We have all heard of the importance of Employee Engagement in our organizations. Integris has had the opportunity to work with a wonderful client who does not just understand this imperative, but has been able to positively change the level of engagement in their organization in a major way over the last couple of years.

The Arizona State Department of Revenue is an organization of more than 500 people with a major responsibility that impacts everything that happens in the state. How well their processes work impacts the funds that are available for the great work done by every part of government in the state.

Just a few years ago, morale and engagement at the agency were not a great strength. The state does an annual engagement survey of all state agencies utilizing Gallup’s Engagement Ratio as the key indicator and in 2016 the Department of Revenue (ADOR) came in right at the state average for results.

Across the fourteen questions on the survey, ADOR averaged 2.4 “Strongly Agree” responses to each “Disagree” and “Strongly Disagree”. While that ratio of 2.4 is not horrible, and indeed are above the average organizations ratio of 1.8, the Agency decided that this would not allow them to move forward in the way that their work required. Rather than hoping for a better response in the next round of the survey. ADOR put in place an aggressive plan to lay the groundwork to engage every member of the team that has led to that ratio climbing from 2.4 to 9.0 over the last two years.

Read on for a few of the ways ADOR found to make a difference in how engaged everyone on their team became.

Clarifying the Direction

Leadership in the agency decided to start with getting clarity around the mission and vision in a way that would speak to every member of the staff. They created an inspiring message around why the agency exists and changed the perspective to serving the state and the taxpayers. The development process for this involved talking with people throughout the agency to understand their aspirations and create a rallying cry all could reach for.

Our Mission

Serving taxpayers!

Our Vision

“Funding Arizona’s future through excellence in innovation, customer service and continuous improvement”

The new direction was more than words on a wall, it is actively shared and modeled by the senior staff as they continue to move to a more customer focused organization. Words matter, but actions create change. The organization has made tectonic shifts to change the focus to educating and helping people comply with the tax laws. This change to a focus on service and education has led to changes in the underlying mindset of all involved.

Involving Everyone in Creating their Future

ADOR actively looks for ideas they can act on from the employees for improvement. The Director and senior leaders are consistently asking “What could we do better?” and “What makes your job a challenge?” Asking for ideas, and being open to hear about challenges starts at the top. Director David Briant is frequently heard saying “There is gold in the red”, inviting people to bring up issues so that they can be resolved.

Consistently mining for issues has changed the organization from a culture where people hide issues to one where finding things to work on is respected and honored. This move has helped increase transparency across the organization, improving connections and breaking down silos.

Additionally, ADOR has trained all staff in problem solving through Yellow Belt Certification to ensure as people find issues, they have a common language and tools to resolve those issues. The entire staff uses team huddles and huddle boards to review their progress, plan and identify improvement opportunities. These boards capture data to help the teams better understand and improve their processes. All leaders are required to listen to the staff and to address ideas that are raised, with a bias to action and encouragement. The Director and each of his deputies make it part of their standard work to attend every teams huddle once a quarter to ensure any actions that need to be brought to senior leadership are.

The huddles build in tiers in the organization all the way up to the Director’s board used by the Executive Leadership Team. The Director’s board is available to everyone in an open area so that all of staff can see how the agency is performing on a current basis. Additionally, in this area are current updates on all major projects and initiatives in the agency so that people can see the status and issues that are being worked on. This transparency and accountability at all levels of the organization shows everyone that they are on the same team and supporting the mission and vision, delivering the best value to the state.

Engaging New People to Join the Culture Up Front

ADOR invites new people into the culture of transparency they have created up front. The Vision and Mission are shared and discussed during New Employee Orientation. In addition, new staff are invited to a Leadership Meeting to be introduced and to ask any questions they have about the Vision and Mission. It introduces themto the entire top leadership team and lets them see the plans and issues the agency is dealing with at the time.

Communicating the Messages and the Progress

The agency continues to drive communication internally to support the messages of inclusion, engagement, transparency and improvement. There is both formal and informal communication for the Director and all members of leadership. There is a monthly newsletter highlighting what engagement looks like. There are emails to staff emphasizing agency accomplishments from all areas of ADOR.

The monthly newsletter has updates from the Director, Department accomplishments and plans as well as recognition of how staff have made an impact for their co-workers and constituents across the state.

Listening to what People Share

ADOR increases communications around the launch of their engagement survey to show people they are interested in the feedback people have. Participation is high among staff who have been through the last few surveys because they have seen how the agency responds to the results and attempts to continually improve itself. The communication is especially important with new employees that have not been in an organization that follows through like this before. The success of the process and the communication at ADOR is evident in the fact that the participation rate among staff has risen steadily from 2015 and the agency has achieved a 100% participation rate in both 2017 and 2018. People know when you are listening and when you will use what they share.

ADOR actively follows up on the results of each year’s survey developing action plans to address the lowest scoring items. Results are cascaded throughout the agency to openly share how people are feeling. Action plans turn into projects that can be tracked to ensure resolution and implementation.

The Results in Engagement

David Briant, Director of ADOR, has challenged the agency on finding ways to improve the results on all questions in the survey. With a plan in mind and a focus on listening, learning and following through, ADOR has improved results on every question in the survey for two years in a row. Many of the items have increased the percentage of “Strongly Agree” and “Agree” by 15-20 points.

The illustration below shows the engagement ratio of ADOR compared to all agencies in the state and the average organization measured by Gallup.

It is evident that with strong leadership, focused listening and action, that we can engage the people of our organizations to aspire to more and to accomplish more. The outcomes of this engagement are being felt throughout the state as members of this organization act with a strong purpose to create the future. What is the legacy that you can create by employing some of these methods in your own work.

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Evans Kerrigan

Evans Kerrigan works tirelessly in both corporate and public sectors as a dynamic business consultant, presenter, and coach. With over 30 years of experience working with multi-national organizations such as Cisco, Sun Blue Cross Blue Shield, BP, State of Arizona and King County Washington, Evans has been at the forefront of change management--building healthy organizations and creating great places to work. His contributions to these organizations have been credited with increasing employee engagement scores, dramatic reductions in costs and improvement in efficiencies and revenue, resulting in improved operational excellence.