and decisions about what civility is…

In workshops, when we start a dialogue about what Civility “is,” the answers vary widely but seem to follow the theme of how others behave or how others treat us.

Comments about Civility include:

·  I hate when people let the door slam on you. People need to look behind them and hold the door for other people.

·  I want someone to respect that I have different beliefs, and not make comments about my choices.

·  I want him to agree to disagree, and try to maintain politeness with me in future interactions, and I will do the same.

·  When people interrupt me, especially in meetings, its rude and I’d like people to be aware of that and try not to interrupt.

·  I think we should all try to be kinder, and put ourselves in other people’s shoes.

The phrasing is interesting sometimes, in that people often talk about what others should do: “People should slow down and stop tailgating” or “people should stop talking so loudly on their cell phones…”

So, let’s try a different exercise. How are YOU going to be more civil? Because we only control ourselves, right? But we have the power to influence others.

So, let’s try this:

·  Today, I am going to be kind to people, even something small like a smile.

·  I’m going to be aware of the challenges others face and try to put myself in their shoes.

·  I’m going to say hello to everyone I pass on the street, no matter who it is.

·  I’m going to be aware of the mess I leave in the staff kitchen and work harder to clear it up.

·  I’m going to get to know Tom better, since he and I do not see eye to eye, so that we have a more common ground to operate from at work.

Now, THESE have a little more substance to them, they are action based, and they start with “me.” I can influence others, inspire others, affect others, but only control myself.

The next step of civility is to see how long it lasts. It’s human nature that I intend to smile and say hello to everyone I pass in the hallway at the office, until someone is mean to me and then — forget it! People are mean to me so I’m not going to be nice to them… it’s a lot harder to maintain the civility in the face of rudeness, thoughtlessness, and aggressive behavior.

INPE0580

Take that to a global scale, we see it play out in conflicts all over the country and the world.

So, maybe we can all take a few minutes to think about how we feel about civility. Is it the way I want or expect others to treat me? Is it the way I intend to treat others? And how do we – all of us – sustain it, no matter how another person behaves?

There is no magic answer and it’s not easy, but within our workplaces, it is important that we start conversations about civility, about mutual respect for all people (everyone gets the same hello as the CEO), and how we want our workplaces to feel. The actions then are not pointing fingers at others, but our own ownership for being part of the solution.

Advertisements

Momma I Made It!!!

img_3933
Montana (L) with fellow speaker Heather Mitts

I am a very positive person… a “3/4” full kind of guy, believing that what I do matters. That working weird hours away from my family is worth it, that I make a lasting difference in my community. However, just about every single day, I sit at my desk, and need some sort of pep talk…and I usually go back to this story.

A couple of years ago, East Goshen Parks and Rec hosted an event called “Next Up”, a night of female only speakers for a teenage female audience…a night of empowerment. It was well attended, the teenage participants were awesome, engaged and loved hearing stories from our State Representative Carolyn Comitta and U.S. Gold Medalist Heather Mitts (soccer).

Our opening speaker was Montana Leaks, an Allentown native (like myself), who was a senior at West Chester University, and its Student Body President. I met her in May before the event, signed her up, and then didn’t give it another thought until the event approached.

She emailed me about two weeks before the Next Up event, and asked if her mother could come. “Of course!” was my response…but I couldn’t help notice further down in the email stream a subject line of “Momma I Made It!”

Immediately following our meeting in May, she emailed her family with “Momma I Made It!” in the subject line. Her email then went on to speak of sharing a stage with a State Representative and U.S. Olympian…you could almost see her chest swell with pride in the email, it was awesome!

I take encouragement in knowing that my department played a significant role in her realizing her efforts towards excellence had paid off. She was no longer working towards being accomplished, she knew that she was accomplished. Montana now believed in her own personal efficacy…powerful stuff!  She is now in graduate school, and I am sure doing splendidly well. I hope all of us as people have had that moment, that wonderful moment of personal clarity where we instantaneously know that we belong, that its our moment, that we made it!

Creating the “New Normal” In Parks Management

“Where are all of the dandelions?” I was searching for that bright yellow flower while visiting one of our parks and could not find it.  To be clear, I know that a dandelion is a non-native plant, but it was the dandelion, or lack thereof, that alerted me to the fact that our parks could be supporting more.

At their core, parks should exist to support the recreational, physical, mental and emotional needs of us.  They should also exist to provide the basic necessities for nature to survive and thrive.  In most suburban parks, we’ve failed miserably.  Our current park maintenance practices revolve around preserving a grass monoculture that requires too much time and resources – both of which we never have enough of.

