City Manager Doing Great According to Internal Survey – And Now He’s a Finalist for a Job in Minnesota

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

City Manager George Lahanas at the March 11, 2020, meeting of City Council.

As East Lansing’s City Council undertakes a performance review of City Manager George Lahanas, Lahanas has been named one of four finalists for the job of city manager in Mankato, Minnesota.

The finalists will be visiting Mankato Sept. 24-25, according to the website of that city.

The ongoing performance review here is happening at the request of Mayor Aaron Stephens, who announced at the July 29 City Council meeting that he and Lisa Babcock would begin private negotiations with Lahanas for a contract extension.

Lahanas’s current contract expires at the end of June 2021.

At the July 29 meeting, Stephens expressed his desire to extend Lahanas’ contract, while Babcock stated that negotiations were “the beginning of a conversation. That’s what I’m terming it as.”

Following the Sept. 8 open meeting, Council entered into closed session to discuss Lahanas’ performance. They plan to do so again following the Sept. 15 meeting before placing the “extension of Lahanas’ contract on the [Sept. 22] meeting agenda for Council’s consideration.”

As part of his preparation for his Sept. 8 performance review, Lahanas arranged for a survey to be completed by 24 City of East Lansing employees who he chose. (The City had 548 employees at the end of 2019.)

Results of that survey were made publicly available only after Council went into closed session to discuss it, which meant that citizens could not provide feedback in advance of Council’s consideration.

The quantitative part of the survey was specifically designed only to show strengths or “developmental needs” (weaknesses) if more than 50% of respondents named a trait as a strength or a weakness. The quantitative results indicate that Lahanas has no weaknesses or areas where he might need to improve.

ELi asked Lahanas by email to explain more about this survey.

He responded, “Twenty-four individuals provided reviews, including reporting directors, leading managers (indirect reports) and peers. These participants were selected by me and included ALL of my direct reports.”

Lahanas justified his choice of these 24 subordinates by saying, “Unless someone works closely and for an extended duration with the individual being reviewed, they cannot knowledgeably respond to the 96 questions on work behaviors as well as provide open-ended feedback.”

Lahanas described this survey to City Council as a “360 [degree] review,” and by email told ELi, “A 360 review is designed to gather feedback from a group of employees who know and work closely with the manager being reviewed.”

However, most descriptions of 360-degree reviews call for feedback from all angles – hence the name for it. That would include, along with subordinates, peers at peer institutions, external and internal collaborators, and superiors. In this respect, they differ from typical feedback from management or the assessment of a superior only by subordinates.

The 360 review approach is often used as a growth tool – identifying areas for improvement – but, as noted, Lahanas’ respondents provided no quantitative information on how he might improve.

The survey assessed Lahanas on 96 specific points on a scale of 1 to 5. He received no lower than a 3.33 average on any given point, and most were in the mid-to-high 4’s.

His two greatest strengths were named as “remaining calm in the face of opposing viewpoints” (4.92) and “acting in an honest and upfront manner” (4.88).

The named strengths where he scored the lowest were: providing suggestions for personal and professional development (3.33), encouraging people to challenge the system (3.35), identifying career opportunities (3.5), and willingness to take an unpopular stand (3.58).

Lahanas was also asked to rate himself on every point. He primarily gave himself 4’s or 5’s, with 12 instances where he gave himself a 3.

Qualitative suggestions from respondents included better engagement of all City personnel by opening up dialogue. One person suggested he hold coffee hours. Multiple other responses echoed the call for engagement, and at least one person called for both more communication and work to “[e]nsure equal pay for all directors.”

Another person also pointed to an issue of treatment in the workplace, stating, Lahanas should “[h]old everyone equally accountable for their job responsibilities, no special treatment or leniency for certain employees.”

The responses also suggest that Lahanas could be doing more to mentor his employees, helping them to see the importance of their work in the City and how they might grow professionally.

One representative response stated, “Wow, hard question to answer. George appears to be pretty effective already. Perhaps check in with different personnel on occasion. Go into departments and just say hi once in a while so that all employees realize how much he values the work that they are doing.”

Another theme that emerged was for Lahanas to take charge more in his interactions with City staff and Council. More than one respondent said that the City Manager should begin to broaden his circle in seeking advice and to take more of a stance on guiding Council to address significant issues.

When asked what Lahanas should continue doing, many commented on what they termed his “thoughtful leadership” and “calm” in addition to his effective “communication,” and “management style.”

Lahanas’s current salary is over $172,000, making him the fourth-highest paid municipal employee in the Greater Lansing area, trailing only three physicians, according to research by the Lansing City Pulse. His total compensation package contract is worth over $200,000 per year.

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