What is—and isn’t—critical thinking

and how we can use it to improve ourselves and those around us

Whenever I’ve talked about the need for critical thinking, I’ve noticed that those who need it most are usually the ones who agree most—but for other people!

Maybe this stems from our volatile society, but our collective exasperation (outrage?) at others’ points of view is certainly exacerbated by a lack of critical thinking by all parties.

I don’t consider myself a master critical thinker, but at least I can see how most political ads break every rule of sound and fair reasoning. (Of course, their purpose is to vilify opponents with innuendo, appeals to irrational fears, outright lies, distortions and half-truths; and a creative lack of depth, breadth, clarity or fairness. For that, they do a pretty consistent job—however unprincipled!)

But let’s start with clarity.

What critical thinking is not: using a judgmental spirit to find fault, assign blame, cancel, or censure.

What critical thinking is: using a disciplined thought process to discern what is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.

After all, we are what we think. Our attitudes, feelings, words, and actions are all determined by the quality of our thinking. Unrealistic thinking leads to disappointment; pessimistic thinking spurns joy; practical thinking builds productivity; grateful thinking grows appreciation; and affirmative thinking leads to possibilities and opportunities.

Our brains do a pretty good job in identifying patterns and fixed procedures that require minimal consideration. It allows us to function efficiently in familiar zones and predictable routines. And hardwired in all of us is a prioritized egocentric core to protect our personal interests. But increasingly, our progressively diverse world and its unrelenting pace of change requires analytical thinking that is more vigorous, more complex, more adaptable, and more sensitive to divergent views—if we are not to degenerate into the dystopian futures of our movies!

That kind of elevated thinking is reasoning, which draws conclusions about what we know, or can discover, about anything. To reason well, we must intentionally process the information we receive. What are we trying to understand? What is its purpose? How can we check its accuracy? Do we have a limited, shaded, or jaded point of view? What is fact, what is evidence, and what is interpretation? What is the question or problem we are trying to solve? What assumptions are in our inherent biases, and how can we move away from them? What are the ultimate implications or consequences?

Our reasoning, therefore, needs standards with which to measure, compare and contrast all the bits of information in order to come to a meaningful and fair conclusion. Such intellectual standards include clarity, precision, accuracy, significance, relevance, logicalness, fairness, breadth and depth.

In the absence of these reasoning standards, we default to our self-centeredness, which inevitably leads to gnashing of teeth, biased irrationality, and social regrets. But when we vigorously apply these standards, we develop a capacity for fairmindedness, rational action, and healthy societies. This intellectual clash for the mastery of our own minds frames two incompatible ends:

Virtues for fair-minded rationality          Vices inhibiting fair-minded rationality
intellectual humility                                        intellectual arrogance
intellectual autonomy                                    intellectual conformity
intellectual empathy                                      intellectual self-centeredness
intellectual civility                                            intellectual rudeness
intellectual curiosity                                        intellectual apathy
intellectual discipline                                      intellectual laziness
intellectual integrity                                        intellectual hypocrisy

Here is a starter set of questions for better thinking and reasoning, drawn from the critically acclaimed book Critical Thinking, by Richard Paul and Linda Elder:

Clarity: Could you elaborate or give an example?
Precision: Could you be more specific?
Accuracy: How can we verify or test that?
Significance: Which of these facts are most important?
Relevance: How does that relate to, or help with the issue?
Fairness: Are my assumptions supported by evidence? Is my thinking justifiable in context?
Logicalness: Does what you say follow from the evidence?
Depth: What are some of the complexities of this issue?

Informed reasoning leads to better self-management, better understanding and relationships between people and groups—and ultimately, a better, more cooperative society. And let it begin with me.

Advertisement

The Case For Keeping It Simple

We all want to put our best effort forward when we serve our communities. Often we can get wrapped up in dreaming up ways to make our programs and events bigger, and therefore better. While this instinct is natural, I’d like to posit some ways that keeping recreational opportunities simple can have benefits such as promoting inclusivity and equity, preserving your (and your team’s) sanity, and ultimately help you achieve your programming goals.

Note: For the purposes of this blog post, the words “program” and “event” will be interchangeable.

