RP&L, Steve Saum and employee performance reviews

Barbary sheep ~ "head-butting"2012 has been a challenging year so far for the leadership of Richmond Power & Light, Richmond's municipally owned power company.

Most of the strife centers around the firing of RP&L General Manager Steve Saum; the short version is that the Board of Directors unexpectedly removed Saum from his position after a negative performance review, and Saum along with others are concerned that he wasn't given due process.  After the story hit the media, there's been additional concern about the way the RP&L Board has (or has not) communicated the reasoning behind their decision and what it means for the future of the utility.  There's a story in today's Palladium-Item with some new revelations about the proceedings.

Few are in any good position to pass judgment on these matters.  In my limited interactions with Steve Saum I've always found him to be a person of good intent and competence in his leadership.  I also know most of members of the RP&L Board well enough to say they are people of good intent and great care for the future of RP&L and the City.  (Full disclosure: I ran unsuccessfully for election to the RP&L Board last year.)  And no matter what you think of any of their actions or decisions, it's just a painful and messy thing when matters of someone's employment and livelihood (or managerial methods) become a topic of public conversation.

But even with the limited facts available about this series of events, it seems there are some missed opportunities to reflect on moving forward:

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The closing of the Conflict Resolution Center

In a final issue of its newsletter, the board of the Conflict Resolution Center here in Richmond reports the sad news that it has decided to close the organization down.

Having served on the CRC board in the past and having volunteered as a trained mediator, I came to greatly appreciate the idea that members of a community can resolve our interpersonal conflicts in ways that promote non-violence, justice, reconciliation and a deepening of connection, without resorting to the sometimes scarring machinations of the legal system. The CRC existed to facilitate those experiences, through its mediation program, educational work with local youth, and its rich history of related efforts in the Richmond area and beyond.

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Why Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst was good for you

Republican Congressman Joe Wilson has already apologized for his lack of civility in last night's joint session of Congress, after shouting "you lie!" at President Barack Obama during Obama's speech about health care reform. Wilson is unsurprisingly being raked over the coals by fellow politicians, the media, and indignant bloggers and Twitter users, but I'm not sure we don't also owe him a word of thanks.

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Sunday Links for the Week - October 7 2007

  1. In the theme of nefarious co-opting important activist ideas into consumerist culture, apparently the cosmetics and plastic surgery industries are working on appealing to women with a new and unfortunate message: conforming to traditional notions of beauty is the new feminism.
  2. If you've ever received junk e-mail, you may be interested in the massive network of zombie computers (maybe even yours) that is powering the efforts of spammers and network abusers everywhere: Gathering 'Storm' Superworm Poses Grave Threat to PC Nets. Scary stuff.
  3. When you are in conflict with a partner, there are only two possible intentions: you either intend to protect yourself from hurt feelings or you intend to learn and grow from the experience. The difference between the two approaches can be the difference between successful conflict resolution and failure.
  4. Richmond residents are invited to a debate between mayoral candidates Sally Hutton and Rick Thalls this Wednesday. And did you know there are 17 people currently running for President of the United States? Wow.
  5. For consultants: Every project and every office has multiple personality types. How you work with them and how you manage the rationale of decisions and feedback is crucial to your success. By applying the right relationship management techniques, you can calm tension, communicate more easily, run your projects more efficiently — and you might get additional work since the relationship with the client will be strong from beginning to end.
  6. What does it mean to be on the ball? It means you've got good Flow. Especially important if you're creating websites.

An exchange on the street about biking Uptown

You may know about the ongoing conversation about safe bike riding in Uptown Richmond (the business district). At the end of last year, there was a nice improvement when signs that appeared to prohibit biking on that stretch of Main Street came down. I had an interesting related exchange today while walking on the sidewalk. A young man on a bike was riding on the sidewalk, headphones on, coming toward me quickly, and I saw him at the last minute with barely enough time to jump out of the way:
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Got conflict? Want to work it out?

The notion of "conflict resolution" is one of those things that is tempting to assume we all understand as well as or as much as we need to. We all have conflict in our lives, and we all make decisions every day about how we're going to deal with it: avoid it, engage it head on, active passive-aggressively about it, pretend to smooth it over but not really deal with it, commit an act of violence, and so on. But most of the time, no matter what course of action we choose, dealing with conflict is hard. It's stressful. It can be draining and debilitating, at a personal level but also for an organization or business or family as a whole. And even though we may have learned a lot about how to deal with it by now, that doesn't mean we don't need help sometimes. Thank goodness for the existence of the Conflict Resolution Center, located right here in Richmond. They're a non-profit providing affordable, accessible mediation services to our community, and they educate us about non-violent resolution of conflicts of all types.
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Whole lotta learning going on

I almost feel like a student again! Not including my trip to the conference last weekend, which was a semi-academic learning experience in itself, I'm engaged in a couple of other great learning opportunities. I just completed a course in mediation training given by The Conflict Resolution Center here in Richmond as a part of preparing to volunteer as a community mediator. I already greatly enjoy studying and learning about how humans can communicate more effectively with each other (especially around difficult issues), so it was great to formalize some of those skills in this particular context, and to interact with other folks interested in doing the same. I also really appreciated that such a great resource with such important community services is right here in town.

I'm also taking a creative writing class from the folks at the Gotham Writers` Workshop. It's been an interesting experience so far, and I'm grateful for some structure around my desire to do more creative writing - or, dare I say it, "be a writer" - but I'll reserve for later my opinion of how well I learn in an online course environment - quite a contrast to face-to-face interaction. Anyone out there had any experiences with online education or training to share? What are *you* learning about these days?

Bypassing the Handmaidens and Pimps

Dave Pollard has a post up about conflict resolution. After a few paragraphs castigating the ability of the U.S. legal system and its agents to resolve conflicts, he talks about how to resolve peer-to-peer conflicts. It's interesting to me that the examples he gives of conflicts involving opposing worldviews pitted family members against each other (which seems about right for most of the kinds of conflict you mentioned), and yet one conclusion he made was that more carefully chosen communities might help us avoid these conflicts altogether. Indeed, one would like to think that this is the case, but I'm not sure such careful selection can alone overcome the cultural barriers at work, especially when it comes to the dynamics of the modern family (biological and otherwise), and the conflicting motives often driving its members.

I suppose it's worth noting as well that, in my experience, the kind of interest-based resolution approach that Dave mentioned can work for people with extremely opposing worldviews or mismatched frames, it just takes a lot more time and energy than most participants are willing to spend. In other words, in many situations, the desire to end the conflict "one way or another" will outweigh the desire to end it with a mutually satisfactory outcome.