Many public works departments have a mission statement, something that defines their purpose and objectives. A code of ethics also helps employees provide the best customer service possible. But unlike a mission statement, ethical behavior must be exercised on the fly, usually under pressure.

A code of ethics doesn’t tell employees how to react in each and every potentially compromising situation. Developing one, however, instills a sense of pride and ownership in the team’s purpose and objectives. That’s why formulating department values is one step in attaining American Public Works Association (APWA) accreditation.

When she came to Columbus, Ga., two years ago Director Pat Biegler, PE, knew that accreditation was a major goal for the city’s public works department. One of the first things she did was give her 11 division chiefs two weeks to work with employees to identify their top 10 “values to live and work by.” Any value identified by more than three divisions was immediately added. The rest were hammered out in meetings between Biegler and her direct reports, who took the proposed list back to their staffs and asked for feedback. After two months of discussions the list was finalized.

Biegler then asked her secretary to design and print on card stock a certificate of appreciation for each value. These are handed out whenever an employee’s displayed the value in question. “I encourage the presentation at a staff meeting—whether mine or one at the division—so there’s public recognition,” she says.

“The idea just unfolded as we discussed ways to encourage a consideration of values in our day-to-day operations,” says Biegler, a former APWA Top 10 Leader

 who led the accreditation process for the City of Chesapeake, Va., as public works director in 2006.