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5 steps to strengthen your workplace

Private sector leadership can learn a thing or two from City of Denver's PEAK Academy


Everyone wants to strengthen their workplace by cultivating collaboration, ownership and efficiency. The cool thing now is to give employees an espresso machine and a ping-pong table and call it a day. But in my experience, there’s more to it than that.

As the director of the Denver Peak Academy program, I see employees at all levels improving and transforming our Denver government into a customer-driven, creative, sustainable and data-oriented service provider. The people who maintain our parks, provide shelter for stray animals, pave our streets, pick up our trash and register our vehicles are innovating their way to making your interaction with Denver city government as seamless as an Amazon order.

More than 6,500 city employees have completed parts of our program, and since, the various innovations they have conceptualized and implemented have saved the City of Denver about $22.5 million.

Along the way, we’ve managed to drastically cut wait times at the DMV, boost the amount of child support collected for families, and provide food assistance to those in need within 24 hours. And we’re just getting started.

It may surprise you to hear that Denver city workers are blazing trails in innovation and process improvement within the government. But at the heart of our innovation program is the belief that successful innovation and a strong workplace starts with investing in the people who do the work. Across the Front Range of Colorado, the techniques our program teaches are being put to work every day by government employees who want to make your experience better.

These lessons can help the private sector as well. Here are some proven methods that have worked in the City and County of Denver to help strengthen your workplace:

Listen to your employees. In my experience, employees at all levels are working tirelessly to improve the services they provide to the customer. If given the right tools and permissions, they can figure out how to do it better. Give them that leeway and say yes to every idea, even the ones you don’t think will work.  

Map your work process. At Denver Peak Academy, we use sticky notes to help visualize any given work process. All you need to do is write out each step on a sticky note, place them in order on a wall, step back, and consider what steps could change or be removed. Our team mapped the vehicle impound process and covered a 20-foot wall with sticky notes by the time we were done. Immediately, the team started to figure out where they could cut redundant or inefficient steps out.

Measure everything like a scoreboard. Everyone keeps score, and your team is keeping score now. Find a way to count the things you do at work. We call it MEAT (or TEAM if you are vegan): Money, Errors, Amount and Time. Determine what matters to you and your team, and track each one like a hawk. This allows your team to set precise goals and monitor their success and progress. The moment our HR team started meeting to discuss how long it took to fill a position, is the moment we saw a reduction in time. 

Adopt an innovation mindset and remove barriers. Define innovation not as a breakthrough or new technology, but something that anyone and everyone can apply to their day-to-day tasks. Every employee is an expert in their arena, and they know what small changes can make a big difference. For example, reorganize your workspace to cut down on time searching for tools, update your website to reduce phone call inquiries. Simple things can and do have dramatic impacts.

Celebrate success. Cleaning the office, stopping a bad service, changing a form, or updating the website are all causes for celebration. When you celebrate the small things, bigger things become parties! In government, we can’t celebrate with bonuses, so we write a blog about someone, give an award, or have the Mayor call the innovative employee. Celebrate everything people do right and watch what they will do next. You will find that your working environment will be forever changed for the better.

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