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March 2018

perspectives on cultural improvements in the workplace

The Importance of an Ethical Culture in Law Enforcement

Jason Berry, Assistant Chief, Washington State Patrol

My unofficial definition of [workplace] culture is an organization’s shared purpose, values and behaviors that determine what’s appropriate in the workplace. Having a good culture is very important for a law enforcement agency because it is the fabric that holds us together and directs how the agency and its employees should behave.

An ethical and performance-driven culture is extremely important in law enforcement. We’re engaged in a very important mission to save lives. We are an entity that is given significant authority over citizens’ lives at times, and they will only allow you to act on that authority if you’re viewed as ethical and appropriate. That starts with an organization’s culture in my view.

Early in 2016, we were suffering from low employee morale. We were woefully behind our comparison agencies in pay (20–25 percent lower) and were losing 9.4 employees per month, which was unprecedented for us. So in May 2016, our legislature commissioned an outside organization to come in and assess why people were leaving.

What came out of that assessment was the No. 1 reason employees were unhappy was not because of pay—that was second. Rather, people were leaving because they did not feel like their opinion was valued, and that the organization didn’t appreciate different ways of accomplishing work.

I should note that a number of positive things about our culture were revealed in the outside assessment as well, such as our employees know what’s expected of them, they feel encouraged to do the right thing, and they believe that the state patrol makes a meaningful impact on the state.

But we needed to address how frontline employees felt about how leadership viewed them. The first thing we did to address these morale and cultural issues was set up a way for frontline employees to be heard. We set up a SharePoint site to encourage employees to submit ideas, and we put a team in place to respond to these ideas and call employees individually to discuss the submitted idea in more detail. Employees are involved in the process and can track their ideas through the system until a decision is made. There have been more than 150 suggestions submitted as of Jan. 1, 2018.

Not only did we set up this way for employees to share ideas, but we’re now responding to and implementing some of these ideas. By being involved in the process, our employees learn that there are different committees involved in making decisions and there are budget implications. They also learn more about the organization itself. Even if the answer to their idea is “no,” they are involved in the process and have an understanding as to why the answer is no.

Employees in today’s workforce want to be heard, involved and understand the decisions being made. That’s not to say leaders hand over the authority to make decisions, but they need to recognize the audience has changed over time. Employees today have employment options and will seek out other organizations if they aren’t being satisfied by their work. That is key when navigating generational differences; baby boomers, Generation X and millennials all want to be involved at varying levels. If organizations don’t recognize and address that, they’re not going to have a team for very long. That’s a direct correlation to how people feel about their work, and that’s a direct reflection of the culture.

Other changes have been made as well, involving, where appropriate, the employees that are affected. Updates to the work uniform, listening and addressing some needed safety equipment, such as Naloxone, tourniquets, Kevlar helmets and less lethal shotguns, are examples.

I can’t say enough about how an organization’s culture is defined by its shared mission, vision, values and goals. Having a good culture starts with the people, followed by good policy, training and direction. Leaders today need to walk the walk and talk the talk. Effective leaders demonstrate the organization’s values in how they interact with the public and their employees. They need to be approachable, genuine and take time to interact with frontline employees—they need to listen and show that they care about them. If you just care about the work activity or productivity, you are going to lose folks in your organization. And when you start losing folks, your culture suffers. Incidentally, we have learned work productivity goes up along with morale when you have a healthy culture. This allows an organization to perform at a high level, retain employees and accomplish its mission. So I’d say that organizational culture in law enforcement is extremely important.

Culture Transition After Acquisition

Steve Purdy, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Gemalto

In the unique driver’s license and ID market of North America, Gemalto identified an opportunity to leverage the local expertise and customer-centric approach that was fundamental to Marquis ID Systems (MIDS) and acquired the company in 2014. The fact that both companies held a shared belief in putting the customer first and delivering solutions to improve customer satisfaction formed the basis for this mutually beneficial acquisition.

When introducing a significant change of processes and solutions, as is the case with an acquisition, it can impact not only the culture of a company but also the customer experience. It was a primary focus of Gemalto to implement changes without sacrificing the nimbleness and reactivity that MIDS previously embodied. In the initial acquisition stages, we worked tirelessly to keep our customers satisfied and retain the best parts of each company.

Successfully blending the close-knit culture of the small MIDS organization with a global technology company of 14,000 employees is no easy task. To ensure the expertise and the voices of the MIDS team did not get lost in the transition, Gemalto began by conducting multiple joint workshops, company information training sessions and team-building activities.

Gemalto invests not only in the growth and skillset development of its employees, but also in their personal well-being and enjoyment. Beyond staff meetings and holiday parties, Gemalto has brought the MIDS team into its many employee-focused traditions and activities, including annual health and wellness events, charity and community impact projects, global seminars with upper management, diversity awareness groups and family-friendly festivities. These opportunities to get more involved and connected with coworkers and the company itself make working at Gemalto feel less like a job and more like a lifestyle.

By embracing a combined culture and sharing our strengths, Gemalto and MIDS were able to integrate internal operations and manage external implications successfully.

A Competent, Committed and Courteous Culture

Kevin Shwedo, Executive Director, South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles

The culture that South Carolina DMV employees helped foster and develop is what creates the success and the winning attitude they all have. I like to say that every good DMV employee embodies three significant characteristics or values: They are competent, committed and courteous.

The competent piece is as much the organization’s responsibility as it is the employee’s responsibility. In order to foster a culture in which our employees are competent, we needed to get everyone doing things in the same way. So we shut down all the DMV offices in the state from 8:30–9:30 a.m. every Wednesday morning to train employees on subjects that will make us a more effective and efficient organization. Our employees are responsible for more than 444 separate transactions set by laws that are changed and modified every year. If you don’t have a training program to make sure your employees are doing it right, you’re not going to have an effective organization.

We measure competency by the standards we set for each employee, including a minimum of 50 transactions per day with a standard error rate of less than 1 percent. The agency has determined that this is a high, but attainable and ultimately rewarding, standard for each of our employees to reach. When you have an achievable goal, people take great pride in maintaining established standards and try to get better.

The committed piece is what my expectation is for everyone. I expect my employees to put in an honest day’s work and make a difference in the community. I expect them to explore all opportunities to help customers and leave no stone unturned. In an area of the country known for its “southern hospitality,” we receive constant praise for the experiences the more than 4.5 million South Carolinians we serve have when visiting one of our branches. We put our employees in scenarios during training where they develop an understanding of why people may be unhappy about certain transactions, such as paying a $200 reinstatement fee. Our employees need to understand the circumstances and have empathy, and help work through any possible solutions.

We also have a culture in which we reward our employees appropriately. We’re not passing out participation certificates, but we look for opportunities to recognize and reward our employees. We bestow medals, achievement awards, service awards and other special recognitions for going above and beyond the call of duty. Beyond recognition for a job well done, we also offer employees opportunities to cultivate their skills with training, certification and a development program to get them ready for the next stage of their career.

The bottom line is people want to be successful. People want to be proud of the organization they work for. When you give them an opportunity to excel, they will rise to the occasion and become the best organization in your state. And when you have good, quality individuals who trust you to get things done, they will tell you the things you need to hear instead of what you want to hear.