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Orange County Clerk of Court:
Award-Winning Progress in Workplace Performance

In April 2008, five Florida organizations were named as recipients of the prestigious Governor's Sterling Award by the Florida Sterling Council, a public/private not-for-profit corporation that recognizes organizations that have raised performance and productivity to extraordinary levels.

The Council’s Award is the highest achievement that a Florida organization can receive for performance excellence. Organizations that aspire to it must submit a 50-page application that is scored against seven categories of performance: leadership; strategic planning; customer and market focus; measurement, analysis, and knowledge management; workforce focus; process management; and results. These criteria are based on those used by the Malcolm Baldrige Award, the U.S. standard for organizational excellence. Sterling examiners independently review applications, and then conduct week-long on-site visits. There, the examiner team interviews employees at all levels and analyzes every aspect of the organization and its performance. It then prepares a detailed report highlighting key strengths and opportunities for improvement. A panel of judges then selects organizations that have successfully implemented the Sterling criteria and are role-model organizations.

Among the five winning organizations in 2008 was the Orange County Clerk of Courts (OCCC), a government unit that serves one Florida USA’s most populous counties. With a workforce of more than 600, the OCCC’s services include court support (to judges, attorneys, and the court-using public), case maintenance, data reporting, customer assistance, and collections and disbursement of court fines and fees.

Under the leadership of Clerk Lydia Gardner, HR Director Ceretha Leon, and managers, the OCCC has turned conventional thinking about ineffectual government organizations on its head. Using a balance scorecard approach, and supported by solid communication, planning, and employee training, it provides a level of public service and financial stewardship that most corporations would envy. It has established positive trends in the areas of collection rates, revenue and restitution collection to victims of crime (from $700,000 in 2001 to $1.6 million in 2007), which exceeds comparable organizations. Customer satisfaction has increased from 90.6 percent in 2003 to 95.1 percent in 2007. Perhaps as important, employee satisfaction with their work and workplace climate has increased year over year.

Planning for Excellence

The OCCC’s success is the result of several years of planning and diligent implementation. In managing performance, the OCCC employs five balanced scorecard “perspectives”: customer focus, streamlined processes, innovation technology, employee development, and “managing our money.”  These are the main indicators that the organization’s leaders keep in their sights.

As shown in exhibit 1, each scorecard perspective is supported, in descending order, by a strategic objective, one or more performance measures, and a number of improvement initiatives.  Consider employee development.  That scorecard perspective is supported by the strategic objective of “improving employee engagement.” Two empirical metrics tell leaders how well the organization is doing on that important front: the retention rate and the results of the annual employee engagement survey. Several employee initiatives—training and workplace safety programs, and the annual survey itself—are operated in support of employee engagement.

Alignment from top to bottom between the balanced scorecard and supporting strategic objectives, performance measures, and initiatives is what makes the system work.

Exhibit 1
Scorecard perspectives and aligned support elements

Source: Orange County Clerk of Courts

 

The OCCC’s Guiding Principles

Vision

The Orange County Clerk of Courts delivers excellence through efficiency and effectiveness in everything we do.

Mission

Our mission is to manage information of the justice system and provide other public services for the global community in an efficient and effective manner.

Values

Trust and respect are the foundation of our success.
We only have one chance to make a good first impression.
Together we make good things happen.
We are accountable for our actions.
Actions speak louder than words.
Creativity is the window to our future.
Diversity makes us stronger.

Workforce Engagement and Satisfaction

Although only one of the OCCC’s balanced scorecard perspectives explicitly mentions people (employee development), each depends on the skills and commitment of the organization’s employees.  Streamlined Processes, for instance, can only emerge through the collaboration, inventiveness, and energy of a dedicated workforce. The same is true of other objectives.  A dispirited or disengaged workforce will not produce continuous process improvement, focus on customer satisfaction, implement technical innovations, or provide careful stewardship of stakeholders’ financial assets. Consequently, employee engagement and satisfaction may be the lynchpin of performance excellence.

