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Olathe, Kansas: Committed to Setting a Standard in Excellence

Accountability is the glue that keeps an organization functioning. From Fortune 500 companies, to small businesses, to city governments, accountability can be the difference between a successful organization and a failing one. High performing organizations empower their employees to take ownership of problems they encounter daily. The City Manager of Olathe, Michael Wilkes, said it well: “The best people to solve problems are those actually involved in the problem. Not me, not a department director, but people actually involved in it.” As city employees, our number one goal is to provide the best service to our citizens. Olathe does this successfully by developing a culture of accountability to its citizens and one key way is through our use of satisfaction surveys.

I am proud to say that earlier this year, Olathe was recognized as the first in the nation for Overall Quality of City Services with 93% of citizens being satisfied. The three issues the research company who administers the survey states are key indicators are: 1) Overall quality of City services, 2) Overall value for your tax dollars, and 3) Overall quality of customer service received. Each of these three measures has specific goals Olathe strives to reach. Our main goal is to be in the top 10% of cities nationwide for each of these three questions.  Olathe desires to go beyond recognition and work toward our vision statement of setting a standard of excellence in public service.

Our Roadmap Towards Resident Satisfaction

Commitment to accountability and desire to ensure residents understand how their city government performs, are among the first steps to be successful in increasing resident satisfaction. Olathe is dedicated to understanding the needs of our residents. With the help of ETC Institute, a survey is disseminated across the city each quarter. The survey allows us to feel the pulse of the city. Are citizens satisfied? Are they content? Have their priorities shifted? Consistently, the number one priority for citizens has been flow of traffic, so our Public Works Department has recalibrated performance measures to more accurately capture this priority. Since Olathe transitioned to quarterly surveys, the city has seen a sharp increase in performance. Quarterly citizen satisfaction surveys allow us to analyze the quality of services being delivered. If we notice a trend of decreasing satisfaction, departments can begin to analyze why it happened and decide if action should be taken. This gives the departments flexibility to quickly correct the issue if their analysis deems it necessary.

Each quarter the City of Olathe undergoes the same routine to disseminate information from the survey. First, ETC meets with our City Manager to give a preview of the findings. The following week a high-level presentation is given to all city supervisors so they know how citizens are perceiving the work they are doing. Finally, a presentation is given at a department level to further understand how citizens view the work of a department. Our survey asks questions specific for each department, such as satisfaction with maintenance of city parks or storm water. From this information, departments can reallocate resources to meet the needs of the citizens.

Additionally, city employees are also an important aspect to resident satisfaction. The City of Olathe puts together an annual breakfast for all its employees. During this breakfast, the year-end satisfaction survey results are discussed. The three questions answered by citizens I mentioned earlier, are also tied directly to every employee’s personal performance document. From this angle, accountability is again at the forefront as each employee has the capability to influence them on a daily basis. Rewarding excellence is equally paramount to setting a high standard of excellence.

Once everyone in the city has seen the results of the survey, the fun begins. First, the data is uploaded to ClearPoint Strategies. Trends can be visualized and analyzed instantly. Most measures follow an expected rise and fall because of seasonality. However, occasionally a measure will deviate and perform much worse than expected. To understand a deviation, we initiate a deeper dive by using tools such as SPSS, regression analysis, cross-tabulation, or qualitative information. If the possible cause for the dip cannot be determined and the problem continues for multiple quarters, the measure can be recommended for the quarterly PerforMax meeting.

At this meeting, all the department heads come together to discuss how their department may be contributing to this measure. The department with the measure under question can bring any obstacle they are having trouble overcoming. PerforMax allows for collaboration between departments.

For example, one of the first PerforMax meetings, non-injury accident rates were a concern. During the meeting, we discovered that construction projects and accident rates were correlated. After the meeting, Public Works and the Police department worked together to increase awareness and improve safety in these accident-prone areas.

Finally, Olathe wants to continue its accountability and transparency to the city’s residents. To accomplish this, Olathe publishes 33 measures to Olathe Performs, a public facing dashboard. Updated quarterly, this dashboard allows citizens to see and understand how the city is performing. Along with visualization, the dashboard includes comprehensive analyses of each measure.

While Olathe Performs has only been available to citizens for a short time, traffic to the site has been steady, indicating citizens are interested about how the city is performing. Our commitment to our citizens satisfaction has proven successful. We will continue to ensure that we meet our number one priority of delivering services with absolute accountability and the highest standards possible.

Our Guest blog was written by Ed Foley and Jarrod Stewart of the City of Olathe Management & Budget Services.

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