Taking Time to Be Thankful

By Gil McRae, FWRI Director

There are times when the deck seems stacked against us. We are continually asked to do more with less, bureaucratic processes make it difficult to get anything done, and salary increases are a distant memory for an increasing number of staff.  These concerns are real, and without diminishing their validity or the necessity to continually address them, I think it is worth our time to reflect on a number of things we should be thankful for.

As FWC/FWRI employees, we are agents of government and we are exceptionally fortunate in this country to have a government of the people. Our form of government is intentionally messy and shifting perspectives and disparate views are part of its inherent self-correcting mechanisms.  Regardless of these shifting views, in our role as public servants we have a duty and a responsibility to provide a public service and with that role comes accountability.  Simply put, we are spending other people’s money every single minute of every day.  In many cases, Floridians have chosen to support us through their purchase of specialty license plates or endorse the validity of our mission by purchasing hunting and fishing licenses.  In dealing with the sometimes labyrinthine processes that underlay the necessity for us to be accountable with other people’s money, we sometimes forget how fortunate we are to work for an agency like FWC.

Unlike many government agencies which are established by Executive or Legislative fiat, FWC was created by a vote of the people through a constitutional amendment approved by over 72% of voters. In addition, nearly all of us are doing or supporting work that we love to do.  Rather than spending our work day focused on making money for someone else, perhaps producing products that few people want (let alone need), we have the tremendous privilege of doing the people’s work in conserving our precious natural resources.  While our work can be frustrating at times, there is no denying that collectively we are on the frontlines of making the world a better place.  I don’t know how many workplaces can claim that more than 20,000 people are willing to show up on a Saturday just to learn more about what their organization does.

Within FWC/FWRI, we take pride in our staff-centered approach to conducting our mission by respecting work/life balance and providing flexible working arrangements. Despite the millions of dollars invested in facilities and equipment statewide, there is no question that our people are by far our most valuable asset.  We ask a lot of you.  Our scientists are expected to perform at an elite academic level without the protection of the university ivory tower.  Our administrative, technical and facility staff are asked to be as effective and efficient as their counterparts in private industry with a fraction of the resources and processes that often seem to work more against them than for them.  It takes a special person to work in this context and we are all bolstered by an army of talented, committed staff who believe in what they do.

We also value and promote open and honest communication, which is easy to take for granted until you experience an environment where that is not the case. Over the years, I have met with hundreds of new hires as part of their orientation process.  One point I emphasize in these discussions is that your coworkers will be your best teachers and potentially your greatest asset but open communication is the key to making the most of your opportunity.  In our organization, no one needs permission to talk to anyone else, and constructive criticism and debate make us all better.  Open communication can get messy, much like the government we operate within, but a whole lot of good comes out of this messiness.

I am writing this on a Tuesday morning and it has been one of those days. I have been faced with six different annoying and complicated issues since I made the mistake of checking my email over my morning coffee.  On the drive in, I made two calls to partners having to explain why plans had to be changed and why expectations may have to be scaled back.  When I arrived at work, I sat down with two different groups trying to sort out why poor communication among staff resulted in a failure to meet a deadline or deliver a service.  I fielded concerns from other groups who were certain that the success of their projects was in jeopardy if they could not find a way to give salary increases to key staff.  A construction project we have nearly complete is short $17,000 and we need to find the money to complete it.  The legislature has sent out another reminder that next year is going to be an extremely tight budget year and that we need to be prepared for cuts.  An anonymous message in our online suggestion box reminded me that staff morale was at an all-time low and they wanted to know what I was going to do about it.

There is no place I would rather be.