Sunday, March 10, 2013

This is Me, at 50

Amidst an election in a blizzard and a foot and half of snow last week came confirmation that we have another election, a June 11 mail-ballot election for the Olathe School District.

It's the 50th election I will have administered since coming in January 2005.  50 elections, yet only 26 were scheduled.

In fact, we've had an active election in the works my entire time here.  While three of my seven election commissioner predecessors have had longer tenures, I've administered more elections than any of them.

That's not really a point of pride because some of our staff members have been here under a couple regimes and have administered more than 100 elections.  They are the heroes.

It harkens, though, to the final habit in Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:  Sharpening the Saw.

In the book, he illustrates the person needing to cut a tree with an old saw.  When told the work may go better if the saw was sharper, the person explains that he doesn't have time to sharpen the saw.  He is too busy sawing.

Covey's point is that we must take time to sharpen the saw, actively setting aside time for renewal, preserving, enhancing, and such.  In the business world, our organizations and plans need that same reflection.

In our case, we have much sharpening to do.  There's the war on polling places, Saturday postal delivery issues (by the way, should I be comforted or terrified that the post office isn't concerned about the impact of losing Saturday delivery on elections?), aging equipment that will cost millions to replace, new technology, new potential of technology, more voters, more precincts, more unplanned elections, and more of everything, in fact, except for staff members.

We have the same number of staff we had more than 20 years ago.

We need time away from operations to strategically plan, to make sense of all of this, and set a long-term course for Johnson County's voters.  In our case, the tree we're cutting was starting to fall and we're holding it up with our left hand while sawing with our right hand.

Our county has embarked upon characteristics of a High Performance Organization, which essentially empowers employees to be leaders at all levels.  It was a popular government initiative in the late 1990s but it's being resurrected (a la sharpening the saw in art-imitating-life fashion) after several senior county leaders embarked on a similar program about 10 years ago.

Our staff is miles ahead in this regard though, as evidenced by the leadership our staff members took during our snowstorm election.  They will be pushed, however, in the second half of 2013 to take on more as we aggressively evaluate all of these drivers of our business.

That is, assuming we have a few months without an election.  That's a huge assumption.

In Covey's example, he's a bit like the YouTube video-recording bystander watching a disaster.  If he were waxing about sharpening the saw while I was cutting, I think I'd have asked him if he could stop yapping and go get me another saw.

Similarly, we're likely reaching a point where merely fine-tuning won't work.  We need a moment just to get a better saw.  At some point, and soon, we're going to need to grow our staff, not by one but by a few.  The 2012 presidential election showed us that.

Selfishly, we're hoping election 51 doesn't come until it's expected, in 2014, leaving us time to sharpen. It's probably overly dramatic to say the tree will fall otherwise, but I hope not to find out.