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Diann Kirby: The value of trust within the municipal workplace

It might seem obvious to some, but certainly in the case of staff at the City of Bloomington, Minnesota, the workplace operates more efficiently when co-workers are also friends.

This became apparent after the city was approached by the University of Minnesota to conduct some organizational mapping – free of charge – in the government sector. It took Diann Kirby almost no time at all to jump at the opportunity.

This research became the basis of a presentation the Bloomington team delivered at the Alliance for Innovation’s 2019 Transforming Local Government conference in Reno, Nevada. Afterward, Kirby, Bloomington’s Community Services Director, sat down with Municipal World CEO Susan Gardner to discuss the value of networking within the workplace.

Establishing the Value of Employee Friendships

“We went beyond the formal work chart to look at how our particular department was operating,” Kirby said. “You never really hear of somebody coming in to survey you about who are your friends at work. You don’t see that in a typical employee engagement survey. It was kind of a curiosity thing.”

The study involved a two-part analysis. Half of it involved a survey of the city’s 122 fulltime and part-time employees. The survey took employees about 20 to 25 minutes to complete and asked questions – for example – about who employees went to for advice, who their friends at the office were, and who they trusted within their department or their own teams.

In the video, Kirby said one of the keys to doing the survey was having at least 80 percent of the employees take part. This was important, she said, in order to get “really valid, good survey data.” As it turned out, 84 percent of city employees took part.

Survey Results Lead to a Stronger Organization

The results showed some interesting conclusions. For example, when someone is friends with somebody at work, it makes work more pleasant. Employees are more likely to support coworkers and are more likely to trust them as well. In one particular city division, the trust level actually fell into the negative territory.

The information that came out of the networking exercise proved invaluable, Kirby said, and was important in helping the city build a stronger operation.

“This is about becoming a high-performing organization. How can we improve? How can we innovate?” she said. “It’s a powerful tool and I think a nice supplement to the typical employee engagement survey.”  MW

✯ Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in the article: Bridging the employee engagement gap. Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.

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