Promoting Inclusivity and Equity

Running programs require resources, which require money. While each municipality may have a different philosophy on the role of finances in Parks and Recreation, one fact remains true: Every community has residents in varying economic situations. As additional activities are added, the cost of running your event increases, equating to an increase in the fee charged to participants. Sadly, some families are priced out of programs if the fee is too high. While scholarships can help offset this financial challenge, the truth is some families won’t even consider asking for a discount if the advertised price is too high for their situation. By keeping programs focused on one or two central activities or attractions, you can offer a less expensive and more inclusive experience for your community.

Preserving Your (and Your Team’s) Sanity

As more aspects are added to your event, there is more for you and your team to coordinate and manage before, during, and after the event. While everything may look perfect on paper, when you add people to the equation, there are countless challenges that can arise. Maybe a vendor calls and says they will be late. Maybe 10 volunteers signed up to help, but only 5 showed up. Maybe you communicate instructions to a team member in charge of an activity, but as soon as you walk away to check on another area, that person changes the rules (and not in a way that improves the execution). The point is, people all have their own opinions, level of work ethic, personal issues, and unlimited facets that can cause problems that you have to solve. 

To be clear, I am not saying people cannot be trusted. This is just a disclaimer to consider who is on your team and their strengths and weaknesses to determine if the additional activities will enhance your program or lead to headaches and unfortunate optics. Know who you can rely on, and what your team can handle at this point in time.

Achieving Your Goals Through Simplicity

Keeping your programs simple actually allows you to more effectively run them at a larger scale in the future. For example, maybe you run a vendor fair that is simply an opportunity for residents to stop by and purchase from the sellers. Once you have the core activity solidified, with safe and effective arrival, setup, and breakdown logistics, you can add another layer if your team can handle it. You can add a simple kids activity like a movie so parents can shop without distraction. Maybe you bring in a food truck or live music. Allow yourself and your team to stand firmly on one step before climbing the entire staircase. Would you rather rush into a full production, be overwhelmed, and potentially encounter safety issues, or would you rather take your time, successfully manage all of the aspects, and run the event you actually wanted to share with your community? Furthermore, you can use participant feedback to build the event around what your community wants.

A Word on Expectations

Residents may have expectations about what a program or event should include, and how things should be run. Often this is based on an event from somewhere else, or an imagined scenario in their head. You can control this to a degree. In your marketing, only advertise activities that you know 100% you can deliver. Allow any additional items to be icing on the cake. As long as you deliver everything that you explicitly promised, you have done your job. You can take feedback into account as ideas, but do not feel like you let anybody down if you hear comments about what “should” have been included in the event. This is your program, and even if you’ve inherited it from someone who held your job previously, you have the right to adjust it to your style and make your own mark on the event.

In Conclusion

There is a place for extravagant Disney-like experiences, but ultimately our work as Parks and Recreation professionals is to foster social connections. It’s not about the shiny attractions you have at your event, but the community experience it offers.

Two Ears & a Mouth

/ˈnetwərkiNG/

Learn to pronounce
noun

1. 1. the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.

What happens when you show up at a conference, a career fair, or a roundtable event? Do you dive straight into the crowd and start mingling? Do you gently work your way in? Or, do you back into a corner and break out in a cold sweat?

For many people, networking is a terrifying, disabling prospect. This may be because they’re introspective, introverted, unconfident, shy, hindered by bad experiences, or simply new to it. Whatever the cause, a fear of networking can be hard to overcome once it’s established.

The good news is that none of us are born with a natural talent for networking, even the people who really enjoy it. Networking isn’t an “innate” ability, it’s a skill that anyone can learn. You don’t have to be a smooth operator or an extrovert go-getter to be successful; you just need to use the right strategies.

Networking takes many of us out of our comfort zones, but it is possible to overcome our fears when we use the right strategies.

To overcome a fear of networking:
1. Be selective about the events that you attend.
2. Research other attendees’ backgrounds to get useful information.
3. Set realistic, meaningful goals.
4. Think about what you’ll say, and listen to the responses.
5. Arrive early so that you can assess your surroundings.
6. Bring a colleague or friend for support.
7. Mind your body language and try to keep an open posture.
8. Go easy on yourself.
9. Take time out during the event to “recharge your batteries.”
10. Know when to move on from a conversation.

Remember, when networking, it is important to be a good listener, have a positive collaborative attitude, be sincere and authentic, follow up, be trustworthy, and be approachable.

Practical Marketing for Recreation Events

You’ve ordered all the supplies, scheduled the staff, and worked out the logistics and schedule for your next event. Now you have to market it!

