6. Problems and Solutions: Work Plans and Follow-Up
Work Plans and Next Steps
Rodd called up the presenter(s) selected by each of the 12 tables to talk about what they had accomplished in their few hours together. The presentations were captured on video and are summarized here for the four tables in each of StateOrg’s Big Three “Tackle First” issue groups.
Issue One – ‘Equipment or systems are outdated and/or there are insufficient materials or supplies.’ We are the Equipment & Supplies Team and we made a starting list of what was outdated, and which materials and supplies we thought were needed. But sometimes we weren’t clear whether they were really needed or not, or what they would be used for, so we know we need to take an inventory of what people see is needed and discuss the value of purchasing it. We also talked about what benefits would come from updating equipment or obtaining more materials. We used the four conversations list to create the following plan of action:
- Initiative: Goal – What: Have an inventory of necessary equipment, systems, materials, and supplies that will be kept up to date, including procedures for replenishing and/or updating each of item. When: The inventory will be in place by October 10th; Procedures will be drafted and made available to all Regions by November 5th. Why: This will improve productivity and effectiveness for StateOrg personnel and improve service and collaboration for clients and their current or prospective employers.
- Understanding: Work Plan – Who: Our key players are the 4 group members who will be the responsible for Inventory; Replenishment procedures; Needs-detection and processing updates; and Meetings management. Other key players include the Regional Managers, Financial Office and Purchasing Managers. Where: Our procedures will include a list of StateOrg’s suppliers for everything in the inventory and how to contact them. How: We have already started our work on this and have a good roadmap to go forward.
- Performance: Agreements – Who asks: Our Team drafts the requests for the Regional Managers, Financial Office, and Procurement Managers to obtain specific inventory items. Also, each of those people can ask us to make modifications in our requests. Who promises: All key players, including our Team members, will agree to specify What they will do or deliver, and by When, in responding to each request.
- Closure: Regular Update Meetings – We will meet once a week until we have our inventory complete and our updating systems and procedures in place, then switch to once-a-month meetings. We will include the Four A’s in our meeting agenda.
Several observations were made by managers, who had previously not recognized the issue as serious, including:
- “Now I see why some of our reports to Federal agencies were not compiled in time to meet the deadlines. We didn’t have the software that would pull the statistics together easily, and it took staff members extra time to do the job manually. I didn’t know that software was needed, or even that it was available. Now I’ve ordered it.”
- “I knew we ran out of copier toner sometimes, but I didn’t know that we didn’t have a good system to get it ordered. We sketched out a system for how to know when we need to order toner, paper, and other office supplies, and drafted a process to place orders with several of our suppliers. This is an easy fix.”
Issue Two – ‘Changes are implemented without discussing them with the people whose jobs will be affected by the change.’ None of us on the Change Communication Team had any trouble identifying the specific changes that caused the most problems: last year’s layoffs, January’s budget changes, and the highly memorable restructuring from 2 ½ years ago. We also used the four conversations list to create this work plan:
- Initiative: Goal – What: Have a list of specific recommended Administration and Regional staff communications to be used when a change is being made to StateOrg organizational structures, personnel changes, job descriptions, and/or Regional budget allocations. When: Regional staff interviews will be done and recorded, with data on recommended communications organized by November 1st; Change Communication recommendations will be drafted and delivered to all Regions by November 12th. Why: This will improve productive performance for all StateOrg personnel during times of substantial organizational and/or personnel changes.
- Understanding: Work Plan – Who: Key players are the ten group members who will be doing change-interviews – two in each Region – and the five IT people who oversee data management in the Regions. Other key players include the Regional Managers and the administrative people in StateOrg’s central offices. Where: We’ll be working in all five Regions and pulling the information together in our online meetings. How: We have targets for how many interviews to complete each week, who will do them, and similar plans for data assembly and distribution.
- Performance: Agreements – Who asks: We will ask for the interviews and schedule them. Who promises: People who agree to an interview will tell us about problems they had with previous changes, what they needed to know and when they should have known it. Our Team promises to have the “Change Communications Recommendations” to StateOrg administrators and managers by November 12th.
- Closure: Regular Update Meetings – We will be meeting twice a week until we have our interviews complete, our data compiled, and our Communication Recommendations Report finalized. We will participate in any discussions requested by StateOrg administrators and managers and will disband when those are complete.
Here are some of the comments made after the first meeting:
- Manager: “I knew we had people who were still angry or resentful about changes to their jobs, even months after a change happened. I didn’t have much choice about making the change, but now I see that I should have called a meeting of the people who would be affected as soon as I learned about it. I also should have called a meeting with the people who made the decision in the first place, so I could have learned more about why the change was important. We could have created a plan for it together, and they would have had ideas on how to make things go more smoothly than it did. We are still healing that mistake. The group members told me to bring donuts to the next meeting as a way of apologizing.” She laughed, saying, “I figured it was the least I could do.”
- Staff member: “Some of the equipment and resource problems we’ve had here are a result of not talking about changes we were making to the kinds of jobs people had to do. I think most of us were hesitant to speak up about what we needed, because we saw management as being under budget strains already, and also because we didn’t want to confront them about it. But we were pretty mad about not being included in the first place, so we weren’t thinking clearly. We’ll speak up from here on.”
