Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

March 26, 2013

(Almost) undercover boss

Town manager goes into the field

Bart Doan

BROWNSBURG — Ever wonder if your boss is capable of doing your job? In Brownsburg, town employees are finding out. Town Manager Grant Kleinhenz, along with Assistant Town Manager Brian Hartsell, are three months into a program they call Fridays in the Field, where they spend time at the various town departments performing daily tasks alongside the regular crews.

“I’ve been town manager here for about a year,” Kleinhenz said, “and I think in trying to figure out some of the challenges we needed to overcome, one of them was a better and improved relationship with the administration and my staff. I decided one of the ways to create bonds with those employees is to get out once a month, go on the job with some of the employees, and experience their working conditions the way they do.”

Since the program started, Hartsell has worked at the wastewater plant while Kleinhenz has spent time as a building inspector and most recently, working with the street department filling the concrete mixer.

“It’s a pretty backbreaking task,” Hartsell said. “I talked to the superintendent there and asked what he needed to do this job more efficiently because it’s a fairly labor intensive process. I think what we’ve been doing, it’s really made a difference in the way I see these departments. I see their issues and get to create a relationship with their employees.”

Kleinhenz said the goal is to focus on each town department at least once. And he said the employees don’t cut him any slack just because he’s their boss.

“I sit in my office, and I’m a little out of shape,” he laughed. “They do like putting us through the mill. I can tell you that after scooping that concrete mix, I had a sore back pretty much all weekend. I need to get in shape for the summer.”

Kleinhenz said that he hopes to better understand the concerns of each department so he can take those into consideration come budget time. The town will start working on its 2014 budget in April.

“In particular, when budget time comes and (departments) ask for certain items, we’re going to have a different perspective now,” he said. “It’s very hard to make good decisions in a vacuum. Without doing these kinds of things, you’re just guessing as to how it will improve and why they need it.”

He likened the process to the Emmy Award winning television show “Undercover Boss,” where a high level executive or owner of a company goes out to perform the tasks of his employees without them knowing who he is. Although Kleinhenz said there’s nothing “undercover” about what he’s doing.

“I’m getting in there, rolling my sleeves up, and seeing how it’s done,” he said. “I can’t really go undercover, but it’s something I hope over time, will be well received. I think too often we, as town managers, maybe (town employees) get the impression that we have no idea what they’re doing. This is something I’ve tried over my career to break down, not just going out in the field with them, but on a monthly basis meet where we can get together with departments at a table in their break room in their building and open it up for questions and comments they might have for us and give a five-minute rundown of things the town is focused on.”

Kleinhenz, who previously served as a city manager in Centralia, Ill., said the concept was formed there and expanded in Brownsburg.

“In the last community I was in in Illinois, I tried to make a focus on Friday afternoons to go out and visit the job sites, just because I wanted to get a feel, but I didn’t necessarily do the work,” he said. “I think this is the next evolution in that concept.

“I’ll be able to see their conditions and understand when their department heads or supervisors come forward with an idea, for instance, a new piece of equipment or expenditure, I’m able to understand what they’re having to overcome and see if that investment is something we want to do.”