As I write this, I’m marketing Montgomery Township’s 20th Annual Autumn Festival. With so many moving parts, there’s a lot to communicate. There are also a lot of places to put the message, and the channels of communication seem to keep stacking up. It’s enough to make my head spin, and event marketing is a major part of my job as a Public Information Coordinator.

The good news is that you don’t need to be a graphic designer or social media wizard to get the ball rolling. Below are some quick tips to put together a practical marketing plan for your programs and events.

What do you do if you don’t have a knack for marketing?

Start with what you know

Begin by simply listing the basic information:

  • What is the event’s name?
  • Where will it take place?
  • When will it take place?
  • Who is it for?
  • How much does it cost?
  • What is included?
  • Who can people contact for more information, or where can they go to find information?

Select supporting photos

If this is a recurring event or program, select a few photos from the last time you held it. These don’t have to be professional quality, but they should showcase some of the activities that take place. People respond more to programs and events that show engaged attendees having a great time.

If you don’t have photos, pick an image or two using a program such as Canva that represent the event. Canva offers a free version to begin designing.

Design a flyer

Don’t be intimidated by the word “design.” You can use Microsoft Word, Microsoft Publisher, Canva, or any other program you are comfortable with to make the flyer. As long as it has the answers to the basic questions and a few photos or clipart graphics, your flyer will get the message across.

Pick Your Channels

This is where it gets tricky. Instead of getting into the many channels, you can use to communicate, just think of what you currently have. My recommendation is to have the following:

  • Website – This is your home base where all information is available. All social media posts and email newsletters about the event should directly link back to your website or event-specific webpage.
  • Social Media –Stick to one platform and do it well. If you’re comfortable expanding to more social media platforms, go for it at the right pace for your organization. If all you have is Facebook, that’s great! Despite what you hear about the decline of Facebook as a social media platform, it is still my experience that you will engage with the most members of your community on Facebook than other social media platforms.
  • Email Newsletter – Ideally you have access to an email newsletter platform. Putting your information in front of people who specifically opt in to receive your updates has tremendous value and is extremely effective.
  • Print Media – Many organizations are reevaluating their relationship with print media. It’s expensive to print and mail, but it does help reach the population less comfortable with using the internet. Including basic information with some direction about where to find more information can at least increase awareness of your event.
  • Local news outlets – Form relationships with your local news outlets so they can publish your event on their website.
  • Word of Mouth – I assure you, people are talking to their friends and family about events as you share information. In fact, this is the best marketing you can ask for!

Work with Your Communication/Public Information Office

If you have a good relationship with your coworkers responsible for Communication/Public Information, use them as a resource! Their job is to get the word out. As someone who has been on both the Recreation programming and Public Information sides, I cannot stress enough how important this relationship is if your municipality has the resources. As long as you provide accurate information for your Public Information Coordinator to work with, they can help get the message out to the public.

I hope this provides a basic overview of how to market your event using the resources you have. There’s nothing groundbreaking here. Like most other things, it’s about mastering the fundamentals.

 If you have questions, reach out to me at dmuller@montgomerytwp.org . Happy marketing!

Tips for Reducing the Cost of Car Maintenance

by PSECU

Between fuel, insurance, and monthly payments, owning a vehicle can get expensive. Fortunately, you can reduce your costs when you take a more hands-on approach to car maintenance.

So, how can you reduce your trips to the mechanic and keep your car in good condition? Here are a few tips that will save you money, regardless of whether your car is new or used.

Learn How to Perform Simple Maintenance Tasks Yourself

If you do your research beforehand, you may be able to perform a few car maintenance tasks yourself.

Some of the simplest maintenance tasks you can perform at home include changing your oil and air filters. Oil is essential to your car’s operation and changing it regularly can prevent accumulated contaminants from creating friction in the engine. When you’re changing your oil, consider replacing the air filters as well.

By learning how to perform just these two maintenance tasks yourself, you can save at least one to two trips to the mechanic annually. Of course, you’ll want to check the owner’s manual before you start.

Check the Owner’s Manual for Maintenance Schedules

Your owner’s manual will give you a straightforward schedule for different car maintenance tasks, generally going by a system of months or miles. For example, an owner’s manual might state that you should check the coolant every 12 months or 12,000 miles – whichever comes first.

