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News & Press: General News

Leadership in the Time of Coronavirus

Tuesday, April 28, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: MISAC
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Due to unprecedented workplace disruption, municipal IT leaders have been responsible for making the digital transition a reality as more and more city government employees work remotely.  Between installing VPNs and RDPs for remote workers and developing virtual council meetings through various chat tools, IT leaders barely have time to reflect on this past month, let alone breathe.  Somehow, Board Member Bryon Horn (City of Fresno) managed to devote a few minutes to share his biggest takeaways from the past two months.


MISAC:  With crisis bringing out the best or worst in people, how did you use your leadership skills to address those two extremes during a pandemic response?


BH: Well, first of all, yeah, your team needs to respect you.  You need to have a good rapport with your team because if you do, when you need them, they will come through.  We have a great team; we hired the right people.  They jumped on everything we asked them to do without question.  They understand when something is needed and they usually know why.  If it’s not obvious as to the reason why, then we tell them why we asking them to do it.  Knowing why something is needed helps the team as it gives them insight and ownership.  Having a strong team means having a good rapport and from my perspective, I believe that I have treated my team very well.


MISAC:  How do you communicate with your employees honestly and effectively? 


BH:  I’m real with my team.  I’m always honest with them; I don’t tiptoe around things, I hit issues straight on, I support them and I also let them know, ‘Hey this is an issue, this is a problem, let’s get through this, let’s work through things, you can make mistakes, that’s ok.’  Basically, if you’re real with them, they’re real back with you.  If they have issues or problems, they’re more willing to come to you to help with these problems. 

I’ve always told my team, never be afraid to come to my office and yell and scream if it is needed.  I don’t want it out there, I want it in here.  If you’ve got a problem and you want to yell, scream or vent, come to my office, close the door and do it.  I don’t care who you are, my door is always open to anybody.  I’ve always told everybody, ‘If you have an issue or a problem, come talk to me.  If you want me to do something about it, I will.  If you don’t want me to, I won’t.  But we can discuss areas and ways we can take care of things.’ Sometimes team members think I’m too busy, but I find a way to make time to listen to them.  So, in that respect, we’ve built trust, and trust is a big thing with your team.


MISAC:  With so many employees working remotely, how do you ensure that they remain cyber-secure at home?


BH:  Right now, any team member who is working from home has a city laptop, a city-supplied device, or an approved method for remote access from their personal system.  We make sure our city’s supplied devices have the right anti-viruses, and security tools on them.  Just because they are working at home, doesn’t mean that they don’t have to follow the city’s rules and responsibilities; they are still working on the City’s network. We have an administrative order for acceptable use that they have to follow – it doesn’t matter if they are working remotely or at City facilities.


We have a security team now, however, security is everyone’s responsibility and the entire team is aware of that.  If our team finds an issue, they work together.  Any team member will reach out and take the right steps to fix the issue. We have the tools.  We have a number of Cisco tools that we just implemented; such as Tetration and AMP.  We have a lot of monitoring tools on-site that allows to see the network traffic.  It is being watched and threats are evaluated and proper action is taken.


MISAC:  What has this pandemic taught you?  Has it inspired you to lead differently once “everything goes back to normal?”


BH:  Well, it’s interesting because my philosophy is to always lead by example, and I’m still doing that.  I don’t know if there would be any huge takeaways from this because I’m still doing what I normally do.  You know, I lead by example, I make sure people know how I am, that I’m real, that they can talk to me, that I’m approachable. But I’ll tell you one thing: some of my managers have learned that their teams can be more productive than they have been in the past with their normal schedules. 


Currently, the team is being pushed hard to keep responding to the influx of requests.  Through COVID, we have been very nimble.   There have been a number of things we have done very quickly.  You’re never ready for it.  One thing I can say, though, is to ensure that you support your team, let them know you are there and that what they are doing is being noticed.  There have been a few times where the team gets tired and by simply letting them know they are appreciated goes a long way for morale.  I don’t know how many times I have heard from our Administration that the team is doing a great job through this emergency – and that needs to be passed along to the team members that are doing the work. 


We have our Emergency Operation Center in place.  Yes we have our Disaster Recovery Plans in place.  Yes, we have our Incident Response Plans in place.  We are filling out the ICS (Incident Command System) and the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) forms.  We knew there were some things we weren’t ready for and we didn’t know how quickly we could get ready for them, but the team responded.  So, some things that usually take weeks or months to do, we’ve had to complete in days.


It comes back to having a team that’s willing to work hard, not ask questions, know what they are doing, understands that what they are doing is worthwhile and have a good structure in place.  Having comradery with everyone is important because emergencies happen.  People get stressed out and sometimes you have feelings involved and tempers fly and stuff like that, but that’s okay in our department.  That’s okay to do.  People can do that as long as they come back around and we come forward and work as a team.  So, what more can I improve on?  Maybe be more patient?  I’m not being very patient with these guys right now.  I’m like, ‘No, do this now.’  No, that’s got to be done.  I’ve been asking a lot of my team and they’re probably getting tired of me, but we are getting it done.


MISAC:  Are there any projects you were anticipating implementing a few years from now, but you had to do right away because of the crisis?


BH:  So our council meetings for example.  We’ve always been talking about having virtual meetings and the ability to let the public participate virtually.  We have e-comments, but we were moving towards a virtual solution slowly…well that happened overnight here.  We’re doing everything virtually in the council chambers now.  The public was able to call in and provide public comments using Zoom.  I know a lot of people are having concerns about Zoom, they are worried about the security, but if you watch the meeting closely and you’re careful with how you set it up, you will not have those problems.  So, we’re not too worried; council loves it.  We’ve had several meetings using this approach.  We’ve also had a couple of workshops, webinars, town halls and forums with Zoom with council members who want to get the word out about COVID.  We’ve used it with Facebook Live, and so it’s actually worked out pretty well, but yeah, that was something that was done quickly. 


So, yes, there are things like that that have happened and just like what you said, the virtual workforce had to be implemented post haste.  I mean, we’ve got more than half of my department right now working from home, or out in the field, we’re going to have more soon, but not everybody can, because you’ve got to have operations keeping the city running and the City Manager right now is pushing for people to be in the field, so we’re actually ordering more laptops and getting more people working from home and away from city facilities.  That comes back to the team’s competence.  ‘Guys, look what you’ve done in short time?  Imagine what can be done when we don’t have an emergency?’  Going forward, I suspect we will have an emphasis on expediency in our daily work life.

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