HPG Network Helps City of Muncie in Change Culture in Local Government PDF Print E-mail

By Rebecca Downs, HPG Network

In 2008-2009, the City of Muncie partnered with the HPG Network to undertake a project to improve the operations of city government. This project was designed to develop a strategy and framework for the accomplishment of city goals. The HPG Network, with support from Ball State University Bowen Center for Public Affairs and the Ball Brothers Foundation, facilitated the project to prioritize improvements. The effort was lead internally by Muncie Mayor Sharon McShurley and city department heads.p1040668

After the conclusion of the strategy setting phase of the project, Mayor McShurley saw an opportunity to promote culture change deeper in the organization. With the help of the HPG Network, the City of Muncie followed up with further training sessions designed to reach front line employees in the Building Internal Capacity phase. The City of Muncie invested in the city employees by providing learning opportunities where they could gain new tools and skills, which would help them reach the previously established goals and create a culture change in the city departments.

Building Internal Capacity also created a sense of accountability among city workers. "After every session I became more self-aware from everything we talked about," said Barb Smith, Muncie Sanitary District Director and HPG Champion. "I became self-aware of what I was and was not doing and the goals I wasn't accomplishing. Now I have my goals posted in front of me so I have to look at them every day."

This project, funded by the Ball Brothers Foundation, put into action the strategies developed in the first phase. The project had two primary goals: 1) provide department leaders with feedback and tools they can use as managers and 2) provide front line employees with the necessary skills and tools for realizing department goals. For department leaders, the training developed their understanding of their expectations as management, such as providing resources and removing barriers that impede employees from high performance. Training for non-managerial city employees conveyed the importance of a learning organization culture that focuses on outcomes rather than activities. "We are always looking for ways to improve the services each department provides," said Mayor McShurley. "This project with the HPG Network was key to realizing our goals."

City employees learned skills, such as communication and conflict resolution, that can create a more productive work environment. It was also important for all employees to understand the value of their work. Rather than focus on the specific duty they are assigned, employees were encouraged to understand the purpose of the task as a whole. This also requires effort from the management. "If department leaders and employees are communicating, everyone is more likely to have higher job satisfaction," said Kate Love-Jacobson, Vice President of HPG Network. "City workers feel more inclined to work on a task when they understand the objective of the project as a whole."

Another lesson is the importance of continuous learning. The HPG Network encouraged city workers to view training as a part of their job, rather than an interruption from their job. It was also important for them to develop a culture of learning and continuous improvement in the workplace. Though many were hesitant at first, eventually most in attendance viewed the training sessions as an informative aspect of their jobs. According to Muncie Human Resources director Bob Weller, "there were differing levels of knowledge, skills and attitudes about the training, but it was an excellent learning opportunity for the department heads."

p1000596Though most of the benefits from the HPG Network's program are long term, the city of Muncie has already noticed significant changes in the governmental departments. According to Smith, the department heads have made changes in the way they manage their departments. "The department heads now feel freer and more inclined to request assistance from others," she said. Weller also noticed improvements within the departments, particularly how they work together. "This project was a tremendous opportunity for team building skills," he added.

Building Internal Capacity was set up over twenty half-day sessions during which city leaders and employees learned and discussed strategies for achieving their goals. The topics of these sessions were previously determined in collaboration between HPG Network, the Mayor, High Performance Government Champion Barb Smith and the city department heads. Together they determined what aspects of employee development needed to be addressed. Building Internal Capacity was funded by the Ball Brothers Foundation with the purpose of building momentum in the city departments, which is important for the long term development of the city.

The experience was helpful to everyone. According to Weller, "The concrete training topics were beneficial to the group as a whole. Personally, I learned quite a bit from the Leadership of Service training topic. It was a different way to think of leadership." And the training topics weren't the only beneficial aspects. If you ask Smith, the most helpful part of this project was the camaraderie. "It was great having the department heads come together to brainstorm. Everyone had input."

The city of Muncie successfully developed strategies to help them accomplish their goals, and according to Smith, they don't have to be the only city to see this success. "I don't think there is a town out there that wouldn't benefit from a project like this, as long as the city leadership is involved," she said. "The project was very worthwhile."

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