When you take your car in for maintenance, it’s crucial to keep the information found in your owner’s manual top of mind. Your service provider may recommend services outside of those recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer.

You may want to get a second opinion before accepting additional services that your manufacturer doesn’t list in your owner’s manual.

Manuals should include plans for when to check and maintain the following components:

  • Engine oil
  • Coolant levels
  • Transmission fluid
  • Air filters
  • Engine belts
  • Batteries
  • Headlights

If you don’t currently have an owner’s manual, you may be able to find the information for your car’s model and year online or by contacting a dealership. Having an authentic owner’s manual for your vehicle will be useful for scheduling specific services in the future.

Search Online for Coupons from Popular Chains

No matter how much maintenance you can perform yourself, there will still be times when you need to have your car looked at by a professional. Popular auto shop chains tend to have online coupons that you can use to save money on car maintenance. Many auto shops have sales around Memorial Day, Labor Day, and New Year’s.

Of course, it’s important to research the chain that you choose for maintenance. Just because you may have found a coupon doesn’t mean there aren’t other auto shops with great deals and excellent service at a lower price. You’ll also want to consider which chains have the most experience working with your make and model of vehicle.

Take Advantage of Dealer Perks

If you bought your car from a dealership, your purchase may have included perks for saving on maintenance done by their service department. For instance, you may have oil changes included for the first two years or a set number of miles. Additionally, some dealers may provide a loaner vehicle at no cost while your car is in the shop. Even if the base cost for maintenance is higher, it could end up saving you more in the end if you would otherwise need to pay for a rental.

To maximize your savings, be sure you know what you’re entitled to and also inquire about any price matching the dealership may offer if you find the service advertised for a lower price elsewhere.

Seek Out a Second Opinion if Costs Are Too High

If you’re not knowledgeable about auto parts and maintenance, it can be hard to tell what recommendations you should follow and what you can put on hold when you take your car in for work. To help with this, you can reference your manufacturer’s maintenance schedule to give you some general guidance on when certain parts should be repaired or replaced.

If you’re unsure about the services being recommended by your mechanic, you may want to visit another auto shop for a second opinion. You may find that other shops can maintain your car at a much lower cost or that the services suggested by a previous mechanic aren’t necessary. When you’re in doubt about a recommendation, a second opinion can save you money.

Know When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

Vehicle maintenance is an important part of car ownership, but there will come a point when the work your car needs exceeds its value.

If you find yourself in this position, we can help get you in a car that meets your needs and budget. Our auto loans are available for new or used vehicles and offer flexible terms and competitive rates.

The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Some products not offered by PSECU. PSECU does not endorse any third parties, including, but not limited to, referenced individuals, companies, organizations, products, blogs, or websites. PSECU does not warrant any advice provided by third parties. PSECU does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information provided by third parties. PSECU recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.

Planning a Website Redesign?

Helpful prep and planning ideas

Thinking of redesigning your website? It’s a big step that can be a daunting idea before the actual process even begins – even more so when you’ve never undertaken this process before. While I don’t specialize in website redesign, I have been through the process and I found the following considerations helpful to act on prior to the actual redesign process taking place.

Assessment

Go through your current website and, page by page, consider what works on your current site, what isn’t working, and think about how that can be improved. 

Mapping

I found it helpful to sketch out a map, or site structure of your new website. What would you like for your new site to visually look like? How would menu items and pages be structured? Search out websites of similar organizations and do a deep dive into some of them. Take notes of what you like and consider how this could work on your new website. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for insight into how they approached the design of their website, especially if you like the functionality of their specific website. 

Goals

Your website should reflect the goals and mission of your organization. Approach the redesign of your website as you would a strategic plan. Be intentional with your objectives and consider how your website can help to achieve your organization’s goals. 

Insight

Talk to members of your team about what they would like to see on the new website. While it’s good to have a set, specific team dedicated to the redesign process, getting feedback from staff or even volunteers in your organization can be invaluable to gaining different perspectives on how the new website can be better utilized.

PRPS Conference & Expo Social Call, District Belt & Prize Pool

by Jason Cerkan

PRPS is making a bodacious return to an in-person annual conference. The Conference Committee & PRPS staff have been working together feverishly over the past 12 months to bring an exciting, educational, and entertaining 75th Conference & Expo, Looking Back While Moving Forward, at Kalahari Resort. Let’s not forget an amazing cast of Keynote speakers who are sure to be da bomb!

