Investing in Talent (Opinion)

Attract good employees with a good work environment.

by / April 28, 2013

Last year, the city of Rancho Cordova, Calif., made Fortune magazine’s list of the best small workplaces in the nation. The city is the first local government to make the cut, which is great for Rancho Cordova, but not so good for government overall.

We’ve written extensively over the past few years about the need to attract and retain good employees in government service. Being a technology magazine, we’ve focused on the potential impact of progressive social media policies and bring-your-own-device initiatives, particularly as they relate to enticing young college graduates into the public sector. Ultimately, however, you attract good employees by being a good place to work.

If you poke around Rancho Cordova’s gleaming City Hall east of Sacramento, you’ll see touches that remind you of some of Silicon Valley’s most desirable employers. There’s a spacious workout area, stocked with equipment donated by a local gym. There’s a rec room with a pingpong table and a set of drums. Four city employees recently formed a “house band” that practices at lunchtime a few days a week. City Manager Ted Gaebler adds that the city routinely provides meals and snacks for its staff, another move that keeps employees happy and productively onsite during lunchtime and after hours.

Like many cities — especially those in California — Rancho Cordova suffered during the recent recession, and it made tough decisions to furlough and lay off staff members. But the city provided decent severance pay to employees who were cut loose, and it maintained training and travel for those who remained.

Gaebler, co-author of the 1992 best-seller Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit Is Transforming the Public Sector, insists that governments need to invest in employee training and skill building — especially during times of crisis. He also actively cultivates employee creativity and involves them in decision-making. Just as important, he accepts the risk that some innovative ideas ultimately will fail.

In short, the city of Rancho Cordova is the kind of place where most of us might consider working. Yes, Gaebler has a few advantages. A non-union workforce gives him flexibility, and the young city lacks some of the entrenched bureaucracy found in older municipalities. On the other hand, Rancho Cordova employees reportedly have rejected union overtures because they’re happy with their current employment situation.

As Gaebler says, “It’s all a matter of choices.” And the city is making choices that make it a desirable destination for bright, creative employees. Given the growing difficulty of attracting talent to the public sector, other governments should take note.

Steve Towns

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic. 

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