Magazine article Workforce

HR in Lotusland

Magazine article Workforce

HR in Lotusland

Article excerpt

How do you get Vancouver, B.C.'s city workers to Improve customer service?

VANCOUVER, B.C.-STARTING A NEW JOB IS LIKE CROSSING THE CAPILANO SUSpension Bridge. At first, it seems scary. After all, the 11 I -year-old bridge is 450 feet long and hangs 230 feet above a deep canyon. Whitewater rushes over rocks far below And even though it sways and creaks, who could resist the lush view of giant plants and towering red cedar 10 minutes from downtown Vancouver? Besides, the bridge is very, very strong. - Similarly, Catherine Deslauriers is crossing a human canyon. As the city's staff and organization development coordinator, she treads lightly in the HR position she's held since January. One could say she's often suspended between various parties. Learning about a new corporate culture-and training management are her biggest challenges. "It's all about building relationships," says Deslauriers. "I can't just come in and tell people what to do." But once assimilated into the municipal culture, she hopes to leave her mark on one of Canada's most beautiful and green cities. With measured steps, she's inhaling the breathtaking view.

There are jagged mountain peaks. Sandy beaches. English Bay The Haida and Tlingit cultures and a multiethnic population of 543,000 locals to seduce both residents and tourists alike. But from an HR standpoint, Deslauriers and Kim Froats, manager of health and safety, can't walk down a street without first noticing the city's employees-the parking-meter trainee writing up her first ticket, construction workers operating cranes in the distance, and bus drivers hauling passengers up and down Cambie Road. They are among the 8,500 public employees of Vancouver, a city of 23 distinct communities.

HR's current focus is an ambitious leadership training program intended to make managers more accountable for the quality of city services and ultimately increase customer, or in this case citizen, satisfaction. It's an approach that starts at the top with management leadership and accountability and works its way down to those who provide services directly. Understandably, how HR rolls out the curriculum is a sensitive matter. After spending a day shadowing Deslauriers, I could see why.

Improvements in running city government will also require increased employee recognition and public involvement. "That's why I love HR," says Deslauriers. "Human behavior is unpredictable, and you always have to think of new ways to solve people problems." Moreover, when you work for a municipality, your product-human services-is always on public display.

We begin our day with a visitor's orientation at 8:30 a.m. in City Hall, second floor, overlooking 12th Avenue.

Respect the history and corporate culture first

I first ask Deslauriers to explain the state of training upon her arrival. The city, she says, has provided ongoing training in a number of areas, including leadership and change management. But even though individual training sessions have been of good quality and the participant feedback has been positive, training hasn't been strategic-that is, planned and well integrated across all business units. "Each business unit has its own culture," she says. "How fire and rescue workers think and operate is quite different from those in engineering and public works."

The new training initiatives, she says, will be delivered through a series of modules that will outline corporate values and expectations for approximately 300 exempt managers and another 400 within 12 bargaining units. The training will provide skill development opportunities, review city policy, procedure, guidelines, and practices, and support managers with tools that can be used in the workplace.

"Our anticipated training outcome is a corporate culture whereby managers will have a common understanding of the expectations of their roles and the necessary skills to be effective," she says. …

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