Issue Three – ‘There are significant differences in the quality of work people do.’ We started to make a list of certain job products that varied in quality – like reports on clients and their employment prospects. But then we decided to upgrade all of the conversations about work assignments between Regional managers, supervisors and staff members. We made up a simple checklist for giving and accepting staff assignments, borrowing questions we found most useful from our discussions on the four conversations”. If managers and supervisors who give people a work assignment just take the time to discuss these questions about the assignment, people will understand what it means to do “quality work”. Here is our checklist:
- What is the task to be done and/or the result to be produced?
- When is it to be complete?
- Why is it important? Does it contribute to one of our larger goals?
Understanding: Work Plan
- Who – on our Team and elsewhere – will need to be included in some way in order to get it done well?
- Where will we get the resources needed to accomplish this assignment? And Where will the benefits be observed?
- How will we connect and communicate with those people/groups?
- How will this task/project/job be done? Is there a checklist or a procedure? A plan or a process? If not, how can we create one?
- What agreements need to be established and managed for success?
- Who makes the requests? Who makes the promises? Who manages the success of the agreement?
Closure: Regular Update Meetings
- When – dates and times – will results be reported and updated? How will that be done – in a meeting, in a report, or by phone or email?
The “Work Quality Team” presentation was short. They had ten presenters at the microphone, each one reading one of the ten questions. Then their chosen “Quality Team Leader” took the mic and said, “We think that ten questions isn’t too much to cover when a work assignment is being agreed upon. Let us know if we need to add an eleventh one, OK?” The room responded with wild applause.
Three Months Later: Follow-Up
Rodd had arranged for each “Problem Solver Group” – all the people at the four tables for each of the Big Three StateOrg workplace problems – to have access to a ZOOM account number so they could set up regular times to talk, upgrade their plans, and report results on resolving issues in each of the regions. Three months after the All-Staff Capitol Meeting, more results were visible. Some were predictable, but others were quite unexpected. Here are four examples:
- The Equipment and Supply Team had competed its inventory, including instructions on how and when to take inventories, and a form for checking off what was needed and how to get new or updated items whenever they ran out. Each Region had two people who would handle those tasks, and they all talked at least once a month. Regional Team leaders also talked regularly on ZOOM. Complaints about equipment and supply issues stopped, and all managers and staff knew how to resolve them if they occurred.
- The Change Communication Team put out its report on the key factors that StateOrg administrators needed to communicate whenever an organizational or personnel change was being planned. The basic points for discussing organizational changes were identified, and a bullet-point was added to all Regional staff meeting agendas to mention whether any new changes were on the horizon.
- The Work Quality Team distributed its new 10-question checklist for managers and supervisors who were giving new assignments to StateOrg personnel. This had a slow start in being implemented, however. Some managers took on the practice of using it to be sure that staff assignments were clear, and nobody had to rely on vague “expectations” for their performance evaluations. But other managers and supervisors resented the “extra time” it required, with one complaining that she did not enjoy spending time talking to people about what they are “supposed to do”. “Just do it!”, she said. Even so, there was continuing growth in the use of this checklist, especially when managers who used it talked about its benefits at their quarterly meetings.
- New Groups Forming: With the Big Three issues resolved, several small groups of StateOrg employees looked at their original sets of survey results again and chose to take on getting a few other issues resolved. Now that they knew how to do it, people had confidence they could take more of the frequently observed issues off the list. For example, three groups that were actively collaborating across at least two of the Regions were focused on:
- Restoring channels of communication that had been disrupted by staff cuts, especially in Regions B and D;
- Identifying and providing the types of training needed at various locations, including a focus on Region E; and
- Investigating the unnecessary “emergencies” problem in Region C.
Another surprising result was noticing that several items were no longer issues. Putting a communication checklist in place to guide all staff assignments also cleared up the problem of “subjective performance reviews” for most managers. Now they could evaluate performance based on how well people met the agreements they had made for their tasks and results.
Rodd declared the need to have a party – and got them all together in the Capitol Conference Room to celebrate over a morning discussion and a buffet lunch. Rodd and his managers, supervisors, and staff had shifted from operating as remote regional outposts to working as a coordinated network of groups. They all could see much more positive relations and more productive interactions than before. People had made new connections across locations due to shared interests in resolving shared issues. Best of all, complaining became a reminder to launch a “Solution Team”.
There was talk about taking the survey again, just to see if there was anything else that needed attention. Rodd said, “I have a 75-person team now, and they’re accountable for making and keeping agreements. This is a terrific step toward higher performance.”
- The Problem – and a Free Personal Assessment
- The Problem
- The Free Workplace Assessment: Reporting on “Lack of Accountability”
- The Recommendations Report and a Group Workplace Assessment
- Assessment Recommendations: Resolving “Lack of Accountability”
- A Group Workplace Assessment for Managers and Consultants
- The Survey: Invitations and Results
- Invitations to Take the Survey
- The Results Are In (Yes, there were Regional differences)
- ABCD Regions: Outdated equipment, Poor communication on change
- E Region: Quality and Training problems
- B & D Regions: Communication problems from staff cuts and restructuring
- C Region: Too many unexpected “emergencies”
- Setup for Regional Meetings (Starting with Strengths)
- Sharing the Results and Holding Regional Meetings
- Sharing the Results: Emails and Attachments
- The Results Are In (Yes, there were Regional differences)
- Regional Meetings: The “Tackle First” List and the Conversation Groups
- Setup for the All-Staff meeting
- The All-Region Meeting: Implementation and Impact
- Introduction to the ‘Big Three’ Workplace Issues
- Introduction to Productive Conversations
- Problem-Solving – Before and After Lunch
- Problems and Solutions
- Work Plans and Next Steps
- Three Months Later: Follow-Up