How Marion County began living its plan to move from good to great
By Brian Moree, Assistant County Administrator, Marion County
Setting the standard for customer service: though the phrase itself is nearly as common as images of mountains on inspirational posters, it’s less common to find organizations truly striving to study and embody what it means.
Before launching our new mission statement: “Leading public service in genuine dedication to our citizens through professional operations and resource stewardship,” Marion County leaders drilled down to find the core values held by our workforce. What did employees feel passionate about? What ideals did they find important? And where, as an organization, could the county do a better job of exemplifying these values?
The employee-identified core values provided the foundation for the three guiding principles that form the mission statement. By utilizing input from all levels of staff, Marion County looked toward a level of personal ownership for each employee when it came to the values of the organization as a whole.
Like the passive mountains on inspirational posters comfortably situated behind generic frames and matting, mission statements, core values and guiding principles are all too often relegated to the same fate – boxed within frames, viewed once and tacked to the wall. It’s easy to put forth grandiose sentiments, they sound nice and create an image of effort.
To move toward greatness though, Marion County looked deeper into the necessity of embodying these statements and values and principles. How do you live them? How do you make them relevant for a county government providing a dizzyingly wide variety of services, from the frontline employee to the top administrator?
You make a plan.
Marion County brought our leaders together for frank conversations, hard questions and serious soul- and department-searching. County leadership believed that putting all challenges and opportunities on the table for discussion was the way to truly move forward to the next level at an organization.
Staff worked to determine how to give great customer service – not just at the front desk, but at the front lines of a medical call or while operating a front-end loader. Customer service is living a dedication to serving residents, regardless of the job description. It’s conducting professional operations, respecting and engaging employees, encouraging professional development and eliminating communication silos. It’s being responsible stewards of our fiscal, human and environmental resources, maintaining transparency, respect and accountability.
And Marion County got specific. Its 76-page strategic plan is a roadmap with specific projects (due dates and budgets included) detailed for the next five years. It focuses first on the organizational culture, as empowering employees to provide exceptional customer service. Then it moves to the high-level, department-specific goals, as well as more detailed sections on natural resource management/outdoor recreation, fire rescue/EMS and transportation infrastructure. Finally, it focuses on the reality of the county’s fiscal picture, including financial challenges and opportunities moving forward.
Every department is on board and held accountable, and the goals are in writing. The plan that backs the customer service mission isn’t placed on a shelf or tacked to a wall, like those mountain pictures stuck behind glass. It’s now starting to be embodied in everything from the interview questions posed to prospective employees to decision-making processes by upper management. This plan, Empowering Marion for Success, is how Marion County is working toward setting the customer service standard for local government, and making a difference for the citizens we serve.