With over 50 sessions, many social opportunities (don’t miss the morning fitness meet-ups), an Expo Hall full of your favorites, the return of the Prize Pool and the District Challenge, there will be endless opportunities for newbies and seasoned peeps to interact and network with peers (don’t forget your business cards.)

A quick rundown of Socials for the 75th Annual PRPS Conference & Expo:

Tuesday, March 29th

Join us in the Expo Hall during the Grand Opening for a hella good tailgate party. Put together your dream team or participate individually in challenges to earn points towards the District Belt. Wear your college swag! Forgot your swag, Come On Down to Registration to purchase online 2022 PRPS Conference & Expo shirts, hats, bandanas, and more…

After dinner with our Keynote Kristine Stratton, take a time warp to join us for DJ Slammin’ Jams for a Trivia Challenge.  Participate with your crew or alone to earn points towards the District Belt. 

Wednesday, March 30th

Blow off some steam at the Morning Fitness Meet-Up with Patty Kleban for yoga stretching before the sessions begin. Don’t forget to pack your yoga mat. Purchase online a cool 2022 PRPS Conference & Expo Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle to keep you hydrated. Namaste!

Register for the bus trip to the Crossings Premium Outlets to Shop til You Drop at over 100 outlet stores or chillax at the Barley Creek Tasting Room, which features craft beers and wines from across Pennsylvania.

Jump in your time machine and boogey on down to see The Uptowns Getdowns perform music from the 40’s to today in the Conference Hall from 9:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. Get down you ducky shincrackers in your dress of the generations! Judges will award points towards the District Belt for the best squad and best individual outfits. Get grooooovy at the Photo Booth to preserve your memories for years to come.

Thursday, March 31st

Join Conference Co-Chair, Kristy Owens and connect with other like-minded individuals for a morning run~walk~jog around the Kalahari complex before the sessions begin. This is an EXCELLENT EXCELLENT way to get the blood flowing and prepare for a full day of sessions and excitement. The route may take you onto roadways, so be sure to wear reflective gear, as Safety is Always First. Average temps this time of year are 25-48 degrees so dress appropriately. Forgot your workout clothes? Mosey on over to registration to purchase online 2022 PRPS Conference & Expo gear, including a premium tank top available in men’s and women’s sizes. This isn’t a competition, go at your own pace and stop when you want. To join, simply show up at the ENORMOUS metal tree or email Kristy at kowens@crcog.net. In the event of inclement weather, the group will remain indoors.

After totaling up the points from the Tailgate Party, Trivia, and Dress the Decades events, the District Belt will be awarded at the PRPS Luncheon and Business Meeting.

Enjoy the elegant performers at the Awards Reception later that evening.

After the Awards Banquet, change into your favorite camp fire outfit and mellow out on the patio to roast marshmallows as we Party S’More with music performed by Jim Roberti. Not interested in an outdoor party, then grab some popcorn & cotton candy and get cozy for an evening Movie, bring the whole family!

Enter the Zen Zone at any time during the conference to enjoy a peaceful and calm atmosphere. Signage will be posted at the Zen Zone location each day.

The Prize Pool will be located in the Expo Hall. Labels not required. The Community Branch Committee are selling ticket sheets, cash or card accepted. Greenhorns seeking employment should drop their resumes off at the Prize Pool, where job postings will be listed, Opportunity Awaits! The Community Branch is still looking for donations for the Prize Pool! Consider donating tickets to local attractions, a gift card, or even cool department swag.

Peace, Love, and Granola…

Thinking Deeply About Customer Service

by Molly Hetrick

I think I am a good customer. I’m always polite, though sometimes firm, and clear about what I am asking for when contacting a business. I try to also be patient and thoughtful, I will even say “I bet you’re really busy this time of year” or “I imagine the pandemic has made things challenging for you” and many times the person appreciates the empathy.

So, let’s consider a few things:

• I had a return of an item to Chewy.com and when I called customer service, they refunded my money but said to keep the item and donate it. This is a wonderful model… but my thoughts were “How can they afford that?” and “I can imagine other people taking advantage of that”?

• The same thing happened a few months ago with Clinique. They refunded my money, but let me keep the item to gift on to someone else. Great! Convenient for me, a friend got to try the product; maybe she will start using Clinique, which is probably what they hope for. (But again, I can see people taking advantage of this?)

