A Performance Review for Phil Crandall
Following last week’s post and enlightening thread about Humboldt County’s Dept. of Health and Human Services, the Humboldt Herald received the following by a former employee.
Humboldt County’s Department of Health and Human Services is run by Phil Crandall, the worst manager I’ve ever encountered. I worked at DHHS in a relatively low-level position for more than a year, and he is so bad I can’t think of anyone I’ve worked for or with who even comes close. (A little bit about my background at the end, so you can judge for yourself whether my comments are informed or not.)
A good manager can accomplish wonders, building teams that bring out the best in each of their members. Good managers attract good managers to work for them, amplifying their effect on the organization beyond what you would think one person could accomplish.
A bad manager can take a good staff and destroy it, causing the best employees to flee and the remainder to lose all motivation. Bad managers promote cronies — incompetent subordinates who are easily controllable. Sadly, the crony effect amplifies the bad manager, causing an organization to sink into a rut that it might never escape.
In private industry, most bad managers are eventually fired. When they aren’t, their businesses fail. In government, there’s sometimes no check on bad managers. In the best case, they are shuffled off to a non-critical area where their damage can be limited. In the worst case, the bad manager is at the top, and you just have to hope there is some responsible oversight that will eventually shake them loose.
Crandall has control of a department that has a budgeted head count of 1,121 and a budget of $140 million. That’s in a county whose population is only around 125,000. Besides Crandall’s DHHS, the entire remainder of County government has fewer than 1,000 employees. Whether you are right, left, or center, whether you are proudly progressive or proudly conservative, having more than half of county government disabled by bad management is a problem that you should find unacceptable.
Crandall has created a department where the “ineffectual but loyal” are promoted and any evidence of independent initiative is squelched. I’m not in any way critical of DHHS line staff, because it’s hard to know what they’d accomplish if they were allowed to work.
Here’s one true story: a highly-qualified and eager applicant for a clerical position thinks their interview is going swimmingly, until they are asked what they would do if they were the only person in the office and the phone rang. They answered that they would pick it up, give the office’s name and theirs, ask how they could help, and take a message. They could tell from the instant change in the interviewers’ demeanor that they’d given an unacceptable answer. They tried to backpedal, saying if they’d been told not to answer the phone they wouldn’t. It was too late. They didn’t get the job.
And another: I was present immediately after a low level employee was loudly bawled out by Crandall for not having done their job properly. The only problem: the complaints were about a part of the project over which this low level employee had absolutely zero control. Their manager, who should have known, chose to keep their mouth shut while their blameless subordinate was run through a wringer.
And a personal experience from the day I started at DHHS: I heard a manager joke about our clients and the fact that some money actually went to them. (S)he complained that any money that went to clients just went for drugs and alcohol. In his/her view, the Department would be best doing its job by ensuring that no one ever received any public assistance whatsoever.
I had many more such experiences, and many that are far, far worse than those I’ve described, but I’m trying to stay anonymous. The stories that I can’t tell would make you laugh. Then, when you realized that the incompetence on display was directly hurting the very people that most need our help, the stories would make you cry. I’m hopeful that people will contribute their own stories in the comments section.
I never saw anyplace where more meetings were held without agendas, minutes, or results. I never saw anyplace where less work was accomplished by anyone above the immediate client-service level. I never saw any organization where so many high level managers regarded the organization’s mission or clients with more contempt.
The Board of Supervisors is Crandall’s boss. He’s very good at “managing up,” devoting more time to self-promotion with the Supes and the press than he does to managing his department. Without question, this is where Crandall excels. When Eureka’s SWAT team shot and killed one of DHHS’ clients a few years back, the cops took a lot of well-deserved blame. Crandall deserved at least an equal share of the blame, and managed to come out without much bad publicity.
Supposedly, Crandall is good at attracting money. This is undoubtedly an important skill, but it is one that can be purchased by a good manager. Grant writers can be hired by any organization that budgets for them. The job of the top manager is to ensure a functioning department. It is at this that Crandall has failed completely. He is now costing taxpayers millions of dollars a year in excess employee attrition alone. Crandall’s created a welfare department for mediocre mid-level bureaucrats, using funds that should be used to help people in need.
We now have two new Supervisors, Mark Lovelace and Clif Clendenen. Jimmy Smith also seems to want to do the right thing. I hope these three will pay some attention to the situation at DHHS. Let me suggest one simple action that would cost the county next to nothing: send a survey to the home address of every county employee. Ask them what county department they work for, but don’t ask them for any other information that could personally identify them. And then ask them to grade their immediate manager and the topmost manager at their group. Ask about specific qualities. Ask about results. And ask them to answer a question like this: do you think you could accomplish more in your job if management were changed?
The results, I guarantee, will be eye-opening.
Me: I’m 40+ and worked in private industry before moving to Humboldt many years ago. Before moving to Humboldt, I earned a six-figure income. I moved here because I wanted a lower-stress lifestyle for myself and my family. The schools here have a good reputation. I joined DHHS thinking it would be an opportunity to give back to my new community. I quit DHHS nearly suicidal, with my self-confidence temporarily destroyed. This, years later, is my “exit interview.” Needless to say, none was conducted when I left.