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By Erin Glanville

Walk The Talk: A Missed Opportunity For Leadership In Menlo Park

Uploaded: Nov 14, 2013

It recently came to light that 20 department heads from the City of Menlo Park went to Half Moon Bay for a two day staff retreat with a total cost to the taxpayers of $11,412. Having worked in management for the high tech industry, I know there is value in getting out of the office to focus a team on strategic planning and cross-functional communication. I get that. This, however, is not an inconsequential sum of money and residents will undoubtedly debate whether or not roughly $570 per employee in attendance was the best use of our increasingly burdened tax dollars.

What is more interesting to me, however, is that in making the decision to travel to Half Moon Bay for an offsite, City of Menlo Park senior staff lost two important leadership opportunities. First, City Staff could have been a role model for keeping dollars in our local economy. Ironically, the City of Menlo Park is one of four partners behind the Shop Menlo Park initiative. (The other partners are the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce, Hometown Peninsula and The Almanac). As described on the Shop Menlo Park website, spending dollars locally helps local businesses and builds a stronger, more prosperous community. They point out that for every dollar spent on a locally owned business, 68 cents stays within the Menlo Park community. Using that metric, I'm sure that local business owners would have welcomed the $7,760 infusion into our local economy. Had Staff chosen to hold an offsite meeting at a local hotel conference room or eaten at one of our downtown restaurants, they would have demonstrated that Menlo Park itself is a desirable destination point while walking the walk and talking the talk of a program they helped initiate.

Sometimes, off-sites are designed to get away from the conference table and to do positive team building through an outside activity. I've participated in dozens of off-sites myself during years of private sector and non-profit experience. Here again, if the goal was team building, City leadership had an opportunity do something that might have also had a positive impact on the community. Nancy Kato, Chief People Officer at Marin Software and formerly Senior Vice President of Human Resources at TiVo and Ariba, says she "likes to see companies and governments do their off-sites at local non-profits by working as a team to make the community better. We (Marin Software) will be providing free training at The ARC San Francisco and our other sites will "adopt" a local community non-profit. The employees identify the community non-profit and the tasks so it's from the ground up, not a mandate from up high. Such activities speak to the heart and culture of a company and are done for those reasons, not for PR or a photo opp." There are terrific opportunities to team build while making a difference close to home, including the VA, Art In Action, InnVision, Rebuilding Together and JobTrain.

Not everything has to be always altruistic all of the time. But when you are a leader AND when you are in a position of public service, it is incumbent on you to think about the example you are setting because you're setting an example whether you mean to or not. There was an exciting opportunity here that was lost. That is something to think about.