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Making choices on the frontline

Making choices on the frontline

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    Audie Beverly, chairman of the uniform committee, said, "The uniform committee has helped to streamline the ordering process and allow a place to bring up common issues for discussion and resolution. We have decreased the errors in ordering and involved more of the front-line staff in the process." Photo: Orange County Public Works

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    William Baxter, public works director, addresses the Roads and Drainage Division fore-men at their regular meeting. Photo: Orange County Public Works

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    According to Charles West, construction foreman, “The corrective action committee helps us to keep our discipline actions consistent. It also allows the front-line supervisors to bring up situations and ask for guidance on discipline issues.” Photo: Orange County Public Works

The final responsibility for all decisions made in any business belongs to the manager. Managers strive to make informed decisions that will improve communication with staff, implement efficient business practices, and provide speedy resolutions to problems. Clear communication with staff allows for better understanding of ideas, and thus a better chance of success in their implementation.

In that spirit of communication, the management of the Orange County Roads and Drainage Division, based in Orlando, Fla., set out to empower the field staff in the decision-making process. This was accomplished by forming a number of committees to provide input. Although all participants understand that the final decision is that of the manager who must defend it, these committees provide an avenue for the field staff to offer informed opinions. These opinions are drawn from onsite work experience and practical application, and the manager often incorporates committee suggestions into policy changes.

To serve citizens in a timely manner, the Roads and Drainage Division has placed eight maintenance units throughout the county. Some of these facilities are more than 40 miles from the main office. In addition to the maintenance units, the division also provides crews for the drainage section, which is responsible for major drainage canals, pump stations, and drain-wells. The construction section provides major repairs on projects such as outfalls and the installation of underground pipe. The roadway crew works throughout the county resurfacing and repairing roadways. The heavy equipment section provides heavy equipment support to the maintenance units and construction section.

The maintenance units are located throughout the county, from rural areas to the heart of downtown. Management must balance the needs of different teams within the Division, and in order to do that, it consults the section committees. The committees were designed to discuss the needs of each area and develop a consensus to pass on to management. Committee recommendations are given careful consideration by management, as committee members must live and work with the new practices and policies. Although committee input is important, suggestions are not always incorporated into a final decision. On such occasions, committees may come together to find ways to make the decision work within their individual areas.

The make-up of the committees is an important factor in their success. Management reviewed the goals it wanted for each committee and then decided upon its structure. Committees may have representatives from every level, from front-line field employees to upper management. Committee composition depends on the committee's nature and who will be affected by the decisions to be made. Each member represents his entire section and has one committee vote.

UNIFORM COMMITTEE

All front-line employees, supervisors, and some office staff wear uniforms provided by the county. These uniforms include shirts, pants, work shoes, hats, sweat- shirts, jackets, and accessories, such as boots and raingear. Management, with little input from those who wear the uniform each day, decided on the uniform items. This resulted in complaints and concerns from the uniformed employees.

To alleviate the concerns and to provide better service to the employees, a Uniform Committee was developed for the Roads and Drainage Division. The committee members were chosen from the ranks of front-line employees. The drainage, construction, paving, municipal service tax unit, and heavy equipment sections, and each maintenance unit section, held a crew meeting to elect a representative to the committee. The contract inspectors also selected a foreman to represent their needs, a member of management served as an ex-officio member, and a representative from the fiscal section was included. The committee then selected a chairperson from those in attendance.

The committee's first challenge was to write a uniform policy for the Division. The policy was completed and approved by the committee before being sent on to management for final approval. The policy covered several areas, including type of uniform and number of outfits received each year. The committee made policy recommendations on whether legal or informal names should appear on uniform shirts, and whether shorts should be provided for the summer months. The committee recommended the prohibition of slogans, logos, or advertisement of any kind on uniforms, but allowed the American flag, and service award or union pins and belt buckles. The policy is reviewed annually and any suggested changes are sent to management for final approval.

With input from the individuals who wear the uniforms daily, new products were offered. Some of the initiatives instituted by the committee include shorts, blue jeans, and golf shirts for front-line employees, as well as wide-brimmed hats for protection from the sun. The committee also has streamlined ordering procedures. Previously, all ordering was done at one location and each employee had to come in and prepare an order individually. Now, representatives take order forms back to their sections for employees to complete, and orders are being completed in half the time. When uniforms come in, they're picked up and distributed by the representative, again saving time.

HEAVY EQUIPMENT

The Roads and Drainage Division has more than 300 pieces of heavy equipment including backhoes, a variety of dump trucks, transports, and track hoes. Historcally, the Division ordered whatever the particular equipment operator thought was needed. This later caused frustration and delay for employees, as skill gaps required cross-training on differing equipment. The Fleet Services Division, which is separate from Public Works, also had challenges in repairing machinery, stocking parts, and maintaining warranties for many different models of the same equipment.