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Blogs / Performance Management / The Ethics of Leading in the Dark

The Ethics of Leading in the Dark

Our Code of Ethics continues to be one of the most important and distinctive aspects of our profession.  Although we hear more about some of the key tenants than others, all are thoughtfully made part of what we believe defines our values.

If anything defines the unique value of our profession, it must be that we make decisions, give advice and lead based on professional and objective information.  We don’t offer advice to try to get someone elected – unethical.  We don’t make decisions so we can turn a personal profit on a side business – unethical.

So, if we draw conclusions based on “word on the street” or “gut feel” and fail to gather, examine, and report objective measurable data, have we similarly failed our ethical code?

I believe so.

Tenant 5 requires members to “provide them with facts and advice on matters of policy as a basis for making decisions…”

Tenant 8 says we have a duty to “develop the competence of associates in the use of management techniques.”

What is that dividend that professional management brings?  It is that we keep our objectivity and bring trained, experienced and professional insight.  Can an elected official do that?  Yes, most do.  Are they required to do so?  No.  Are they expected by the citizens to do so?  Not really.  They are elected to evaluate and bring a representative perspective of the citizen.  That is their role. 

But, in the city manager form of government (or the similar forms represented by our membership), elected officials are citizens from all parts of the community and all walks of life.  They are required to be experts only at being citizens.  We are the experts to give them information to make the policy decisions and execute those decisions to achieve desired results.

If you aren’t using quantified data to assist in decision-making and if you are not offering available data and reporting performance you are not fulfilling your duty and failing to provide the full professional value expected by citizens and elected officials when they look to their city manager.  We hold the flashlight.  We lead them through the dark with the quality of our recommendations and the leadership of the organization.

Data is only part of the picture, but the picture is not complete without it in most of the operations and policies of our cities.  If you consider yourself a professional, but you are not evaluating your staff and programs on some basis of objective measurement you may be substituting (consciously or unconsciously) considerations that do not conform to the code of ethics such as politics, personnel discrimination, personal comfort, or ego.

Our profession is defined by leadership at the core of our cities.  We don’t have a corner on leadership, but we have defined ourselves through our code of ethics to provide leadership that does not compromise on core principles.  We demonstrate to the citizens and the officials we serve that they can count on our professional decisions and recommendations as being guided by the best analysis and evidence available.

Do you have your performance measures in place?  Are you ensuring that your policy objectives are being measurably achieved?  If you say you are providing the best possible services, can you show evidence that your statement is true?

It isn’t easy, but quality management and leadership isn’t meant to be.  We all understand that there are reports we prepare that we suspect have few readers.  Most of us have built equity in the confidence our communities have in us that doesn’t require more than our own opinion to find support.  But, we know we must do the work, prepare the report, and provide the data or the analysis to support the decision or recommendation. 

Some say ethics is doing the right thing even when nobody else would know the difference.  If you don’t have a basic performance measurement system in your organization and you aren’t reporting your outcomes to your elected officials and citizens are you really filling the important role of city manager as our code of ethics outlines?  Are you resting on reputation or finesse to manage, or are you keeping consistent systems in place that propel your organization forward on good information?

Our Code of Ethics is our strength because it presents great challenge to us to do our important job in a way that others would not choose to do.  We volunteer to make this promise because we know it is the right way to lead our communities. We believe those commitments to quality management make our cities better.  Performance measurement is part of quality management, even if you are the only one who insists on it.

Turn on the flashlight, shine the light and lead.


Gerald Young

The following inquiry just came in from Elizabeth Goltry, CPM Primary Coordinator in Wichita, KS.

From a department supervisor: “I was looking for something that explains why we measure… the importance of it. We have inspectors who just don’t understand that this is a necessary thing. If we have a document that talks about the importance of that, that I could share with them. I think it would help.”

I will pass along some CPM background on that subject, but I think the question also relates to the ethics of performance measurement as Craig lays out above, and to the challenges every jurisdiction deals with in selling the concept to department heads.

How have your organizations achieved buy-in?

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