Connecting state and local government leaders
Each of the five analysts hired as a team in San Rafael, California, will be based in a different department, but they’ll train and work together on special projects.
In the wake of a pandemic-driven hiring freeze, officials with San Rafael, California, were left with five vacant management analyst positions, each in a different department.
Management analyst is a ubiquitous job in local government, a behind-the-scenes jack-of-all-trades position that’s present in nearly every department. Analysts use a variety of skills—problem-solving, fiscal and policy analysis, community engagement—to write staff reports, launch new initiatives and keep elected officials informed of policy changes. But despite their similar job duties, analysts in separate departments rarely collaborate on projects or work as a team.
With multiple positions open, leaders in San Rafael decided to change that. They opted to group the five vacant positions—one apiece in the economic development, finance, public works, fire and management departments—together, advertising and hiring them as a team that will train, learn and work together. The goal, officials said, is to foster an immediate sense of community that will hopefully allow the new employees to work collaboratively and trade ideas across departments throughout their tenure with the city.
“You’re not joining just one department of the city, you’re joining this team of really motivated, capable professionals who want to make a contribution to the community and make local government better,” said Cristine Alilovich, assistant city manager. “Being part of that team takes it to the next level, where you’re working to break down the silos and working together to solve problems.”
Because the positions are based in separate departments, individual projects will vary, Alilovich said—the public works analyst might be tackling a new dog park, for example, while the finance analyst crafts a budget proposal. But those projects might have processes in common, leading to new solutions that can be implemented across the government as a whole.
“For example, one analyst might be doing a special project to improve, say, invoice processing,” Alilovich said. “They can share that and say, ‘We just redesigned this in our department and it works, you should go do this in yours.’”
Applicants will automatically be considered for all five positions, though candidates are free to name their preference in application materials. The employees who previously held each analyst position were not hired as a team, but often worked together in an unofficial capacity, mostly on special projects that crossed department lines, Alilovich said. The new team will hopefully function the same way, though its members will have final say on how that process works, consistent with the city’s overall goal of cooperation and inclusion.
“We’ll be looking at this group and asking, ‘How do you want to work together as a team? What do you think is the most important policy project or issue?’” she said. “This is an opportunity to create and form the team, and work together to build it, not just join it. That’s a really exciting opportunity for somebody who has a heart and passion for public service.”
Preparing Service-minded Leaders
Ultimately, city officials hope the team model will promote loyalty to San Rafael while preparing service-minded employees for leadership positions in other departments. The analyst position provides a good foundation for a career in public service, Alilovich said—and there’s ample opportunity for advancement within the city. Two of the previous five analysts were promoted to higher-level positions, she said.
“The track record of retention and promotion from this team is significant,” she said. “The sense of being connected to peers both within and outside of their department, and to get to work on exciting, interesting things together—I think that togetherness really does help people feel more connected to the organization and want to be here, and want to be here for the long haul.”
Other cities have promoted analyst positions as cross jurisdictional, but it’s unclear if others have solidified and promoted an official team in this way. It’s an inventive approach to hiring that will likely appeal to younger candidates, said Kirsten Wyatt, co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Engaging Local Government Leaders.
“It’s a perfect example of 21st century hiring, with a focus on building long-lasting teams that can learn from and with each other,” she said. “I’m hopeful that more local government organizations will see the value in this approach and replicate it.”
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.