On a bright and sunny day in April 1995, I walked south from my campus office for a few blocks to a meeting scheduled at the Governor's Offices at the Texas Capitol. The rains had been generous that spring, and a stand of Texas bluebonnets was still in full glory along my walk, reminding all visitors of those days when the broad prairie and longhorn cattle were much the world of Texas. The red granite stone of the Capitol and the live oaks provided a background of tranquillity and the sense of history important to the central structures of every government.
Some of the governor's senior staff members had set this meeting back in March to identify and examine procedures to assess customer satisfaction with services from state government. The meeting happened to fall on Thursday, April 20, the day after the bombing of the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City 400 miles to the north of Austin. As I walked across the Capitol grounds, I saw more uniformed state and Capitol police and rangers on the grounds and in every building than I had ever seen before. As I passed many of the officers, their faces were grave and uneasy and their voices betrayed tenseness. Such behavior was unusual, as duty at the Capitol typically has a strong public relations component, and officers are almost invariably easygoing, friendly, and relaxed.
When I arrived at my meeting, I spoke to my host and said, "Albert, I have never seen so many security personnel on the Capitol grounds." Albert replied that this was likely a record number and we both talked briefly about the Oklahoma tragedy. At that point, only twenty-four hours after the bombing, little was known of who had committed the act and there was considerable concern that more blasts could come. The one thing that both Albert and I knew, without making the fear concrete by verbalizing it, was that if it could happen in Oklahoma City, it could happen anywhere, including Austin, Texas. We realized that the Oklahoma City bombing was an ominous challenge and a brutal threat to citizens and their government.
Whatever history may prove about the events of the previous day in Oklahoma—whether the act was that of a single madman or something orchestrated by some larger, shadowy conspiracy—one thing is clear about feelings toward government. Much of government and many governmental organizations are viewed with anger and suspicion from parts of the public. To a substantial degree both national political parties have run in recent years against government on platforms to reform, reinvent, and downsize government. Numerous polls indicate that the public does not hold government or governmental workers in high esteem. Such sentiments seem common all across the United States; yet clearly they are not necessarily the trend in other parts of the world. The significant regard that the English, French, or Japanese citizen holds for civil servants is not enjoyed today by any branch of American government.
Government in the United States always exists only on a franchise from the people. The people exist a priori and then the government is created. The election process is part of the franchise. Less visible yet vital parts of the franchise are the willingness of citizens to perform such civic duties as voting, serving on juries, paying taxes, and doing the countless volunteer tasks that maintain the community. In a small way, the material in this book is about many endeavors by Texas government to ensure that the franchise of the people is not lessened by its agencies from having grown callous, indifferent, irrelevant, and out of touch.
Three different, separate, and yet related sets of information are presented in this book. One is the description of a detailed and involved process underway for several years in Texas that seeks the improvement of state agencies. Chapters 1 and 6 directly address change that is associated with the use of the survey. Persons working in state government in Texas and other states should find this material useful and perhaps familiar. The second set of information in this book is the presentation of a tool for measuring the attitudes of employees in any organization and using that information to strengthen an organization. I have presented in Chapters 3 through 5 a step-by-step explanation of why surveys are useful, how a survey is built and used, and how to return data to the organization. One should conduct a survey not simply to capture the "state of affairs" of the moment but also to provide a foundation for analyses and change. These chapters emphasize how survey data are used to promote positive change. These chapters should be of particular interest to persons in any organization charged with the responsibility of improving organizations. From the perspective of the book, this responsibility should be shared by everyone in the organization, so the material is presented to address all roles in an organization. The third set of material in this book is more historical and wide-ranging and seeks to identify the forces in American society that impel change in all organizations. It attempts to explain why there is today such great emphasis on the need to change and improve public and private organizations and where this push for change is taking us. My effort is to present both a longer and wider view of how all organizations are put together and how, I think, they will need to be changed.
The tool presented in this book, the Survey of Organizational Excellence, is an evolving concept that has been used for nearly two decades in Texas state government. It has now been applied in a variety of organizations, including entities outside Texas government, and with tens of thousands of employees. Findings and conclusions presented in this book represent a continuous process, an ongoing experiment yielding a wealth of quantified data and hundreds of real-life applications of activities to create better organizations.
