The Finish Line

How Ferndale is integrating culture into performance by leaning on core values and strategic planning to set the tone and pace of decisions.

ARTICLE | Aug 21, 2019

How Ferndale is Integrating Culture into Performance

by Joseph Gacioch, City Manager, Ferndale, MI

If you’ve ever competed in a race—whether a 5k, half marathon, or even a full marathon—you’ve likely created a playlist to set the tempo for your walk or run. The music you choose speaks to your values and motivation, inspires you to keep moving forward, and helps propel you toward the finish line. For me, the same is true of a city’s guiding principles.

The City of Ferndale adopted its own set of core values in 2016; we call them the Four I’s: Integrity, Inclusiveness, Inspiration, and Innovation. These values are the beat behind our organizational song, the tempo that supports us as we work to move our goals toward, and past, the finish line.  Following the rollout and adoption of our guiding principles, we began incorporating them into our processes: employee selection, budget, strategic planning. Our HR team presented a summary of the values to our departments. Inserting the culture component into our processes underscores the importance of cultural fit—after all, your people are your most important assets. However, despite our better efforts we were unable to effectively and deliberately habituate the principles into our daily DNA. 

Our team saw a possible solution when reviewing the City’s in Envisio, our strategic planning software platform. Parallel to our cultural integration efforts, we organize our budget process and priorities around alignment with City Council’s biannual strategic plan. It suddenly occurred to us: What if we could leverage Envisio to incorporate the annual performance management process into our strategic planning process as well?

Historically when I’ve thought about typical paradigms for performance management, they’ve either come as a means for merit-based salary increase or, contrarily, behavior correction. The problem with this model is that it doesn’t harmonize the tempo set by the strategic plan nor inspire the reaffirmation of cultural values that drive us forward.

So, we chose to employ Envisio’s People Module—a values-based performance management system that is designed to complement the strategic planning module. Our former performance management process relied on a single touchpoint for personnel reviews at the end of the year. The self-assessment review included a series of questions about performance strengths, opportunities, and training and professional development objectives. The content was important, but the reviews didn’t quite generate an assessment focused on strategic and cultural progress; it felt like the purpose for the review was strictly for reward or corrective action.

The new method utilizing Envisio yields annual performance reviews that are still considered for merit increases and general appraisals. However, the new process incorporates three categories for performance focus:

  1. City Council Strategic Plan (40% value) – Leveraging Envisio’s strategic planning module to incorporate relevant milestones and progress updates throughout the year.
  2. Culture (30% value) – Allowing us to consider our guiding principles—the Four I’s—in every employee’s performance and growth; we require staff to be mindful of the organization’s values and intentional about improving in one or two focus areas by setting and achieving personal stretch goals throughout the year.
  3. Job Description and Professional Development (30% value) –Duties from job descriptions have been reorganized into multiple smaller category areas; for example, leadership, internal operations, communications, or professional development. These categories are co-created between the employee and their direct supervisor as it’s imperative for all to have a common perception of goals and expectations around work and development.

The performance module also enables us to incorporate progress meetings no fewer than three times a year. I view these meetings as a shared journal between staff and direct reports; the journal is a tremendous memory aid for the year-end review, and it also provides an inherent pause-and-check-in for busy government employees (many of whom are “too busy” to check in with performance and goals until it's necessary). Our schedule includes three milestones:

  • June 1-September 13: Co-create work plans and development goals, confirm the year’s objectives.
  • January-February: Midyear progress update and check-in.
  • May-June: End of the year progress update and performance review. Final reviews are incorporated into annual merit recommendations and general performance reviews.

Dan Jacey, the City’s Director of Human Resources is optimistic about the direction. From Jacey’s view,
“It is important that our leaders use the language that we’ve created in our culture when talking about any goal within the City. This is especially true when we are working with our employees on their individual work plans and performance evaluations. When we tie our goals to the culture, we strengthen the alignment between individual and City ideals. This helps ensure we deliver the Ferndale brand. We will know we are successful when we hear our employees use our Cultural language to identify the successes and opportunities we encounter in our daily work”.

Over the past several years, our community and workforce have moved through a period of rapid growth and change. Because of this fluctuating environment, it is increasingly imperative that we lean on our core values and strategic plan to set the tone and pace of decisions around new hires, strategic and financial priorities, and overall performance. In doing this, we’ve found our tempo—the right playlist of music to keep us motivated and move us forward. (And for the record, Freddy Mercury’s “I Want to Break Free” is driving me to the finish line of completing this article.)

Does your organization have a playlist? What’s the preferred tempo to keep your team moving forward?

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