Making Changes to Make a Difference

Submitted by Debbie McDonald on November 30, 2010 - 5:20pm

One month ago staff from the Southeast Region (SERO) and support units participated in the Division’s second Kaizen event (virtually on the anniversary of the first LEAN/Kaizen event held at the Gambell Office). Representatives from each of the region’s three offices and the Heating Assistance Program spent an intense 5 days to develop a different way of delivering services to Alaskans in need. They explored new ways of looking at our business, our customers, and the products and services they deliver every day to thousands of Alaskans in their region.

It is safe to say that following the “event” staff was pretty stoked to get back to their offices to begin the planning necessary to implement process improvements in January 2011. As you can see from the newsletter/status report, the SERO team is on task and on target.

The chance to take a critical look at how we do business and to actually implement changes that both add value to our work and are meaningful to our clients is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss. Next week, staff from the Northern Region will be engaged in their LEAN/Kaizen event and before the end of the 2011 every region and section in the Division will have participated in what I believe is a truly transformational process.

The success of this endeavor is dependent on the participation of staff that has knowledge of current work processes and practices. Unfortunately, we can’t have everyone in a region, office, or section participate. So, teams are selected to be as representative as possible of each region’s or section’s core business and to reflect the demographics of the office or section (e.g., newbies and experienced staff, ETs and OAs, line staff and supervisors). These participants are the voice of the current process and the source of inspiration for the new process. Following the event, they will be responsible for explaining the proposed changes to their co-workers. Before changes are implemented, everyone should have an opportunity to review and contribute to the final process and play a role in ensuring that it is continuously improved.

Participants at the Kaizen events also include people from other offices and support units. Some are sponsors; individuals who can help validate decisions, answer critical questions, or commit to dedicating resources that are essential to ensure the success of the re-engineered process. Participants from SysOps can help identify potential modifications that can support streamlining efforts and policy staff can respond to policy-related questions and gain insights on aligning program policies that will help streamline our work. There will also be participants who are there to learn more about LEAN and Kaizen events in advance of their own efforts to look for process improvements. Staff from offices that have already gone through Kaizen events and have implemented process improvements also will attend to answer questions about how their office, section, or region addressed challenges and offer technical assistance when needed.

The Division of Public Assistance is a high performance organization and, in my opinion, the best agency in state government. However, we can be even better. Over the last year or so, the relatively rapid increase in public assistance rolls strained our capacity to respond. The number of aged and disabled coming to us for help continues to grow. If and when health care reform becomes a reality we could have another 20,000 or more customers. We’re hiring great staff and our vacancy and turnover rates are lower than ever before but, we cannot be certain we will be able to get new positions to help meet the growing demand for our services. We also must always be cognizant of the need for a system of work that is agile and can respond to any contingency whether it be ongoing or dramatic growth of our workload or some unanticipated and disruptive event such as a natural disaster.

These things compel us to find a better way to do our business; one that allows excellent staff to craft an improved process that is as responsive to the needs of our customers as it can be. One that allows us to use the full potential of staff while providing a positive work environment where everyone can see and celebrate their contribution to providing the best possible service to Alaska’s most vulnerable citizens.

In this endeavor, we are fortunate to have the help of Change Innovation Agency, a business that has an enormous amount of experience helping state agencies take a critical look at their core business practices and discover a better system of work. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with senior leadership from Washington and New Mexico who have used these consultants and the LEAN/Kaizen process to transform how they do business. Both states are addressing staggering growth in welfare rolls that makes ours pale in comparison with spectacular results. Because all of you are committed to excellence, I know that the changes you will make to our core business practices will bring enormous benefits to both our co-workers and our clients.

Ron Kreher