Two years ago, the Houston Department of Solid Waste Management (SWM) began to face budget constraints that threatened to affect services and staff levels. To try to avoid cutting both, Harry Hayes, SWM director, began evaluating the department's leadership team and employees to ensure operations were as efficient and effective as they could be.

Hayes turned to business consultants from the Houston Community College (HCC) Corporate College, a service of the School of Continuing Education, to assess current employee skills and offer guidance on how those skills could be used to improve service while controlling costs. HCC consultants chose to measure SWM organizational quality and effectiveness using The Birkman Method personality assessment test, developed by Birkman International Inc. of Houston. The test evaluates personality, social perception and occupational interests to identify usual behavioral styles, underlying motivations and potential stress behavior resulting from unmet motivational needs.

HCC consultants used the assessment with large numbers of participants in group settings over six months. The consultants charted behavioral patterns developed from individual results and analyzed them by shift, department and level of responsibility.

Birkman Method reports were used in individual coaching sessions to help employees better understand their personal workplace roles and improve employee-supervisor communication. Results also were used by a focus group, which met to determine training needs within the department. Also, as a result of the assessment, an Employee Productivity Program was developed that solicits employee suggestions to make jobs and processes more efficient while promoting quality, economy and safety.

Since The Birkman Method assessment was instituted two years ago, the city has saved an estimated $5 million in performance improvements from better route management, an ownership approach to job functions, and work team and contract improvements. No layoffs were needed to cut costs. “Our employees have a better understanding of what our mission is and how our cost structure affects it,” Hayes says. “They deliver better service because they understand themselves better and the impact they have on our business as individuals.”

Project: Improving employee involvement
Jurisdiction: Houston
Agency: Department of Solid Waste Management
Vendor: Houston-based Birkman International Inc.
Date completed: Phases 1 and 2 completed by 2010; follow-up is ongoing
Cost: Approximately $30,000