There is a place in our industry for the manicured lawn – most of which is sports-related.  In hindsight, rather than designing a few pollinator gardens around an athletic field, we should have been designing the athletic fields around fields of native plants and trees.  If your community is like ours, most of your parks are already constructed without the luxury of ever getting a mulligan on that design.  What if you could change the look and functionality of your parks and reduce maintenance hours while establishing a “new normal” in parks management?

The “new normal” is different for every community, but the visual expectation of what a park should look like is what we sought to alter.  For us, it had to start with being okay with imperfect lawns and giving nature a presence where it hadn’t existed before.

How can you create the “new normal” in your parks?

  • Find the Low Hanging Fruit:  Our very first step was raising our mower decks and mowing less during the summer.  Following that, we started questioning why a location is even mowed.  Mowing is 40% of what we do annually.  If we were going to find time to work on our maintenance backlog, mowing was where those hours would come from.  Conveniently, nature also benefits from this approach.
  • Educate, Retrain & Engage Staff: Gradually introduce topics like no-mow areas, native plants and green infrastructure.  Agree upon new maintenance practices and standards. Ask staff, at all levels, where they think change could occur. 
  • Keep the Public Informed: Educate the public on the why, where and how of what you are doing.  Not everyone will agree with the vision, but remaining transparent and listening will build confidence.  Celebrate your successes on your various marketing platforms.
  • Maintain a Presence: “Low Maintenance” doesn’t mean “No Maintenance”.  This will be a different type of maintenance than what your residents are accustomed to so having a presence is important.  For example, mowing the edges of no-mow areas indicate that a space is still looked after.
  • Trust the Process – With a good plan in place and a little bit of time, your agency will begin seeing tangible benefits like more time to focus on other projects and reduced fuel consumption and wear-and-tear on equipment.  These are two easily measured meters of success. Another benefit, you’ll see a lot more nature also using your parks.

The “new normal” needs to start somewhere – community parks sound like a great place to me.   

“I want to be an event planner!”

strategic planning with the managersIn the last decade, students from a variety of majors at Penn State have increasingly expressed interest in careers in event and meeting planning.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for meeting, convention and event planners is expected to grow significantly. The entry-level education requirement for planners is a bachelor’s degree, particularly in hospitality or recreation and tourism management.

Through the design, organization and delivery of both large-scale events and smaller programs in our communities and sponsored by our agencies, professionals in the field of recreation and parks use the skills and competencies that students often associate with event planning.

From events as varied as festivals in the state parks to holiday parades in our communities, we design events, manage resources, work with food and beverage entities, manage logistics such as parking and risk, and bring people together for themed events.

In other words, we are event planners!

In 2018, the RPTM department at Penn State, in collaboration with Penn State’s School of Hospitality Management, launched the Meeting and Event Management Certificate (MEMC).

The MEMC aligns with the professional certification programs offered by organizations such as Meeting Professionals International or the Professional Convention Management Association. It is designed for students interested in the academic and experiential components of the events and meeting industry. The certificate is available to students in all majors.  The emphasis is on engaging students in the industry prior to graduation and developing the management competencies necessary for success. To obtain the MEMC students, are required to complete nine core credits, including a three credit internship experience, and six supplemental credits in RPTM or Hospitality Management for a total of 15 credits. Graduates will be competitive for positions as managers and planners in a variety of public, nonprofit and private businesses/agencies.

As an added benefit, we hope that as students learn more about RPTM through participation in the courses required for the MEMC, they will learn more about our field.

The certificate is also available for professionals who are seeking additional credentials.  Internship hours for non-traditional students enrolled in the certificate program could take place on site at one’s current job or agency.  Tentative plans for the future include an on-line option for the MEMC.

With an increasing number of RPTM students seek careers in event planning in both for-profit and non-profit settings, the opportunity for PRPS member agencies who are seeking interns or permanent employees increases as well.   In job descriptions and postings, as well as in interview settings, outlining the event planning aspects of our careers may help to draw a broader and wider applicant pool.  Students are often excited when they learn that they can put their event planning skills to work in their communities outside of the stereotypical “wedding planner.”

 

 

Lessons from the Rink

IMG_2005

It was a Wednesday afternoon in April 2017, and I kept checking my phone for alerts. I was waiting on a delivery that would dictate the rest of my evening. Depending on the arrival, I was going to be playing hockey on ice for the first time in my life. In order to do so, I had to have the proper gear. My pants, shoulder pads, shin guards, and elbow pads were all set to arrive between the ever so precise window of 8 a.m. through 8 p.m. I paced my hallway, taking a break to periodically glance out the front door. See, I was invited to join a group of like minded hockey enthusiasts with varying degrees of skill, and our ice time began at 7 p.m.

