Linn County is focusing on customers

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Ben Rogers, guest columnist

Having worked in the private sector before becoming a Linn County Supervisor, I understand how implementing the principles of business can improve the business of government. It is commonly asked, “why can’t government operate more like a business”?

My answer to that is, in many ways, it can.

I have been leading an effort in Linn County to create a more customer-centered culture that places the residents of Linn County — our customers — at the heart of everything we do. For businesses to survive and thrive, they have to continually improve their processes, innovate their products and focus on their customer’s needs.

This is precisely what Linn County is doing. As part of our transformation, we are approaching our work in terms of “products”. This is critical so we can measure our products’ effectiveness, improve each product to meet the needs of our customers and discontinue products that do not meet our customers’ needs and expectations. This shift in mind-set differentiates Linn County from many other government entities.

Linn County is guided by a new five-year strategic plan that focuses on three key areas: customer satisfaction, quality of life and maintaining our exceptional fiscal strength and stability. To accomplish these goals, Linn County has partnered with the Iowa Quality Center, renowned transformational consultant Rob Lawton, and local organizational expert Ted Garnett to help guide our organization toward continuous improvement and a customer-centered culture. We are implementing a wide variety of proven organizational transformation practices and business principles such as LEAN, Six Sigma, Kaizan and others, to improve the products we produce and the services we provide. Our bottom line is saving tax dollars through continual improvement. From front line employees to managers and elected officials, we are putting ourselves in our customers’ shoes to better understand their experiences, and then using that understanding to improve and innovate Linn County products.

In the short time we have started the process of being more customer-centered, we have already achieved success that is saving our customers time and money.

Linn County’s Planning and Development Department was able to reduce the time a customer had to wait to be approved for a permit from eight days down to three days by analyzing each step in a process utilizing principles of LEAN.

When Linn County’s General Assistance employees asked the important question of ‘why’ about one of their processes, they uncovered they could reduce the wait time for landlords to receive rental assistance checks by as many as 10 days.

Linn County’s Public Health department uses continual improvement, quality assurance and quality control processes that have helped them become the only public health agency in the state of Iowa to be nationally accredited.

As the most heavily trafficked department in Linn County, the Treasurer’s Office has implemented systems that track the total time it takes for a customer to conduct business, measure total wait time, staff interaction time and length of phone calls. These metrics allows the Treasurer to properly align staff resources and reassign workflow priorities that improves your experience and reduces your wait time.

These are only a few examples of how Linn County has improved the business of government. Transformation of an organization does not happen overnight. It will take an ongoing commitment by elected officials, managers and staff. It will require us to listen to the voice of our customers and to be open and committed to change. It will require a culture of empowered and engaged employees who understand what customers want and who make satisfaction and innovation high priorities. And it will require leadership that embraces this new culture and welcomes the risk of ideas.

• Ben Rogers serves on the Linn County Board of Supervisors and represents District 3 which covers most of the North East side of Cedar Rapids. Comments: (319) 892-5106; ben.rogers@linncounty.org

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