What I’m Reading: Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City by Antero Pietila
What I’m Listening to: No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy
What I’m Watching: Better Call Saul (Season 3)
I have never been much of a fan of New Year’s Resolutions. I typically find that such promises are short-lived and rarely lead to meaningful results. That said, I do see each new year as an opportunity to reflect on the past year, set priorities for the new year, and become a better version of myself, both personally and professionally.
As I reflect on the last year, some of my most meaningful work has been our City’s efforts to improve our workplace culture. As my leadership team and I embarked on this endeavor in the spring, we had no idea how much work lay ahead. I have used the metaphor of peeling wallpaper on a crumbling wall. Once you peel back the layers, you realize that the problems run deeper than you initially realized, and now that you have exposed the cracks you need to address them too. And so it has been with our plans to build a more cohesive and engaged organization. The three focus areas our employees identified are communication, respect, and recognition. While we achieved some successes in 2019, we have a lot of work ahead of us in 2020 and beyond.
One of the first accomplishments was the creation of an Employee Engagement Committee, with employee representatives from all departments. Early on, in our process, this group made a variety of suggestions for simple fixes, and other suggestions that will take longer to address. We implemented these simple suggestions right off the bat, which showed our employees that we are committed to action, not just talk. In 2019, we implemented three relatively simple employee suggestions of which I am quite proud:
1. We started a monthly employee e-newsletter, that includes pertinent information, as well as “thank-yous” and “kudos” for those who have gone above and beyond in their service to the public. We also now send e-mails to all employees if there will be a road closure or other disruption in the community so that they can plan their work travel accordingly and help the public navigate through detours.
2. We moved our employee holiday event to an off-site venue so that our staff did not have to do the set up and cleanup of the event. They simply needed to show up and enjoy the camaraderie. One of the members of our Employee Engagement Committee coordinated some fun activities that included prizes.
3. We implemented a service recognition program for employees’ years of service milestones. For each five-year increment, employees were recognized with a cash award and certificate. We had plaques made for those employees with 35 years of service. We held a brief recognition ceremony prior to our holiday lunch.
There are many components to our engagement efforts, that I will save for a future buzz. But in reflection on what we did right in 2019, we listened to our employees, and it made a difference. Employees have thanked us for our improved communication. We have received rave reviews on the holiday party and thanks for the recognition. The success of these three simple initiatives help to build a foundation of trust as we prepare to tackle the core challenges in 2020.
As we enter 2020, we are developing plans to address of the core issues employees have identified, all related to communication, recognition and respect. Employees have expressed concerns about favoritism and unfair treatment, unknown or unclear expectations, lack of feedback on performance, lack of input from line staff during budget preparation and when ordering supplies and equipment, and lack of civility in the workplace. Whether these issues are actual or perceived, they are shaping the organization’s culture and affecting employee engagement. Initiatives underway for 2020 include:
1. Supervisory training for all supervisory employees. Our supervisors will meet weekly beginning in January to take part in ICMA’s Effective Supervisory Practices webinar series. We are using the 2017 series on DVD, and we have scheduled our sessions to allow for discussion time after each webinar. Given the sense of distrust in management, as evidenced by concerns of favoritism and unclear expectations, we look to this as an opportunity to get all of our supervisors on the same page on how best to supervise employees.
2. Creation of a new performance review system and training all staff on effective use of the evaluation system. The performance review form that the City has used in the past is not particularly helpful in providing employees the feedback on how to do their jobs well and to grow professionally. In addition, supervisors have not been properly training on how to use the evaluation system. This has resulted in vast inconsistencies across the organization and the sense from employees that they don’t receive meaningful feedback. Our new evaluation system and associated training will address the need for regular and timely feedback and consistency in how evaluations are done. We plan to roll this new system out in early 2020.
3. Working with each department manager to address specific issues within each department. During 2019, we received feedback from employees through a variety of means, including surveys, workshops, and one-on-one discussions. In January, I will meet with each department manager to review the department-specific feedback and develop a plan to address these specific challenges. These plans will be incorporated into the performance review system for each manager, with clear expectations set and results tracked.
As I look ahead to 2020, I realize we have a lot of work to do as we continue to build our organizational culture. However, I am pleased that in 2019 we have built a strong foundation and a dedicated team of employees committed to seeing this through. I tell our staff that this is a process not a project, as building a strong organizational culture is never complete. It takes constant nurturing, but with the success of 2019 under our belts, I know we are up to the task. I look forward to what is to come in 2020 and beyond. I hope that you are able to reflect on your achievements of 2019 and plan for how you can build upon them in 2020. Happy New Year!
Ann Marie Townshend is the City Manager for Lewes, Delaware.