360 458 MOVE MAG36891

March 2018

Team members provide exceptional service in a supported and respectful environment

Think for a moment about the atmosphere in your organization. Do employees look forward to coming to work each day? Are the lines of communication open from the front lines all the way to senior leadership? Are collaboration and innovation the way of business?

Alberto Gonzalez, DMV administrator at the Idaho Division of Motor Vehicles, confidently answers “yes” to all of those questions today. But that wasn’t the case five years ago.

“Workplace culture was something we struggled with,” he says. “We made the decision at the executive level to actively create a culture that most of our employees would hope that we would have.”

Five years of investing time and money into a culture shift have produced some pretty incredible results. The department has seen drastic decreases in staff turnover, as well as increases in transfer requests from other departments. Additionally, employees are highly engaged and feel empowered to share ideas around process improvements and programs. In fact, in 2016, the Idaho DMV became the first government agency ever to be nominated for the Idaho Technology Council’s Innovative Company of the Year Award.

“Ultimately, I believe nothing is done unless workplace culture is sound,” Gonzalez says. “If you do not invest in culture, you have a stale workforce, poor retention and a lack of innovative ideas. Culture has to be a primary part of what you do.”

The Heart of Every Workplace Culture

Employees should be at the center of any workplace culture change. Without employee involvement, you risk widespread resistance or a resulting culture that is out of touch with employees.

AAMVA, which is in the early stages of a major initiative to transform its internal culture, engaged a group of employees in various levels and roles to initially drive the effort. “We didn’t just rely on the leadership team to define the new culture,” says Anita Simmons, vice president of Human Resources and Organizational Development at AAMVA. “About 30 employees and managers worked together to come up with a culture map for the organization.”

In November 2017, AAMVA shared the culture map at a company-wide, three-hour kickoff. The association even flew in remote employees for the meeting. “We could not proceed with the initiative without getting not just the buy-in but also ideas and feedback from employees. We needed to know the direction they wanted the organization to go in,” Simmons says, adding that moving forward, AAMVA will provide culture training to all employees at every level.

When the Motor Vehicle Branch of the New Brunswick Department of Justice and Public Safety first embraced lean continuous improvement and subsequently embarked on a major workplace culture shift, the organization was upfront with employees about the changes in order to gain buy-in and avoid resistance.

“As part of the efforts, we pushed down decision-making to the lowest point possible, so people felt like they had a role to play,” says Chris O’Connell, registrar of Motor Vehicles. “Staff really climbed on board.”

When the Idaho DMV made the decision to undergo its culture change, the first order of business was to survey employees about their dream workplace culture and compare results with the organization’s current state. “We shared the survey results with our employees,” Gonzalez says. “We wanted to be transparent about the fact that we had a lot of work to do. That started the conversation about the things we needed to do differently to improve culture.”

Doing Things Differently

The major component of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles’ culture is service-mindedness, says Registrar Erin Deveney. “[When we were undergoing a culture shift] we had to stop thinking about ourselves as a product delivery system and stop thinking about ourselves in the context of issuing driver’s licenses or registrations or vehicle titles,” she says. “We needed to think of ourselves as a service-based organization with the simple guiding philosophy of putting the customer first. Everything we do is meant to be customer-focused.”

To support that, the organization expanded service channels—mail, online and a public/private partnership with AAA—to expedite customers. “We could offer our employees a workplace where they were servicing less frustrated, less dissatisfied customers. It created more pleasant service interactions for customers and for staff,” Deveney says. “The culture shift to a customer-focus was successful all around, helping to provide a work–life balance without compromising service.”

Another component of the culture change at the Massachusetts RMV involved improving communication with staff members. “We consciously had to break the old bad habit of talking to the public first and talking to team members last,” Deveney says. “Too often when we introduced initiatives, employees would hear about it in the press release.”

Previously, half of the RMV’s team members didn’t have an email address, and they had to rely on managers or supervisors to print out emails for them. Today, the organization ensures every team member has an email address—and direct and easy access to stay up-to-date about changes.

The Massachusetts RMV also prioritizes employee recognition. Each month, the service center management team recognizes a winner from each region across the state for exceptional service and teamwork. The winners are announced in the monthly internal newsletter. “As managers, we recognize that we serve the citizens of our jurisdictions first and foremost. But our team members are our internal customers,” Deveney says. “We have to be committed to their success and personal and professional well-being.”

Measuring Progress

Workplace culture shifts are by no means a one-and-done effort. Simmons notes that AAMVA plans to use regular pulse assessments and surveys to ensure that its culture initiative continues to resonate with employees. “Culture should be a living, breathing thing,” she says. “Three years from now, some things may have changed.”

In addition to department- wide culture surveys for all employees, the Idaho DMV incorporates 360-degree feedback from peers and direct reports as part of performance evaluations for managers. “This feedback provides a culture assessment of your management style,” Gonzalez says.

The Washington Department of Licensing conducts quarterly pulse surveys for employees and an annual statewide survey to measure progress against its 10 culture statements. Statements in the most recent survey included:

“I receive clear information about changes being made in the agency.” (64 percent of responses were positive compared to the statewide average of 50 percent.)

“I know how my agency measures success.” (69 percent of responses were positive compared to the statewide average of 57 percent.)

“We are making improvements to make things better for customers.” (75 percent of responses were positive compared to the statewide average of 66 percent.)

“There’s still room to grow, but we are making a difference,” says Pat Kohler, director of the Washington DOL. “I share with all employees that we all have the ability to influence our culture, and as a leader it is important that I model the culture we are striving to achieve.”

Benefits From Top to Bottom

When an organization maintains a positive, strong workplace culture, the benefits can be far-reaching. That’s been the case for the Motor Vehicle Branch of the New Brunswick Department of Justice and Public Safety. “Our employees are increasingly volunteering and helping out coworkers,” O’Connell says. “There is a high level of engagement and team cooperation.”

To be sure, the department was one of only four areas invited to participate in a government-wide, three-year project on creating a positive workforce environment.

The Idaho DMV is experiencing similar results. “We’re seeing higher employee engagement in activities,” Gonzalez says. “We have Open Door Fridays where staff brings up ideas and concerns. Today, people are comfortable talking to anyone regardless of their level.”

At the Massachusetts RMV, employees previously were hesitant to pursue management opportunities for fear of losing union protections. Today, supervisors are willing to take on the challenge of moving into management positions. “We like to think they embrace the change and the direction the organization is taking,” Deveney says.

Benefits spill over to the general public, as well. Customers often send emails or letters, or post messages on social media, about the level of service they receive. According to Deveney, elected leaders and citizens are approaching top officials with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation at public events on a regular basis, telling them that the experience at RMV service centers is so much more pleasant than three years ago and that online transactions were easy to navigate and a real time-saver since they could be done from home. In the past, when RMV employees identified where they worked when out in public, they often heard negative anecdotes about a service experience. It’s now clear how the shift to putting the customer first has had a positive impact for customers and staff.

“That’s a reflection of process changes—and that the people serving our customers are making a difference in the popular opinion of the Registry of Motor Vehicles,” Deveney says. “Several years ago, people may have been reluctant to say they worked here. Now they have a sense of pride.”