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Dawn Bailey

Quality Insider

First Win Their Hearts and Minds, Then Consider These Steps

How the City of Irving, Texas, makes it work

Published: Friday, May 17, 2013 - 10:23

What’s the key to managing and engaging literally a city of employees? The City of Irving, Texas, the 2012 Baldrige Award recipient and municipal role model, may have some ideas.

“Say what you mean and do what you say,” says city manager Tommy Gonzalez. “Your employees need to understand the strategic plan and know what role they and their departments play in implementing changes that drive the plan’s desired results. You have to really connect the messaging, strategy, and meaning to inspire and motivate people.”

Speaking during the 25th Annual Quest for Excellence Conference, Gonzalez said all city employees know they are part of a cohesive working unit, “If you can engage your workforce and connect mind, heart, and touch, you can fuel rapid change in your organization,” he says. For example, Irving employees don’t just memorize the city’s vision to be “a model for safe and beautiful neighborhoods; vibrant economy; and exceptional recreational, cultural, and educational opportunities,” according to Gonzalez. “They understand it,” he says. “They know they’re part of its success, and they know how that success is measured. They then can celebrate the progress and take part in continued improvement.”

The successes of the Irving employees were evident in remarks by President Barack Obama, conveyed via video during the Baldrige Award ceremony: “The City of Irving, Texas, is implementing new ideas that set an example of what a healthier, safer, more efficient city looks like.”

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) added his congratulations, too: “The City of Irving prioritizes feedback from its residents, achieving high levels of citizen satisfaction, producing almost $45 million in cost savings over the past five years. I congratulate the City of Irving on the receipt of [the Baldrige Award], and I hope that the federal government of Washington, D.C., can learn from their example.”

So how did the leadership of the City of Irving guide employees to accomplish all of this?


One of the first steps to employee engagement is a good, solid strategic plan, says Gonzalez. For example, Irving’s plan helped to position the city to renegotiate a contract to save money; in turn, the city was able to give raises and market adjustments to staff. “It helps to continue to motivate employees especially when we’re asking them to do more and challenging ourselves as executives,” he said.

Leadership focuses on following the vision statement and bringing that to life. One way leaders have done this is by creating 50+ cross-functional teams among departments. Each team member learns about the processes of other departments, and this feeds into a succession implementation plan. This is not just a succession plan, says Gonzalez, but a motivational tool to help city leaders identify the next layer of leadership/management.

With a solid plan and with attrition reducing the staff by 11 percent during the recent, national economic downturn, the City of Irving didn’t lay off anyone or furlough employees, who were able to keep the market adjustments in their salaries.

A focus on keeping employees inspired and motivated includes recognizing employees on the spot, said Gonzalez. For example, recently more than 600 employees received recognition for delivering outstanding service levels.

Give them what they need

Another step to employee engagement: “Give employees what they need,” says Gonzalez. “If you don’t go out and work alongside them, you won’t see what they need.” He cited examples of working alongside city employees, picking up trash. That experience revealed that workers were coming into contact with needles and other hazardous waste during garbage collection. By providing needle stick-resistant gloves and stipends for steel-toed work boots, the City of Irving saved money because worker’s compensation costs went down.

In addition, the City of Irving focuses on employees’ health and well-being with a “wellness program on steroids,” says Gonzalez. Employees who participate in the program and improve their health status have the ability to earn up to $150 month. This effort to attack the national problem of obesity has resulted in a total loss of 4,000 pounds by employees and saved the city $26 million dollars in health insurance costs.

Keeping employees engaged also requires solid, two-way communication through surveys, town halls, and emails, among other methods. “Doing something with the information and making proper changes is key,” says Gonzalez.

Earn their respect

Gonzalez cited his military experience, where “you have to win the hearts and minds of the people with whom you work.” He told a story of serving in Desert Shield/Desert Storm as a young platoon lieutenant. To earn the respect of older soldiers in his command, he had to “let them know you’re for real and you mean it.” To do this, he carried the heaviest loads during tasks and even volunteered for latrine duty, a rather unpleasant tasks that involved burning waste in the desert. Doing this earned the respect of his solders and demonstrated servant leadership.

Management should be “working to earn [employees’] respect, and then they’ll tell you more. If you give employees great service, they’re going to give the customers great service,” he adds.

Employees are similarly taught to respect each other, no matter what task the employee is accomplishing, whether filling potholes or emptying the trash, for example.

Look at the data

Irving’s leadership model includes looking at the data and benchmarking other municipalities, with a focus on being proactive for the city’s customers. Gonzalez says a focus on metrics pointed out the seven most heavily travelled streets in the city; potholes on these streets were fixed in advance rather than waiting for complaints to come in.

“In the end,” says Gonzalez, “if you can connect with [people] in their minds and hearts and have them touch their results, that’s how to have them engaged, [and this includes] not only employees and the organization but the customer.”

Added Gonzalez, “If you want to relocate, Irving is a great place to consider.”

This column first appeared May 16, 2013, on Blogrige. Reprinted with permission from the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, Gaithersburg, MD.


About The Author

Dawn Bailey’s picture

Dawn Bailey

Dawn Bailey is a writer/editor for the Baldrige Program involved in all aspects of communications, from leading the Baldrige Executive Fellows program to managing the direction of case studies, social media efforts, and assessment teams. She has more than 25 years of experience (18 years at the Baldrige Program) working on publications and education teams. Her background is in English and journalism, with degrees from the University of Connecticut and an advanced degree from George Mason University.