Secrets of Farmers and Vikings (Cont.): It's All about Cross-Training and Prioritizing Direct-Service

By Ferris, Randolph P. | Parks & Recreation, April 2011 | Go to article overview

Secrets of Farmers and Vikings (Cont.): It's All about Cross-Training and Prioritizing Direct-Service


Ferris, Randolph P., Parks & Recreation


I have enjoyed the forum published in the September and October 2010 "Kiosk" section of Parks & Recreation. Comparing parks and recreation agencies to Vikings and farmers brings a new light to our situations.

Both articles, and those that followed in subsequent months, have overlooked one of the main reasons both farmer- and Viking-style management structures were and are successful: Everyone pitches in. All members of the organization are direct-service providers, and all are cross-trained to replace other members of their team should they not be available. If one Viking falls in battle, no extensive search for a replacement is necessary. Another Viking does the job. Farmers have long epitomized the "jack of all trades, master of none" stereotype, where all members of the team can do whatever is needed at any given time.

Parks and recreation agencies have expanded their support and specialist classifications for a variety of reasons over the years; some by mandate by their governmental structure to increase oversight and administrative compliance, others for other reasons. This has resulted in large headquarters staff levels and new departments that oversee functions such as revenue collection and tracking patron usage.

While these endeavors certainly have value and merit, they are not direct-service providers. Taxpayers hear that more money is needed to fix park facilities and build more playgrounds. They accept the cost of the playground, but are mostly unaware of the landscape architect and the purchasing contract specialist and the additional requirements the contractor must employ to receive the project contract to construct the playground on land the agency already owns. Some additional education of our patrons can help to explain why these things cost more when governments do them, but taxpayers still may refuse to pay the higher prices.

If cuts are to be made, then retention priorities need to focus on direct-service providers. …

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