Wastewater Treatment Division unit acts on survey results to improve employee morale and workplace satisfaction

How to do you go from low morale, poor work life balance, lack of clarity in communication and no compass in the form of vision, mission and goals to a highly engaged team where members pitch in to balance workload and are focused on a simple, impactful mission? In the Wastewater Treatment Division, the Regulatory Compliance and Land Acquisition Services (RCLAS) Unit used lean tools in their engagement action plan. The results of their efforts won them recognition as a Performance Achievement Award finalist and their story provides a model to follow.

At the end of 2016 RCLAS had a “Fried Chicken Lunch” to do a group self-reflection on how they felt about 2016. The team members agreed that they suffered from poor to average morale. They were confused, overworked, and unhappy. Their internal process partner feedback was not good. The supervisor felt like he was putting out more fires rather than leading people.

RCLAS’ engagement scores were 70% for 2015 and 75% for 2016, respectively. The team was looking for at least an 85% engagement score in 2017.

In a team discussion, they identified some of the root causes for the low engagement score as:

  • No transparency in the staff’s workload. Some people were too busy or some people had little to do
  • No compass to guide the unit’s mission, vision, values
  • Not enough face time with the supervisor. They only had face time when there was a crisis.
  • Information was not conveyed properly between leads and supervisor
  • No work-life balance
  • Lack of clarity in communication

Out of all the root causes, the team decided to focus on metrics to help give them the compass that they needed. The team decided that they were going to use the only verifiable data they had to justify everyone’s anecdotal feelings in concrete numbers – the 2016 King County engagement survey.

Bill Wilbert, Environmental Programs Managing Supervisor, worked with his unit to create a “Strategic Deployment” A3 Report to address some of the morale issues shared by unit team members. An A3 Report is a very useful problem solving and continuous improvement tool. The team implemented the following countermeasures:

  1. Created a visible workload tracker on the internal SharePoint site, so that everyone can share a balanced work load. Those who were not as busy can help others who were busier.
  2. Eliminated the Lead position, as Bill encouraged everyone to be a coach and mentor to each other. All staff in his unit was invited to supervisor and leads meetings, if they wished to attend.
  3. Created a simple mission and vision: Have work life balance and deliver great customer service.
  4. Make the supervisor and staff one-on-one meetings more meaningful and designate a purpose. Instead of just reviewing a list of tasks that staff needed to complete their projects, Bill talked to each employee about their career and personal goals, and how they could work together to meet the employee’s goals and deliver excellent customer service.
  5. Weekly 15 minute huddles on permitting work and weekly 15 minute huddles on real estate work.
  6. Quick five minute daily huddles focusing on what’s “next” for the day.
  7. Implement a customer service process for partners.
  8. Bill spent less time in his office and walked the aisles more often.
  9. Bill read self-improvement books such as “The Humble Inquiry,” and “Servant Leadership.”
  10. The overall unit is reading the book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”
  11. Plans were made to follow up with staff quarterly on their Individual Development Plan.

Due to this great work, the RCLAS unit’s 2017 engagement score went from 75% in 2016 to 95%, which is a 20-point increase. The goal for the 2019 engagement survey is to achieve an overall 98% engagement score, and a 95% engagement score for the Equity and Social Justice questions. This unit saw significant improvement in employee morale and workplace satisfaction by working together to address these issues and build a better, more welcoming environment, all from reviewing their Employee Engagement Survey results.

The King County Employee Engagement Survey has been used to hear from employees about how to make King County a better place to work, and how to provide services more effectively to residents. Based on employee feedback, the survey will be administered in spring of each year instead of fall. This year, the survey period is March 11-29 (March 11-22 for Transit employees). 

Learn more about the changes coming to this year’s survey in this blog post  and on the King County website at www.kingcounty.gov/employeesurvey.