Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant’s Leadership & Organizational Development Experience
Every day, over one million residents of the City of Sacramento and surrounding communities wake up to take on the day and never have to give a second thought to their wastewater needs. As is the case with most wastewater utility customers, “no news is good news.”
These low profile, successful wastewater treatment operations are provided in Sacramento County by the committed staff and management of the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant (SRWTP), located
“We could sense that we could be doing things better, but we didn’t have the data to determine ..how to get there.”
in Elk Grove, CA, in the southern portion of Sacramento County. SRWTP, a division of the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District, provides wastewater treatment services to over one million residents in over a 250 square mile area. The plant occupies 900 acres of a 3,400-acre site; the remaining 2,500 acres serve as a buffer between the plant and nearby residential areas. The plant treats over 160 million gallons per day (mgd) of wastewater and is capable of treating up to 400 mgd. Wastewater is conveyed to the plant via four interceptor pipes ranging in size from 36” to 108”.
In mid 2000 SRWTP’s management team began a process of looking for assistance
The misalignment and lack of integration that resulted from core organizational issues created a significant lack of focus for the plant and mis-alignment of leadership for Stan Dean and his team.
to improve the organization’s strategic focus and address several organizational and employee issues, including issues arising from the implementation of their Total Quality Management (TQM) program (called Agency Committed to Excellence). In September 2000 they selected TAP Resource Development Group to assist them with this project.
SRWTP’s Manager, Stan Dean, spearheaded the work effort with TAP Resource. “We could sense that we could be doing things better, but we didn’t have the data to determine where we were, so we couldn’t clearly figure out were we wanted and needed to go, and how to get there.” The active participation of Dean, along with the support of Bob Shanks, the District Engineer (and Dean’s boss) was critical to the success of the project.
One of the problems that Dean was grappling with was that his organization already had a number of initiatives in place as they attempted to improve operations and morale at the plant. In addition to TQM, they were working on employee attitude surveys, Steven Covey seminars, and significant organizational redesigns, to name just a few. While these programs could all have a positive effect, they also created a problem: the organization wasn’t getting a consistent message about where it was headed.
Richard Gerstberger, TAP Resource Vice President and Principal-in-Charge of the project at SRWTP,
The TAP Resource team provided a number of different services at SRWTP designed to bring more alignment, clarity and integration to the organization.
said that, “Stan Dean, his leadership team, and numerous individuals across the organization were all working very hard on a number of initiatives intended to make things better at the plant, and in some cases this certainly was the result, but the resulting misalignment and lack of integration that resulted from core organizational issues created a significant lack of focus for the plant and mis-alignment of leadership for Stan Dean and his team. This, in turn, lead to a number of other problems.”
The TAP Resource team provided a number of different services at SRWTP designed to bring more alignment, clarity and integration to the organization. Services provided included:
- Focus group sessions: In groups of approximately 10 to 20 people, Tap Resource staff met with and listened to staff inputs on SRWTP’s strengths and weaknesses. The results were documented, quantified, and incorporated into the results reported to the leadership team.
- Assessment process: All SRWTP employees participated in TAP Resource’s organizational, cultural, and leadership assessment process, the result of which was a very quantifiable picture of the organization’s strategic focus, culture, and leadership. The results were documented, quantified, and incorporated into the results reported to the leadership team.
- Leadership team and staff interviews: TAP Resource staff interviewed the leadership team, plus selected individuals from across the organization to provide both quantitative and qualitative information. The results were documented, quantified, and incorporated into the results reported to the leadership team.
- Strategic action planning workshop: The TAP Resource staff lead the leadership
Ultimately, the result in SRWTP’s experience in working with TAP Resource is about improving performance.
team through a 3-day off-site workshop to review the results of the assessment, interviews, and focus group sessions, AND to produce the strategic action plan, the organization’s blueprint for improvement.
- Leadership development: Forty-two managers and supervisors at the plant have gone through an individualized leadership development process designed to identify specific leadership attributes that each manager would be best served to work on. The managers also have developed individualized leadership development plans designed to assist them in becoming more effective, efficient managers.
- Performance measurement audit: TAP Resource is currently assisting the leadership team with the implementation of their Performance Management System by providing consultation and an overall audit of the development process as plant staff worked to make it a reality.
The end result of all of the last two years’ work with SRWTP is that the Leadership Team and staff now have some firm ground to stand on in terms of where they are today, where they want to be in the future, and how they will get there.
“We also have a fundamental understanding that there are different types of organizations (even within SRWTP) and that the strategy, culture, leadership and work practices can be – and usually are – different in each organization.”
In discussing the results of working with TAP Resource, Plant Manager Dean said, “We now have quantifiable data on strategy, culture, leadership, and our work practices. We also have a fundamental understanding that there are different types of organizations (even within SRWTP) and that the strategy, culture, leadership and work practices can be – and usually are – different in each organization.”
Dean added that the process has had numerous other benefits, as well. These include a supervisory staff that is now more accountable; and has more clarity about the direction that the organization is headed and thus in the direction that they provide to their staff. They are also making a shift from “this is what I think I should do” to “this is what the data tells us we ought to do.”
The impact on the plant’s workforce is similar. The employees are gaining a clearer understanding of their strategic purpose, which means that they are more focused on why the organization exists and how they provide value to their customers when they arrive at work each day.
Stan Dean added that the process has many benefits including a supervisory staff that is more accountable, and has more clarity about the direction that the organization is headed.
One of the big changes in the organization, according to Dean, is that the plant staff, especially among the leadership team, has a common philosophical base against which they can measure their actions. He added that there is also a team-building aspect to the process that brought the leadership team together and more in synch as a result of the process, and that there is now more clarity on expectations.
Ultimately, the result in SRWTP’s experience in working with TAP Resource is about improving performance. By focusing on the causes of issues and problems (and successes) rather than just the symptoms, SRWTP has been able to have a better understanding of their strategic purpose, align their culture and leadership with this purpose, improve leader’s capabilities, and measure their performance.