Dick McKinley leads 240 employees in Bellingham's largest department. His management team sets the city standard for preparing and administering budgets. The water and sewer utilities launched a “cost of service” rate system that meets operational needs but is fair for customers. And McKinley himself has been awarded more than 80% of all grant requests he's written.
“We keep getting better at what we do,” says McKinley.
To foster an atmosphere of excellence, McKinley established an internal communications policy in the mid-1990s that includes making himself accessible to employees to answer questions, share expectations and values, and do a large amount of listening: He hosts quarterly “donut meetings” with each staff group.
“People want to be in the know, and they want to be respected. We do that every day here, which results in a team of dedicated professionals sharing a vision of community service,” says McKinley.
It took years to build trust between management and employees. “When you tell people you'll meet with them every quarter, they're skeptical—they've heard it before,” he says.
“When you do what you say, they start to believe.”
The meetings are paying off. As employees began to trust in his vision, he was able to change the culture from “nothing broken, no need to change” to “there's always room to get better.” Employees are ethics-driven, understand the importance of their work, and feel appreciated and respected. They expect—and deliver—excellence.
“The people here in this department are my favorite part of coming to work each day,” says McKinley. “The mentoring and teaching is now happening at every level in the organization.”
In October 2007, McKinley brought in his 10,000th donut.
In 2003, when Judith Mueller drafted the city's first Environmental Sustainability Policy, she spurred the Public Works Department to lead the charge in making Charlottesville a “green city,” complete with a vibrant urban forest of tree-lined streets and lush neighborhoods.
“This led the city to recognize its responsibility to future generations. It made us look at everything we do and how it impacts the environment,” says Mueller.
Her greatest challenge was to guide 330 employees into incorporating sustainability into everything they do.
Mueller started small. Her first step was to develop an environmental management system. Designed to protect the environment and the health and safety of employees and citizens, the system includes new and/or revised policies and processes to help reduce environmental impacts and increase operating efficiency.
The next step was to implement the system. This was done by breaking implementation into manageable phases—by division—with clear objectives and targets.
So far Mueller's initiative has led to:
- Completion of a stormwater management study
- A public rain garden
- A LEED-certified transit station
- A Web site on water conservation
- A technical water and energy savings audit, which will launch a series of infrastructure improvements
- A $3.2 million stream restoration project
The bonus: Employees are more enthusiastic about the initiative than Mueller could have hoped. “Once they realized that the system was developed to benefit them, they started to embrace it,” she says.