Around 5:30 p.m. a box large enough to house a “major award” arrived. I hurriedly peeled the stickers and labels off everything and shoved the gear into a bag. Upon arriving at the rink, my heart began to race as the thought of actually maneuvering myself around the ice began to seep in. I had skated before, but turning, skating backwards and, most importantly, stopping were all foreign concepts to me. Beyond that, I never really thought about the order of how to put on this gear. I non-creepily checked out what everyone else was doing. Some did skates before pants; others went pants, then skates.

Having helped my son get ready numerous times over the past year, I mentally checked off the order of that process and managed to get myself ready. Spoiler alert, I was already out of breath. I hit the ice in time to meet at center ice with the rest of the team. Coach had us circle around him and he introduced himself and then asked if there were any FNGs.

FNGs?

Funny New Guys?

Close.

The F, did not stand for funny.

I raised my hand and he skated over to me. “Hey big boy, do what you can and we’ll get you there.” We then immediately started some drills. It had been a long time since I had subjected myself to anything where I was clearly the worst skilled individual out of the group. For the first drill, we were to line up at the far end of the ice and skated backwards as a group to the other side of the ice. I turned myself around like everyone else did and coach blew the whistle, indicating the start of the drill.

Nothing happened.

I was essentially a sweaty statue. I stood there trying to make my legs propel me backwards.

Still nothing.

I then started to drift forward…you know, the complete opposite direction as everyone else. “How are these people making their legs do this?!” Dread began to creep in.  Coach skated over to me, told me not to worry and instructed me to do something called “C” cuts with my skates and to bend my knees a little more.

Right…I was simply trying to stay upright at this point.

Enough time had passed that now everyone was at the other end waiting for the next drill and I was holding them up. All eyes were on me.  It felt like the sitcom equivalent of when you walk up to the chalk board and aren’t wearing any pants.

What have I gotten myself into…?

Some how I muster two “C-ish” cuts with my skates.  My adrenaline-filled brain won’t recall the precise details, but I do remember that the entire row of players started tapping their sticks on the ice with encouragement. It was a beautiful thing. Like a Disney movie, did the music swell as I then skated backwards the entire rest of the way?

Of course not, my back was burning and I felt like my spine was going to pop out of my jersey. I glided forward, hunched over and rejoined the team at the other end of the ice, where I was given further fist bumps of reassurance.

It’s now been a little over a year and a half and I’ve gone back almost every week. Am I now Bobby Orr?

IMG_2114

Pictured: not Bobby Orr after a mid-ice collision.

Clearly no. More often then not, if I catch a glimpse of myself on video, I appear as fluid as the Tin Man in need of some oil. However, I’m continuing to play with the same group trying to better myself as well as helping coach two youth teams. In doing so, I’ve added another layer of life experience and relationships to my journey and most importantly, I’m really enjoying it.

I share this story,  not as a humorous anecdote to fill space, but because I’ve skated away with these three reminders:

1. The importance of having the correct “gear” in order to be successful. For example, education via a degree or certification may have equipped me with knowledge, but what good is that gear if you don’t know how to put it to use? Just because I have shoulder pads and skates, doesn’t make me a hockey player. (see “In the Weeds” for more gear/ tool metaphors) I’ve been fortunate enough to have many coaches along the way help me put my gear to good use.

2.  Don’t be afraid to put yourself in a new/unfamiliar situation. Doing the same activity or duty over and over again can help sharpen and fine tune the skills used for that circumstance, but it doesn’t allow for growth outside of those skill sets. However, putting yourself out there and trying something new will help you expand experiences and grow skill sets. As an example, back at the beginning of my District 2 Presidency, I had to attend my first PRPS Board of Directors meeting. There were similarities between that meeting and my first hockey practice. I wasn’t exactly sure what my role was, and I wasn’t familiar with the format of the meeting. (Probably pulled the sweaty statue move too) It can be uncomfortable at first. However, each time afterwards I became more familiar with what to expect and how to contribute. Having gone through that process has equally enriched my understanding of PRPS as an organization, as well as put me in the path of some great peers.

3. Sincere encouragement goes a long way. We’ve all been FNGs at one point or another. Whether it’s your first day of a new job or your first time attending a conference, it’s nice to have someone who knows the ropes give you feedback and support. I implore everyone to do their part. If you notice someone new at the next conference or district gathering, give them a stick tap and help them on their way to becoming a better member of our society.

How to Knit Together a Public Meeting

knitblogimageProductive public meetings are a project, with a process and a pattern, much like knitting a sweater. And while many of you may not be able to knit or understand the basics involved in knitting, you do understand the threads and complicated patterns involved in producing an effective and efficient public meeting. Yet, no matter how well you understand those processes, meetings can still get out of hand if not managed properly. Through my years as both a meeting attendee and as a meeting Chair, I have found the following tips helpful when knitting my meetings together…

1.  Set meeting expectations and stick to them. At the start of the meeting, set ground rules (ex. five-minute public comment limit, etc.). This is especially important during meetings with hot-topic agenda items that bring large audiences. This is critical to maintaining decorum and providing fair treatment to all who want to be heard.

