Director's visits provide valuable face-to-face contact

Many of the suggestions he received focused on ways employees can do better
in their workplace and how to improve productivity

Shortly after becoming ITD director in January, Brian Ness made a commitment to meet as many of the department’s employees as possible. However, the extensive road trips had to wait about three months for conclusion of the legislative session.

Since late spring, Director Ness completed his quest to visit facilities and employees in every region of the state, including Headquarters. It required a lot of time, energy and creative scheduling, but the results made the efforts worthwhile, he insists.

“It took me away from the office, but I was able to stay in touch while I was on the road. There was never a problem with keeping on top of important issues,” he said.

In turn, he got a much clearer sense of the conditions under which employees work, their priorities and their needs.

“I was able to meet with a majority of the employees in every district and areas at Headquarters. In some cases, that required a return visit,” Ness says. “It was time very well spent.”

The personal visits gave him an opportunity to talk about his leadership style, provide his vision for direction of the department and engage employees in discussions about what they do, how they do it and what they need to be even more successful.

A number of employees asked about salaries and benefits, which have been impacted by the economic downturn and state budget constraints.

Many of the suggestions he received focused on ways employees can do better in their workplace and how to improve productivity. Many of the efficiencies employees recommended are modest in terms of dollars saved, but they collectively can lead to significant savings, the director says.

“I was impressed by their enthusiasm for their jobs and their commitment to doing their best,” Ness explains. “I found that employees really take ownership of their area, which is a reflection of their work ethics.

“The trips reinforced my perception that ITD has a hard-working, dedicated staff.”

He was surprised, though, by ”tentativeness” among some employees to make decisions that would impact their jobs or worksites.

“I want employees to have the ability to make decisions within the parameters of their jobs, without fear of failing – as long as the decisions are made with the intent of improving productivity or the department’s processes or customer service, and are made with the knowledge of their supervisor.”

The director also reminded employees of the need for accountability. “Employees need to hold me accountable in the same manner I will hold them accountable,” he said.

Director Ness initially planned department-wide meetings every two years. But the first visits were so successful and the need for personal contact so apparent that he plans to conduct similar meetings again next year.

“Employees need to see me face-to-face and hear me respond to their questions personally. I want to look for ways to do it every year, if possible. It will be especially important next year because funding will be clearer after the Legislature and we hope to have decisions at the federal level.”

Published 10-1-2010