Prior to 2005, the OCCC’s HR department had used one or another survey instrument to annually measure employee engagement and satisfaction.  In 2005 it adopted InfoTool, a Web-based organizational assessment methodology developed by Stan Labovitz as its survey instrument.  InfoTool’s workplace survey offered a number of appealing characteristics:

  • Low-cost and scalable to the organization’s size
  • Provided a precise diagnosis of each operating unit, giving unit managers a clear picture of employee sentiment in their units, and identifying areas of strength and weakness
  • Measured key drivers of the “balanced scorecard” performance assessment system used by the OCCC’s leadership team
  • Could be customized to assess the unique elements of the organization
  • The latest in diagnostic analysis
  • Ease of use encourages participation

Satisfaction with the InfoTool survey led to its application again in 2006 and 2007. Says HR analyst Jackie Leon: “We had employed an annual survey in past years, but InfoTool made the job simpler and easier, and we were able to dissect the results at a deeper level.”

Administering the Survey

OCCC employees had their first experience with InfoTool in 2005. Participation was voluntary and anonymous. Employees simply had to log onto the survey Web site and respond to over seventy statements designed to assess how they felt about their working environment.  Exhibit 2 shows a few of the survey questions and the 1-7 scoring choices offered to respondents.

Exhibit 2 

Partial list of survey questions

That first year, roughly 70 percent of employees participated. Eager to achieve greater survey participation, the OCCC’s Chief Administrative Officer and Clerk began visiting the 18 division to discuss the survey, the importance of employee participation, and to allay concerns regarding anonymity. The survey team—the group that formulates each year’s survey questions—was also expanded to include non-managers, giving rank-and-file employees a greater sense of ownership of the annual event. Participation improved subsequent to those actions, reaching nearly 90 percent in 2007.

InfoTool automatically tabulates participant inputs and arrays them in a number of graphic formats that make diagnosis straightforward. The top-level format (Exhibit 3) incorporates responses from all participating employees.  In the center of the circle is the score for overall employee satisfaction.  The component and sub-component parts, of that satisfaction enclose that center circle. Each of these has a numerical score and is color coded.

Exhibit 3 reflects the combined views of 552 employee respondents to the 2007 employee satisfaction survey, who gave the organization an overall score of 76, as seen in the center circle.  That’s on the high end of average in the InfoTool grading system, where:  

Green = good performance
Yellow = average performance
Red = sub-standard performance

Each of the drivers of overall employee satisfaction—culture, work processes, trust/fairness, teamwork, motivation, and so forth—is also scored by number and by color.

Keeping the Survey Current

The OCCC’s annual employee survey assesses more than a dozen organizational climate factors within six broad categories by means of open-ended questions.  Prior to administering the survey, a committee evaluates the previous year’s survey and the overall process for clarity of questions and any emerging issues that need to be addressed. For example, the 2006 survey was modified to align with the organization’s objective to measure employee engagement in addition to satisfaction. While modification of the survey makes year-to-year comparisons more difficult, it keeps it attuned to the changing nature of the working environment that employees experience.

Exhibit 3

High-level view of OCCC employee satisfaction

HR Director Ceretha Leon and HR analyst Jackie Clark were pleased to know how the entire organization and different components of its workplace environment were rated by the people work worked there. However, they knew that this overall picture likely masked substantial variability.  With 18 divisions, each led by a different manager, and each addressing different challenges, there were bound to be pockets of excellence and dissatisfaction.

Fortunately, the InfoTool software engine made it possible to drill down to lower levels and to pinpoint that variability. Exhibit 4, for example, indicates employee satisfaction in two very different divisions: Juvenile and Probate/Mental Health.  The 22 respondents in the former scored their workplace very highly (overall satisfaction = 86); all but a few drivers and components of the Juvenile Division workplace were judged to represent good performance.  In contrast, the Probate/Mental Health unit of 13 respondents scored much lower overall (65) and contained pockets of sub-standard performance (red).