Briefly, the details of the chapters are as follows. The first chapter provides a history of the development of the Survey of Organizational Excellence. Originally developed as a tool to estimate employee attitudes, it has grown to become a means to assess organizational strengths and increase employee involvement. It is widely used by organizations of Texas state government and provides crucial data upon which to base organizational changes. Chapter 2 explains why such surveys are in general use in many businesses and agencies and how best to conduct a survey in an organization. It includes explanations of why a survey is beneficial and directions for how to distribute a survey, how to answer typical questions from participants, and other practical questions that arise when one conducts a survey. Chapter 3 provides an explicit description of the instrument and the ways in which the data are returned to the organization. Chapter 4 introduces the concept of organizational assessments and shows how the data from the survey can be used to identify possible problems. The chapter provides some interventions appropriate for each type of problem. Chapter 5 offers some attributes that characterize visionary leaders and explains how one returns the data from the survey to members of the organization and involves members in solving identified problems. The chapter is particularly directed to the responsibilities of leadership in using the survey. Gathering survey information from employees implies that the data will be used for the benefit of all. The chapter explains how one can make good on the implied commitment. Chapter 6 presents some of the data gathered over recent years from organizations that use the survey. It illustrates how one can employ the survey to gain a general description of an organization and provides information about the kinds of problem identification that are possible with the survey. Chapter 7 provides details about how and why organizations have changed over the years and what are the most significant challenges organizations and leadership face today. It looks at what assumptions are made about individuals and organizations and how those assumptions affect what the organization does. Chapter 8 critiques the push for quality that demands attention from many organizations and outlines how successful organizations must function today and what future organizations must look like. These last two chapters contain critical information for leadership, providing some of the roadmap into the next century that will be vital to all organizations.
All organizations, public and private, must continually strive to improve the use of resources and increase responsiveness to the environment (i.e., markets, constituents, clients, and competitors). Successful change in any organization requires three elements. One element is leadership. Change requires leadership that can envision a mission that will enable the organization to acquire resources and compete successfully in its environment. A successful vision must be a bit of prophecy, an accurate prediction of what product or service will meet current and future needs. Leadership must secure trust with members of the organization and inspire dedication and creativity. The second requisite for successful change is outside (environmental) information for the organization, especially about how clients or customers perceive the goods and services the organization provides. This is simply external data important to the organization. Assessing customer satisfaction on a product or service is an example of gathering external data. Internal data is the third requisite for successful change. An organization must have some means of pulling together all of the information about processes, individual feelings, organizational conflicts, communication blockages, and so forth that occur within any organization and it must act on that information to permit an organization to grow more capable. The Survey of Organizational Excellence, as presented in this book, is a tool designed expressly for acquiring and distilling meaning about internal data. It provides a means of collecting the data, extracting useful information from the findings, and offering leadership a way to use the findings to involve all members of the organization in desired change.
The survey provides internal data that captures an in-depth view of the culture of an organization: the attitudes, beliefs, and values held by the people who are at the core of the organization—the employees. It provides a picture of many issues that are important to effective organizational functioning. Research and experience indicate that systematically acquiring employee perceptions is an essential step toward continuous improvement. Those organizations that achieve the highest level of employee dedication and participation will have a head start down the path toward excellence and quality. This document details the application of one indispensable tool to increase employee commitment to the organization.
The process described in this book details the best use of the survey as a vehicle for communication and organizational improvement. Used properly, employee surveys are a tool that can effect significant and positive change in the work environment. The information presented is based on employee survey practices found in the private sector and research literature as well as on insight from employees who have used the tool to improve their organizations. The overall survey process, as detailed in the following pages, points an organization down a path of continuous activity to promote openness, employee accountability, commitment, and dedication to improvement. Gathering of the survey data and using the data to chart steps for improvement are at the core of principles that are articulated in the quality movement across America today. Such processes serve to build the "thinking organizations" suggested in this book; these processes include placing high levels of empowerment, participation, responsibility, and trust in all members of the organization. These "thinking organizations" are, interestingly, quite consonant with many of the founding principles and beliefs of American democracy. They are characteristic of the organizations that are replacing those with industrial, specialized, and large-scale attributes. These "thinking organizations" are also continuous with beliefs in individual striving and civic responsibility central to the special qualities of the American character. Thus, the results from the processes described in this book build both stronger organizations and individuals who are more creative in their work and more capable in responding to family and civic responsibilities beyond the work organization.