Vancouver, Washington: Making Room
What do you do when the size of your company, the number of its employees and breadth of its responsibilities increases twofold over the course of one night?
It's hard to comprehend what's
happened in the city of Vancouver,Wash., but let's try:
Imagine that in your plans to have a baby, you anticipate
the first appearance of little Johnny or little Suzy in
the delivery room; what you don't anticipate is the first
appearance of both little Johnny and little Suzy. The
ultrasound technician missed the fact that your baby load
was double, so you now find yourself returning for yet
The situation in Vancouver is a little more complicated. The city became the fourth largest in Washington state after its population increased from 68,000 to 126,000 between December 31, 1996 and January 1, 1997 when the geographic barriers of the city were expanded to incorporate an area twice Vancouver's original size. That's a lot of babies.
Sure, the increased tax base may seem like a financial windfall, but when 17.6 additional square miles, 150 new employees and an increased customer base of 85 percent are taken into account, that windfall may seem like a fall, indeed.
Faced with these increased demands,
the city of Vancouver did what all good companies do when
under the gun - they formed a unified front-line of
defense. Vancouver's is based on four principles:
Of these four, the last two were the toughest to accomplish and speak volumes about Vancouver's success.
When implementing policy initiatives reflecting these principles, officials initially heard the familiar cries of flavor-of-the-month management styles and undergoing too many changes too fast. But skepticism and resistance didn't win out.
Counting the Fingers and
The report revealed that, while there
was a lack of trust in the organization, there remained a
solid sense of pride in the city itself. This pride was
enough to encourage the city's management staff to take
on the task of making the government fit its new
To create this identity, Vancouver made a commitment to quality growth and development, improved support and communications systems and a strong downtown, waterfront and heritage site. The hope was by improving these areas, Vancouver would become an enviable place to work and live.
Changing the management structure meant increasing involvement in the change process by making labor and management partnerships crucial and re-orienting decision making to the lowest practical level. None of these are small tasks. A design and oversight committee (DOC) was formed to take over the implementation of these new goals and serve as the center of learning where committee members could voice multiple views and concerns and build a coalition. The goal was to design, guide, oversee and establish the change process as a way to do business in the future.
The DOC began by establishing a
labor/management conference to bring the nine unions and
key management together. A Future Horizons conference was
also organized, with the primary goal of sharing data on
a survey of 170+ employees. At this conference, employees
looked collectively at the past, present and future
Following in the footsteps of the
new-found communication established at the Future
Horizons conference, Vancouver endeavored to make the
Next, the DOC took on leadership development by customizing leadership training, targeting the city's specific needs and issues, establishing step-by-step learning and development programs and holding leaders accountable for success. Of course, none of this can happen without employee training, so the DOC set about team development as well.
The final DOC policy initiative is motivation and accountability, including the re-alignment of promotions and hiring practices to match the new policies of training and searching for talent from within. New performance appraisals reflect the new corporate culture," and reinforce open communications policies and procedures in human resources.
During this process of major internal
and external renovation, Vancouver found its strength in
diversity. Placing emphasis on each team's ability to
approach its tasks in unique ways is now a source of
success, and the city encourages a theme of "uniqueness"
as a matter of course. "Different strokes for different
folks" is a familiar refrain as employees watch fellow
team members approach problem solving in a new way. As it
turns out, uniqueness works, and cookie-cutter procedures
are out with
Through the experience, Vancouver has
learned the power of the involvement and accreditation
process; they've discovered you have to provide
accountability and rewards to undergo enormous change
successfully. In this way, accreditation enables the
transfer of power, information and authority; leaders are
accountable to make sure power is transferred, and
employees are accountable for fulfilling their new roles.
Empowering people to take on new tasks encourages the
creation of benchmarks,
So what happens when a city doubles
its size, responsibilities and staff overnight? If the
city is Vancouver, you think on your feet, open your mind
. . . and grow. Vancouver increased employee involvement,
improved leadership styles and created a better