Exhibit 4
2007 Survey Results, Juvenile Division (left) and Probate/Mental Health Division (right)

InfoTool’s software engine allowed analysts and division managers to drill down still further into specific areas deemed essential to performance excellence.  In the OCCC’s case, those essentials included culture, process management, and teambuilding.  It also allowed them to view the mean scores of individual survey question, making it possible to pin-point areas when attention was needed—and where it was not.  For example, exhibit 5 contains the survey questions to which Juvenile Division respondents assigned the ten highest and lowest scores.  The manager of that Division could then see at a glace that job performance was being impeded by the organization’s computer system. She would also know that her subordinates would not need pep talks on the importance of customer satisfaction.

Exhibit 5
2007 Survey Results, Juvenile Division: Strengths and Weaknesses

From Analysis to Action

At the OCCC, the annual employee survey is used as both a tool for active improvement and as a yearly progress report. Once the data are in, Ceretha Leon and Jackie Clarke meet individually with managers to review survey results for their Divisions and to discuss areas where improvements are most needed. The survey tool makes this task easier by identifying areas of average and sub-standard performance. OCCC managers then share survey results with their subordinates and take responsibility for planning improvements within their own units. Accountability for those improvements is achieved by linking each manager’s unit survey scores with the OCCC’s balance scorecard.

The annual application of the survey gives management an opportunity to assess the impact of improvement plans on the workplace climate of individual Divisions and of the organization as a whole.  Since 2005, the OCCC’s overall employee satisfaction score has move progressively higher, exceeding the 2007 goal score of 74:

 

Overall Employee Satisfaction

2005

68

2006

69

2007

76

HR Director Leon notes that these improvements have other sources besides the survey and survey-driven actions, namely, an organization-wide mentoring program, a management training program, and leadership training for both managers and supervisors. Her goal is to have every manager, supervisor, and full-time employee engage in 53 hours of training per year.  In this sense, the InfoTool survey is part of a larger strategy for achieving performance excellence.  Examiners from the Sterling Council noted this during their site visit, and gave the HR department high marks for the many initiatives it had undertaken in support of that strategy.

 The Future

The OCCC’s success in earning the Governor’s Sterling Award was not the result of an ad hoc effort by a handful of managers or of a craftily written application. Instead, it was the result of substantial thought and planning, and diligent execution on the part of a great many leaders, managers, and employees. Their work did more than simply bring home an enviable Award, it created a systematic approach to serving the OCCC’s fundamental mission: “to manage information of the justice system and provide other public services for the global community in an efficient and effective manner.”

More than a few organizations have achieved performance excellence but have subsequently lost their edge as a result of hubris or lack of attention or focus.  Will this fate befall the Orange County Clerk of Courts?  It’s current systems approach to performance excellence contains enough feedback mechanisms (i.e., performance measures such as the InfoTool survey) to alert management to backsliding.  Also, its strategic planning process (exhibit 6) calls for continuous monitoring of the internal and external environments. Diligent monitoring should alert leaders to the need to change or modify the organizations course; their decisions will determine how effectively the entity responds to future change.

Exhibit 6
The OCCC Strategic Planning Process

Source: Orange County Clerk of Courts

 

 

 



Overlake Hospital
Using a Web-Based Software Tool to Measure Workplace Climate

Overlake Hospital Medical Center is a 337-bed, not-for-profit regional institution offering a full range of advanced medical services to the Puget Sound region. To local residents, Overlake is more than a hospital: it is the only Level III Trauma Center in eastern Puget Sound and it stands at the forefront of cardiovascular care and treatment. It has been ranked as a top 100 heart program in the country, a top performer in the state of Washington, and has received many regional and national awards.