2.  Be respectful. Be open to the opinions of others. You do not have to agree with them, but you must allow them to speak their mind and share that opinion. It is not a matter of right or wrong, it is simply looking at it from a different point of view.

3.  Silence cell phones. Think of it like the movies, no one wants an important discussion to be interrupted mid-sentence by an annoying ringing or vibrating.

4.  Only one person speaks at a time. Do not allow a meeting to get out of control, no matter how hot the topic may be. If there is a microphone or podium, this issue is more easily controlled. However, for smaller meetings, you must be direct and correct others who start to interrupt or talk over other attendees.

5.  Be brief, but only make your point once. When making a point, be clear concise and to the point. Encourage others to do the same.

6.  No sidebar conservations. Try to eliminate unnecessary background noise and tension created through sidebar conversations, not only are they disrespectful, but often they lead to misinformation being spread and meetings go longer trying to correct that information. Refer back to point 4 to address this issue and be direct, asking meeting attendees to hold side conversations until after the meeting.

For many of us, public meetings are a systematic occurrence. We all know how unpleasant they can be, but with the right best management practices, they don’t have to be. They can run smoother, be shorter, and more effective!

As an employee, you may not have a say in how a meeting is run but you can work with your elected officials, board members, and volunteer committees by providing training in meeting facilitation techniques. Take time to work with others with tips like the ones mentioned above and see how it works for your meetings. If you have other pointers to share with your peers, do it! Most of all be patient, be respectful, and be a leader!

As a knitter, it is easy for me to see the parallels between public meetings and knitting projects, and many of the tips above apply to both. I always set expectations at the beginning of a project and respect the pattern – this way I know what I am getting into and ensure a successful; end-product. Cell phones, sidebars, etc…ask any knitter who’s in the middle of counting stitches or rows, they will tell you why this is a deal breaker!

 

Adding Some Spice to a Stale Relationship

Young couple having relationship problemsPlus 6 tips for better abs, and 7 great ideas for holiday gifts!

We are so conditioned to look for a time saving fix or an easy upgrade to fix anything in our lives that is feeling tired or old or used or outdated – and yet we content ourselves with our current facilities because any change seems too hard, too expensive, or too out of reach.

But have no fear – there may be hope.  in 2009 and 2011 our agency completely renovated two swimming pools – and I mean completely.  We tore out everything down to the hole in the ground – pools, bath houses, utilities…everything.  And we rebuilt.  And the new facilities were a smashing success.  Revenues and attendance more than doubled, and the pools became operationally self-sustaining.  Yay! We met our goals!

But that was, like, so 8 years ago.  The honeymoon is over.  Our community, which used to be super excited at the new pools, is now conditioned to expect that level of entertainment.  So what’s next?  Well, as much as we’d love to spend another $1 million on a flowrider surf machine, that’s just waaaaay outside of the budget picture.aquatics_slide_show_2_0

So how can we add some spice to this stale relationship that the public is having with our facility?  Lucky for me we live in PA and have this thing called ‘Winter’ that lets me do some research and admin work to find solutions.

1. Toys.  Toys are fun.  They cost money – but they can be an easy way to immediately change the recreation atmosphere at a facility.  For the pools, we added a climbing wall and a floating obstacle course (ours is a Wibit, but there are others out there).  We’re also looking at giant hamster balls, log rolling, zip lines, noodle jousting on inflatable ducks – and lots of other ideas.  We had instant success with purchasing these items for public use.  Indoor facilities have many similar features available – just do some research.

2.  Programs.  We regularly try new programs at the pools.  Three years ago we worked with our high school diving coach to add springboard diving lessons to go along with our already robust swim lesson program.  Last year we borrowed the Start Smart program concept and ran swim lessons where our instructor-led parents through a course teaching their own kids to swim.

3.  Events.  Disco night?  Maybe a little outdated, but what about a dance night with a DJ or live band?  Cardboard boat races?  Dog swim?  Fishing Derby after the season?  Pool-o-Ween?  There are lots of ideas already out there – or you can combine some and make your own!

Those are just a few ideas, but really here are the key points:

  •  Make the time to regularly evaluate your facilities and operations.  Get rid of stale programs or events.  Create new ones to replace them.
  • Budget for some new items, even if you have to spread the purchases over a few years.  They can make an immediate impact.
  • Do some research.  Thanks to the internet there are tons of ideas out there already.  You often don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just borrow ideas from other successful facilities!  You can also get a lot of great ideas from conferences and expos.

As for the 6 tips for better abs:

1. Eat Less

2. Eat Better

3. Exercise more

4. Repeat

And the 7 holiday gift ideas?

1. Ask them what they want.  7 times.