So, why are we talking about this?

This is the “new” kind of customer service model, particularly which the retail world is moving to. Customers now expect free shipping, no-questions-asked returns, an end to hidden fees, and a money-back guarantee. AND Consumers are in control with online reviews. They expect customer service to be instant chat, just a click or two away, and 365/24/7. They expect same day delivery options – they don’t want to wait. They want to ask questions and make their opinions heard on social media, and have a fast response.

Even though in Recreation we are not retail, I firmly believe that this is fundamentally changing the mindset and more importantly, the expectations, of customers. They want easy, they want fast, they want satisfaction and are used to “above and beyond.”

No longer is a small business able to say “I understand you used this product for 3 months, broke it and now would like a refund of your original purchase price. But I cannot afford to do that for customers and keep my small business open. So here is what I CAN offer you…” (Slightly more direct language than is probably used, but you get the point).

Large cyber businesses have cushions, loopholes, and volume to support them. Smaller businesses, non-profits, and municipal based departments who offer services do not have such great options. We can’t give a whole summer of free camps because the child had a bad experience on Week 1. We can’t let kids repeat swimming lessons over and over without payment when the parent says it’s the Instructor not the child that is at issue. If we did, we could not afford to pay staff and keep the doors open, or even stay afloat beyond one or two years.

We can’t afford to designate a staff person to cover the Instant Chat and all the social media channels, the phone, the email and the voicemail too!

Please share other examples in the comments, there are so many more!

So, what do we do?

We are just at the edge of this new change and the new habits big retail is training society to expect. So let’s look at two things.

What do Customers Want?

• Satisfaction (Happiness?)

• Their need fulfilled

• An affordable cost  (sometimes they’ll pay for faster)

• A convenient and fast solution

• Their opinions and comments to be heard

Why do Customers Complain?

• Their expectations did not match what was offered

• Their expectations outstretch what the organization can provide

• They did not feel appreciated or they felt confused

• Service was not fast enough

How can we approach this?

• Clear instructions and expectations

• Matter-of-Fact policies

• Excellent friendly customer service (start off on the right foot)

• Empathy with clear solutions of what you actually CAN do when situations come up

• A work-together approach “I understand what you are asking for, here is what I can give, is there a way we can meet in the middle?”

• Decide how you will handle the small number of customers who are repeatedly asking for something outside the policies. (The 80-20 rule)

We are just entering into this new phase of super-fast, delivered to your door, over the top service. Convenience and demand take on all new meanings, and the refunds or customer service hoops to make people happy after there is a mix up sometimes are beyond belief.

How is your organization navigating these new waters?

How are these new business practices in customer service impacting your recreation services and programs?

“New Kid” In Town

Recognizing challenges and providing guidance for smoother staffing transitions.

By Derek Muller – Montgomery Township in Montgomery County, PA

Your trusted employee of several years (to several decades) has moved on, and your established groove is thrown off. Enter the new employee tasked with new responsibilities in a new municipality with a whole new culture to learn. It’s a lot. Change is hard. It’s inconvenient. This article is for supervisors and newly hired employees alike. I don’t have a “how-to” guide on how to skip the growing pains that come with this transition, but I hope this post provides insight to smooth out the process and open a dialogue on how we can better assimilate new employees into their positions and keep our organizations on track.

The Trial By Fire Approach

Let me start by saying there is merit to the “trial by fire” approach to training new employees. No, it’s not the smoothest method. It’s the quickest way to assess someone’s natural strengths and areas of improvement, and arguably new employees learn more information faster with this method. With that said, it does have its pitfalls, and I hope the rest of this article helps clarify when this approach is appropriate, and when it may hinder the growth and development of new employees in relation to the overall success of your organization.

Challenges Facing New Employees

No two municipalities are exactly the same, and no two employees are exactly the same. Their specific needs may vary, but here are some common challenges that face new professionals:

 Shifts in Responsibilities

I’m willing to bet most of us entered the Parks & Recreation field through programming. Some were camp counselors, lifeguards, seasonal instructors, etc., but for the most part it’s the ground level aspect of running programs that attracted us and kept us invested. I remain involved because I had a supervisor early on who encouraged me to develop programs around my interests and hobbies. In my first turn as a head facility supervisor, I suddenly went from program developer to security guard. Needless to say, the day-to-day of the job was not nearly as appealing once the novelty of the promotion wore off. Community and organizational culture and needs can shift the responsibilities that fall under Parks & Recreation Professionals. Keep in mind that new employees may be experiencing a bit of a shock as they make this move from a previous position, or as they enter the field for the first time.