The task of maintaining current care quality and reaching to still higher levels is a challenge to Overlake's 700 doctors, and 2,300 full and part-time employees Healthcare is a talent-intensive industry, and medical institutions around the United States face a highly competitive labor market in which the demand for many skilled positions-nurses and medical technicians, in particular-outstrips supply. Consequently, retention and recruiting at Overlake and other institutions across the country is a matter of strategic importance.

No one at Overlake understood this better than Lisa Brock, who joined the hospital in 2002 as Vice President of Human Resources. As the new head of HR, she needed up-to-date information on the hospital's workplace climate, as perceived by employees and managers. An accurate assessment would serve as both a base line and as a jumping off point for future improvements. Unfortunately, the hospital had not conducted an employee survey for five year prior to Brock's arrival. Thus, the data she had was not timely. "I needed a current assessment of morale and how people felt about different aspect of our working environment," she recalled later. That assessment would be essential in pinpointing specific areas of strength and weakness, and guide improvement initiatives from her office. "How are we doing? What are our issues? What do we have to work on? Those were questions I hoped to answer." But the HR department had no systematic way of measuring employee attitudes.

Overlake's CEO at the time, Ken Graham, suggested a solution. Graham was acquainted with InfoTool, a Web-based organizational assessment methodology developed by Stan Labovitz. InfoTool's workplace climate survey appealed to Graham's new VP of Human Resources for a number of reasons:

  • it was scalable to the organization's size
  • its measurement capabilities offered a precise view of each department in the hospital, giving managers a sound basis for action
  • it complemented the "balanced scorecard" performance assessment system used by Overlake's executive team
  • it could be customized to assess the dynamic elements of the hospital's workplace environment
  • the tool offered the latest in diagnostic analysis.

Finally, InfoTool was easy to use. As Brock observed later, "One of its strengths over other tools is its technology, which is extremely user-friendly with wonderful, easy-to-use graphics. And once you have the data, you can cut it any way you want without additional charges. Comparable tools add a charge every time you re-cut the data."

Administering the Survey

Overlake's first experience with InfoTool took place in April 2004, when a work climate survey was offered to all employees on a voluntary basis. That survey contained over seventy statements designed to assess how people feel about their working environment. Exhibit 1 shows a portion of those questions and scoring choices offered to respondents, who anonymously indicated their agreement with those statements on a 1-to-10 scale. They did this either online (at home or at work) or via a paper form.


Exhibit 1

Questionnaire sample



Employees were also asked to respond to open-ended questions such as: "What three things do you like best about Overlake Hospital?" These questions asked them to select any one of dozens of three-part responses, such as:

Professional atmosphere. Caring co-workers. Quality care for patients.

Senior management has responded to my concerns with positive results. I find my job challenging and fun. My manager is a good person to work with.

My co-workers. Proximity to home. Pay.

The hours I work. Benefits package. The people I work with.

Most employees completed the survey in about twenty minutes.

Encouraging People to Respond

Overlake's HR department relies on volunteer participation of employees in its surveys. Volunteerism in Lisa Brock's experience often needs a little boost. She and her colleagues encourage participation through a combination of incentives and frequent communication. The first year, for example, all participants received a free a gym bag. An umbrella was the next year's reward. For 2006 and 2007, every survey participant received a $10 gift certificate redeemable in the hospital cafeteria. "Communications is also very important in getting a high level of participation," according to Brock. "We announce the annual survey with paycheck envelope stuffers, through the employee newsletter, the company intranet, and fliers. You have to communicate in different ways to reach people."

Overlake's program of incentives and multi-channel communication has paid off. Roughly 1,600 of 2,300 full- and part-time employees completed the climate survey in 2007, a figure that is considered good for an institution with many part-timers and on-call employees.

