Communicating a clear path Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2008

When Pam Iorio became the mayor of Tampa in 2003, she and her executive team focused on strategic goals for the city and its 4,700 employees.

She also made it a point to walk new hires through those goals to ensure that they understood their role early in the process so they knew what to focus on, which helped them avoid distractions.

“I think it’s awfully important because otherwise, you are pulled in a million different directions,” says Iorio, who managed a fiscal 2007 budget of $298.9 million. “That’s probably the same whether it’s the private sector or the public sector. Every day, somebody wants to pull on you and say, ‘Yes, and what about this?’ But, if that’s not part of your strategic vision, then you have to give that less time and less energy than something that is part of your strategic vision.”

Smart Business spoke with Iorio about how to communicate a clear direction to employees.

Be clear about your mission. The important thing is, one, during the hiring process, that you are explaining to the person as you’re hiring them how they fit into the mission. That’s very important so they know, ‘I was hired to be the administrator for neighborhood services by the mayor, and in the interview process, she identified the goals that this organization is trying to achieve and how I’m part of that.’ That’s very powerful because then a person is hired with that sense of mission.

It’s a little bit more difficult when you assume leadership and you’re dealing with people ... who have perhaps worked under other leaders who didn’t have those same goals. Now they have to readjust. I think again, though, the key is to spend time with those individuals. Make sure they are in the right positions.

If you are keeping them, make sure that their talents are being used. Sometimes people are misplaced. Then, again, show them how this mission overall helps the company or helps the community.

You can get a sense whether people get excited about that. People like to come to work with a sense of mission, and that’s a point that leaders often forget. Everyone knows that we all have to work; that’s a given. But when you are able to come to work with a sense of mission — ‘I’m growing the company, I’m providing a community service, I’m doing something important for the community, I’m increasing the company’s value, and in doing so, the company is able to employ more people,’ [or] however it is you see your role. It is very important that people feel that their time at work is meaningful. That’s very important to instill that in people.

It can’t be about the paycheck because that’s just not meaningful enough.

Know your strengths and weaknesses. You look at your desk and you realize the things that you never get to. You look at the stack that you never get to. You look at the things that you procrastinate about. You look at the things that you kind of tune out in meetings, the things that really are not of interest to you.

Over time, when you are in an executive position, you realize that. You sit at your desk every day, you look at it, and you kind of see, ‘These are things that I really enjoy doing, and I get at it, and I seem to be good at. Then, I’ve got this section of the desk over there dealing with a certain type of issue or problem, or whatever it may be, that I consistently am pushing off that I don’t want to get to — I don’t want to make decisions about.’

Those are the things that you’re really not that good at. Anyone can do that kind of self-analysis. The list that you make every day, what are the things that you eagerly cross off and do, but then there are the things that somehow get transferred to that list over and over again. Those are the things you’re not good at.

If you pay attention to that and then hire accordingly, you can be very successful.

It’s, one, being honest with yourself. Make sure you don’t walk around with such a large ego that you think you are good at everything. Hopefully, you are self-critical. That’s key to being a good leader.

Beware of the person that thinks they are good at everything and doesn’t need assistance and isn’t prone to self-reflection or introspection.

Cut ties if someone doesn’t buy in. Personnel problems do not get better with time. That is one thing that I’ve learned over the years of running organizations.

You should always work with a person and be honest with them and give them opportunities to improve. But, if it’s seriously not a good fit for the company, then you just have to deal with it directly and do not let it fester. Because, when you allow personnel problems to fester and to linger, it truly does hurt the entire organization because people will know you don’t have confidence in that person, and then it’s downhill from there.

I always believe in a very direct approach and try to address problems as quickly as you can, even though it’s an unpleasant part of being a leader.

In fairness, you really do have to give people a period of time to assess their abilities and their willingness to be flexible with a new leader.

HOW TO REACH: City of Tampa, Mayor’s Office, (813) 274-8251 or