In the January 2008 issue of PRB, the force-field concept (see Figure 1) suggested that the best way to move toward achieving change is to convert what seems like a threat into an opportunity, rather than wasting resources by trying to destroy the threat outright. While current economic conditions certainly have threatened all sectors, the opportunity lies in giving managers legitimate cause to examine their agencies’ very foundation: what they actually do for the people they serve.
Given this freedom to scrutinize, two other PRB-published tools are also helpful. In the August 2007 issue, the idea of matching what people really want to what the agency prefers to offer–reciprocity–was introduced (see Figure 2), and in the May 2008 issue, the branding concept was discussed as the promise made by an agency to the people. In other words, in tough economic times, can we deliver what we prefer to offer, do we deliver what our people want, and do we deliver what we promise to deliver?
The California Park and Recreation Society recently completed planning for a branding initiative based on Figure 3, a variation on the Agency-Client Interest tool cited above. Essentially, the delivered (vertical) axis represents what your agency actually does. At the bottom of that continuum are programs never offered, and at the top are programs regularly implemented: what you prefer to offer. Horizontally, programs not desired by any of the people you serve are located at the left, and the most-often requested programs are arrayed toward the right-hand side.
If the people you serve clamor incessantly for youth sports, and the vast majority of your programs accommodate that desire, then you are in a reciprocal relationship: the people asked, and you delivered. Reciprocity is relatively easy to achieve in good times. In bad times, however, a promise made to achieve reciprocity suddenly may morph into a promise you no longer are able to keep. This is where the third dimension comes into play, bringing with it the opportunity to employ the force-field concept.
Let’s imagine that, to accommodate increased demand (desire) for youth sports, your agency has planned (promised) to purchase land on which to build a new field complex: funded by bonds, perhaps, or sales tax receipts. We all know what the economic downturn has done to those funding sources; maybe you even have had to lay off some staff members if you rely on sales taxes. Your “delivery” now is in jeopardy, and with it, your brand or promise. Which of the numerous threats, then, can be converted into opportunities?
First, the price of the land probably has been reduced–considerably in some cases–creating a buyer’s market. Second, perhaps the funding system under which you previously had been working has become increasingly less tenable and frustratingly inadequate. If so, this “crisis” may be the impetus needed to reconfigure your agency’s funding. Third, the people you serve, who are suffering as much as you, may be inspired to rally around the youth programs through increased volunteerism, fundraising and even physically preparing the proposed complex. Even better, they may agree to create a more realistic fee structure to purchase the land and operate the youth programs.
If you have built your brand through reciprocity, and can see threats as opportunities, outcomes such as those mentioned above are not unreasonable. To be successful under any conditions, congruence among promise, desire, and delivery produces a brand that can stand (and deliver) even in the worst of times.
California Park and Recreation Society. (April 10, 2009). Personal correspondence.
Uhlik, K. S. “California dreamin’: Building the brand.” Parks & Rec Business (May 2008), 52-53.
Uhlik, K. S. “May the force (field) be with you: Converting threats into opportunities turns weakness into strength.” Parks & Rec Business (January 2008), 42-43.
Uhlik, K. S. “Customers are always right: Or are they?” Parks & Rec Business (August 2007), 46-47.
Kim S. Uhlik is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Hospitality, Recreation and Tourism Management at San Jose State University. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.