Analyzing the Data

Thanks to its graphic analysis, InfoTool made it possible for Lisa Brock and hospital managers to quickly see how employees rated the work climate at that point in time. Exhibit 2 contains one of the graphic displays produced by the InfoTool software engine; it reflects the combined views of 1,778 employee respondents to the 2005 survey. In terms of "overall climate" they gave the hospital a score of 65, as shown in the center circle. That's a mediocre grade in the InfoTool system, where green represents good performance, yellow represents average performance, and red represents sub-standard. Each of the drivers of employee satisfaction-culture, employee development, leadership, and so forth-is also scored by number and by color. InfoTool even drills down to the contributing components of those drivers. For example, the components of "Employee Development" at Overlake are training, recognition, and rewards. Each of those is scored based on survey responses. A quick look at this graph reveals that performance was overwhelmingly average, with only one of the contributing components-commitment-receiving a high mark.

InfoTool's Scoring System

Green = Good; 80-100
Yellow = Average; 56-79
Red = Poor; 0-55



Exhibit 2
Summary of Overlake's work climate, 2005. All work groups.

Clearly, this level of mediocrity was not acceptable to Overlake management, nor did it reflect the organizational performance goals of Lisa Brock and her team. Improvements had to be made. But where?

Aggregated data like that shown in Exhibit 2 generally conceal substantial variation. In a complex organization such as Overlake, which has many departments, many employee groups (nurses, clerical, executives, etc.), and many levels, it was likely that some stakeholders were highly satisfied with their work climate, while others were not. InfoTool allowed managers to drill down and take the temperature of smaller and smaller segments of the employee population: by job group (e.g., nurses), position level, shift, department, length of service, full-time and part-time. By viewing the responses of theses different demographic groups, management was able to pinpoint areas where intervention was most needed. For example, the Overlake executive group judged its work climate to be highly satisfactory. To the 12 members of that group, almost every driver and component of overall climate received a green rating! These executives scored their overall climate at 81-27 percent higher than the employee population as a whole.

The ability to quickly segment responses on line proved immensely useful in analyzing the Nursing Division, whose 966 employees worked in over two dozen operating units, including breast health, cardiac care, intensive care, radiation oncology, and senior care to name just a few. In the wake of the 2005 InfoTool survey, the manager of nursing division discovered huge variability between departments. The seven employees in the Senior Care unit, for example, were almost overwhelmingly favorable to their work climate, whereas, members of the 89-person Intensive Care (IC) unit gave their work climate very low scores (Exhibit 3). Something was clearly amiss in Intensive Care. Before remedial steps could be taken, however, managers had to understand the reason for its low scores.

Exhibit 3
Two different InfoTool screenshot views of work life:
Senior Care (left) and Intensive Care (right)


From Analysis to Action

Why was the IC unit's work climate viewed so negatively by employees? InfoTool provided a number of mechanisms for drilling down to the details of what was bothering employees in that important activity. Exhibit 4 displays the ten most important Strength/Weaknesses screen for the IC unit in the 2005 survey. Notice in the "weaknesses" section the low scores (red) accorded to Trust/Fairness, Management Involvement, and Confidence in Management. By viewing employee responses to statements about these areas, hospital managers were able to get closer to the sources of employee discontent. Notice, for instance, the extremely low agreement (26 out of 100) given to the statement, "I have confidence in the fairness of management."


Exhibit 4
InfoTool screen shot of strengths and weaknesses in the Intensive Care unit


Another InfoTool function that helped managers get closer to the source of problems was the "Items" screen (Exhibit 5), which listed questions and how IC unit employees responded to them. Every red score in the 2005 items screen alerted management to an issue that needed attention. Consider, for example, the low score (34 on a scale of 100) given to question 14: "My manager responds positively to new ideas we come up with." This was a fixable problem once it was identified.