Expectations

The notion of “replacing” someone is pretty misleading. Expecting new employees to come in and do the job exactly the same as their predecessor is unrealistic. This is also true of the community’s adjustment to the “new kid”. Comparisons will fly around, and often the employee will hear “X used to do it this way.” This is extremely frustrating to constantly hear. As a supervisor, be sympathetic to this reality. You’ve probably been through it as well. Encourage your new employees and give them time to find their path. A great story about living up to expectations and navigating this particular challenge can be found in a previous article by Jason Lang, titled “How to replace a legend…”

Conflicting Personalities

People are difficult. It’s tough when you are trying your best to start new programs or increase efficiency and all you meet is resistance. Maybe it’s the first time the new employee is managing a team and setting their schedules. Maybe there are established employees who have been there a very long time, and they like the way things are or the amount of control they have of the operations currently. If you can help to facilitate productive communication between employees, you help set up the new employee for success.   

Proactive Steps To Help With This Transition

This may be a good article for another day, but briefly, here are some things you can do to help your new employee with their transition:

  • Communicate! – Let the “new kid” know your expectations. Recognize and help them navigate the challenges they’re facing. While you don’t want to overwhelm them with information, share the information as it becomes pertinent.
  • Don’t expect the new employee to just “figure it out” – This will lead to stress and lower productivity. Chances are you’ll also end up frustrating residents and other employees within your municipality that need to collaborate with your department. Give the new employee space to learn, but coach them when you can.
  • Provide Resources – Sharing documents from previous events and initiatives will help the new employee learn about your larger programs and community events. Make it a habit to store all of your documents in a place where you can easily access them on your organization’s server. Make it a policy that your current employees do the same for the inevitable transition down the line. You’ll be glad you can access these files at a moment’s notice when the time comes.

Are you in the position of coaching a new employee? Are you the “new kid” in town? I’d love to continue the conversation. Email me at dmuller@montgomerytwp.org if you have any thoughts on how we can further support our new professionals.

Mental Health Awareness

by Jason Cerkan, Recreation Manager, A Pocono Country Place, Property Owners Association

The pandemic has been filled with ups and downs and many mixed emotions, information, and knowledge. From isolation to fear of the unknown many people we know may have experienced some form of depression that they may not have experienced before. Isolation led to many unfit people.

When someone is not leading a healthy lifestyle, we often times look at the outcomes in physical fitness terms. Seldom do we talk about mental health and the role it plays in our lives and the illness that may occur. People can not see how another person is truly feeling inside. Mental health impacts everyone’s quality of life and includes our passions, relationships, and experiences. Someone can be born with a genetic predisposition for a mental illness. Our brains can also sustain psychological traumas.

How To Be Supportive

When someone experiences a mental health challenge, here is how you can be supportive:

LISTEN: Let someone really express their experiences. Being someone they can talk to is essential when giving support.

BE NON-JUDGMENTAL: Don’t criticize or minimize the way they feel. You may not be able to understand exactly what they’re going through, and that’s ok.

ASK WHAT, NOT WHY: When you ask questions, avoid asking ‘why’ questions, and instead ask ‘what’ questions. Asking why can have a judgmental tone even if you don’t mean it that way.

GIVE INFORMATION – DON’T DIAGNOSE: Don’t assume they have an illness or condition. Provide direction to resources that can identify and treat mental health issues.

ACT AS A BRIDGE: You can connect someone to mental health resources. Resources include family, school guidance, mental health professionals, and organizations like Navigate Hope.

TEAMMATE IN SUPPORT: Being supportive doesn’t mean your duty is to ‘fix’ someone. Mental health is complicated and solutions aren’t overnight. As a teammate, the best support you can give is by being a trusting ear, helping to navigate resources, and acting as a source of encouragement.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic there were many people who would not have otherwise been lonely, depressed or down. It is important that we acknowledge mental health not only for ourselves but for others. We need to embrace open communication of mental health challenges and be able to provide direction to help others before crisis arises. There is no shame in asking for help. There are tools and treatments to respond, treat and manage mental health issues.

%d bloggers like this: