Transit managers have been balancing competing goals for many years. But that’s the point; it used to be all about balancing goals.
After a presentation at the American Public Transportation Association’s CEO Seminar and further interviews with additional transit CEOs, it is clear that today it’s more about managing the tension between contradictory issues.
Based on interviews, The Top 20 Transit Challenges that emerged: The Top Twenty Transit Challenges
- Manage funding cuts
- Follow new mandates
- Engage/motivate employees
- Implement service reductions
- Meet short-term objectives
- Innovate for the long-term
- Get more done with less
- Take time to coach/mentor others
- Deliver legacy projects
- Meet community’s real needs
- Maintain standard IT platforms
- Adapt software to address local needs
- Become a regional mobility manager
- Address each city’s issue
- Manage generational and cultural differences
- Adhere to uniform policies and procedures
- Gain buy-in to the accelerated pace of change
- Build a platform of stability
- Meet the increasing demands of work
- Have a fulfilling home life
How many of these challenges are affecting you? Most of the CEOs in the seminar said that they confront at least a dozen or more on a regular basis.
Review the list of the 20 challenges again, but this time read the list in pairs and between the first and the second, say, “… and at the same time …”
That gives you, “Manage funding cuts and at the same time follow new mandates. Engage/motivate employees and at the same time implement service reductions.” And so on.
As the challenges are read in pairs, it is apparent the challenges are paradoxes — they pull in opposite directions simultaneously.
The top 20 challenges can be reformulated into a list of transit’s top paradocixal challenges:
Transit’s Top 10 Paradoxical Challenges
- Manage funding cuts and Follow new mandates
- Engage/motivate employees and Implement service reductions
- Meet short-term objectives and Innovate for long-term growth
- Get more done with less and Take time to coach/mentor others
- Deliver legacy projects and Meet community’s real needs
- Maintain standard IT platforms and Adapt software to address local needs
- Become a regional mobility manager and Address each city’s issues
- Embrace generational/cultural diversity and Adhere to uniform policies
- Gain buy-in to the accelerated pace of change and Provide a platform of stability
- Meet the increasing demands of work and Have a fulfilling home life
Why So Much Tension ?
Professors Wendy Smith and Marianne Lewis reviewed 360 separate studies on paradoxes and reported that paradoxical tensions are more prevalent and persistent when three forces are at work:
- Competing Stakeholders — Leaders experience increased tension when the number of stakeholders with conflicting agendas increases. Many transit CEOs are pulled to meet the divergent demands of community groups, regulators, sustainability advocates, a regional board, etc.
- Resource Constraints — Despite passage of a two-year transit bill, most transit leaders have to do more with less. They feel pulled to manage their budget constraints while at the same time boost employee morale, exceed riders’ expectations and invest in the future.
- Accelerating Pace of Change — The speed of change is a bullet train to transit’s future. Yet, these changes in technology, information availability, demographic shifts, among others, create an avalanche of continuous change. Keeping pace with the warp-speed of change demands numerous initiatives that often compete with each other.
Any of these forces — or all three — can hit transit leaders on any given day. That’s why the paradox is less about finding balance and more about managing the tension of opposing demands.