Exhibit 5
InfoTool items screen, IC unit, 2005 survey


Before and After

Once they understood their problems and, thanks to InfoTool's segmenting capabilities, exactly where those problems were located, Overlake developed initiatives to overcome them. HR department "facilitators" met with division and department leaders to discuss survey results and develop improvement action plans. The hospital also developed a policy mandating that all leaders and managers whose units rated below average on the workplace climate survey would be required to include workplace climate improvement among their personal goals for the coming year. Those goals, in turn, were aligned with the organization's rewards system. In addition, a number of Overlake managers participated in Web-based conferences with InfoTool CEO Stan Labovitz; those sessions helped them use survey results to diagnosis problems and develop plans to overcome them. The HR department also began a four-pronged initiative to increase employee satisfaction in all departments. That initiative stressed employee appreciation, more effective training, and made sure that people had the equipment and supplies they needed to do the jobs they were trained to do. It also asked people directly, "What do we have to do to get a '10' on each survey response. Between 2005 and 2007, those actions produced measurable improvement in how employees viewed their work climate.

Exhibit 6 combines 2005 and 2007 "overall climate" scores for the problematic Intensive Care unit at Overlake, as assessed by unit employees. As the exhibit indicates, this unit still has a long way to go before it hits the green area, but progress is significant. Alerted to problems by the 2005 survey, management intervened, and its actions clearly made a difference. In this InfoTool screen shot, 2005 results are shown in blue and 2007 results in black. The six dimensions measured are:

1. Overall satisfaction
2. Organizational effectiveness
3. Teamwork
4. Culture
5. Leadership
6. Employee development

The dots on each of those dimensions represent the mean scores given by unit personnel in each of those two surveys. As shown, substantial improvement was made along each dimension, leadership in particular, which improved by 44 percent! Other units and employee groups demonstrated similar improvements over the two-year period, demonstrating an important truth of organizational life: if managers can pinpoint problems, they can usually identify their causes and develop effective remedies. The result is organizational improvement and higher performance.

Exhibit 6
2005 (blue) versus 2007 results (black), Intensive Care unit


Alignment Is Essential

Lasting success in climate improvement and other initiatives, according to Brock, depends on alignment between organizational goals and rewards. As a "balanced scorecard" organization, Overlake ties its managers' evaluations to how well their units perform relative to the four scorecard metrics: customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, financial results, and internal processes. The annual InfoTool climate survey has helped the organization measure performance in one of those metrics: employee satisfaction. Says Brock, "Measurement and tying rewards to progress toward goals is how you get the attention of managers and convince them that this isn't just a fad or just another thing they need to pay attention to. It's a way of impressing them with the importance of these things to the organization."


Quarterly Checkups

Overlake Medical Center has used the InfoTool climate survey in each of the past four years. That survey contains 78 questions. To track the work climate between annual checkups, Brock has selected a dozen key questions from the question pool and administered them on a quarterly basis. She finds that her smaller pool of questions correlates closely the overall climate score determined by the full set. Though less than perfect, it gives her a finger on the pulse of the organization throughout the year. She also finds that checking employee responses to a smaller set of questions-the ones that matter most to employees-produces exceptional insights into the work climate within the hospital.


In the end, has all this work paid off for Overlake? The Intensive Care unit has surely benefited, but what about the entire organization? The answer is yes. Comparison of 2005 and 2007 climate surveys show measurable and significant improvement on all six dimension of workplace climate (Exhibit 7). Whereas every measure had been in the "average" (yellow) area per the 2005 assessment, all have now moved solidly into the "good" (green) area. In particular, employee assessments of the organization's teamwork, culture, leadership, and employee development efforts had made sizeable leaps forward. The comparison of Exhibit 2 (before) and Exhibit 7 (after) are striking.

Exhibit 7
2005 versus 2007 results, Overlake Medical Center


Looking Forward

Overlake Hospital Medical Center has come a long way since its initial "baseline" work climate survey. Its leadership group now understands both the big picture and where each division and department stands on the work climate issue. And thanks to four annual surveys, it can see the general trajectory of change and where progress is and is not being made. Individual managers can also see how well their units are doing and, thanks to InfoTool data, identify issues where their attention is most needed.

According the Lisa Brock, the hospital will continue to measure and monitor the workplace climate to better understand employee satisfaction. However, since retention is now the overriding concern of the people of the business, future surveys will focus more directly on that important issue.


 

 

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