While organizational norms vary by type of planning organization, idealist planners should start their careers with a basic set of behaviors and then modify them to fit their workplace.
Information on different kinds of organizations is available in the previous posts Where Should I Work? and Beyond the Private/Public Dichotomy. The following suggests some initial dos and don’ts.
Be on time, follow the rules, and be willing to work extra hours (within reason).
Arrive at work ready to be productive.
Pay attention to norms concerning interaction styles, professional dress, and office neatness.
Seek opportunities to shine — a presentation to senior management, a lunch with a supervisor, or a role in a community meeting.
Take initiative in ways that supervisors support and that helps the team succeed. Seek the sweet spot where your personal initiative serves the organization’s goals.
Ask for help when you are stuck, but only after you have exhausted your own resources.
Ask for feedback on work products outside formal performance evaluations.
Respect organizational hierarchy. Avoid going behind your manager’s back to pitch an idea to someone higher up.
Take advantage of human resource training, continuing education, professional conferences, and team-building exercises.
Attend the holiday party even if the corny gift exchange is not very fun for you.
Let your supervisor know if your work environment impedes your productivity, such as the case with noise in a cubicle environment. Offer a reasonable solution.
Tell what seems to be a minor, innocent lie for convenience or to avoid a difficult situation.
Gossip about the employer or co-workers with friends and associates, inside or outside of the office.
Interact with commissioners, board members, or elected officials outside of public meetings and formal briefings unless your manager approves.
Bring your cell phone to a meeting. I’m not kidding. That way, you’ll have more conversations with team members and managers.
Call in sick when you’re not sick.
Post anything on social media that you wouldn’t want a current or future manager to see.
Miss deadlines. If you do, don’t make it worse by being evasive or making excuses.
Talk about politics, religion, or other personal matters unless those discussions are welcome and do not risk professional relationships.
Have an alcoholic drink or any other substance that affects your frame of mind at lunch, before an evening meeting, or at any other work-related event.
Refuse or resist mundane tasks. They need to be done, so help. Over time, more interesting tasks will come to you.
Proceed with a task when you are not clear on its purpose, if your manager is available for consultation. If there is no consultation available, then proceed as best as possible.
Ignore how your work affects your team. For example, a small error could be compounded in technical documents and require a team to work over a weekend.
Succeeding in an organization may be as simple as having good manners. Manners will take you most of the way there. In addition, planners who develop communication skills and emotional intelligence can better figure out how to apply these general suggestions to their particular organization.
Follow these dos and don’ts and your reputation will flourish as you attract interesting assignments, promotions, and the trust of your managers.
Top image: Thinkstock photo.
About the Author
Richard Willson, FAICP
Richard Willson, FAICP, is a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Cal Poly Pomona. He has also served as department chair, interim dean, and independent planning consultant. Willson's research addresses planning practice and parking policy. His book, A Guide for the Idealist: How to Launch and Navigate Your Planning Career, amplifies the themes in this blog series. Willson is also the author of Parking Reform Made Easy (Island Press, 2013) and Parking Management for Smart Growth (2015). Willson holds a PhD in urban planning from the University of California, Los Angeles, a Master of Planning from the University of Southern California, and a Bachelor of Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo.