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Polco News & Knowledge

How to Transform the Local Government Workplace Culture

-Coffee Break Webinar-

Local government employees do better with mentorship and support. But how do you inspire a sense of leadership within each employee? And what effect does this have on workplace culture?

In this Coffee Break Webinar, an interview with government innovation guru Nick Kittle reveals how to transform your employees into trainers, increasing their impact on the spot. Kittle is the former Chief Innovation Officer for Adams County, Colorado where he won Alliance for Innovation’s (AFI) Outstanding Achievement in Local Government Award. After over 15 years’ experience in government, he now works with jurisdictions across the country as a coach with Cartegraph. Kittle is also the author of the best-selling book “Sustainovation,” the definitive guide on municipal innovation.


Why Transform the Workplace Culture

You have a mandate to serve the all the citizens of your communities. And we live in a world that is becoming increasingly polarized. Public scrutiny and expectations are increasing and will not become less. So local governments must succeed internally or lose to challenges like managed competition, political agendas, and others.

Local government staff feel the strain of rising expectations and demands that they do more with less. As professionals, we must be realistic about setting and achieving our goals. If we set our organizations up to win, we’ll get positive results we can measure, discuss, and demonstrate to residents. So the healthier a local government workplace culture is, the better the organization can serve the community.

The Issue of Communication

Perfect communication is a unicorn we all find ourselves chasing before we come to understand who is responsible. Internally as an employee, is it my responsibility to go out and get the information? Or is the responsibility on the organization to provide me information in a way that is convenient? Problems surrounding communication are especially difficult to solve because the culture of communication is different for every organization, and every individual has different expectations.

Externally when communicating with the community, local governments tend to have issues related to transparency and clarity. These are not the same thing.

Transparency simply requires that information is made public. You could publish a 50 page “data dump” of numbers and be completely transparent. But there is nothing clear about a document like that. Clarity is about making information available in a way that your community can interact with. Clarity is important for both your citizens and your employees. For this reason, NRC’s reports are written in a way that is accessible – whether for a resident survey, an employee survey, or any other survey.

To be Clear, we must stop “government speak.” It may sound like a joke, but “death by 3-letter-acronyms” even prevents understanding internally. Each department within local government has its own set of jargon. Communications that ditch unfamiliar terms and complex syntax are better able to connect with communities and employees.

Who Is Responsible

It is your responsibility and our responsibility to determine, demand and create the culture we want within our organizations. We need to build pockets of positivity, where it is OK for us to love what we do out loud. Too often, we give into “energy vampires” – those who consistently foster a negative climate. We don’t have to surrender our work lives to that drain. We can instead show purposeful kindness to those most negative persons, and with leadership support, bring the whole atmosphere up from depression.

How to Take Action

It’s time for us to change the things we cannot accept. Once we realize we can make a difference as individuals, we begin to look at our work culture differently. Organizations should assess how they handle training and development for a better workplace. Adams County found great success in turning existing employees into teachers for other staff. This action decentralizes skills and thoughts that influence the organizational culture. Local governments can develop staff into trainers and mentors who guide their peers more effectively and also increase their own value to the organization. Adams County went from eight to 22 trainers in one year. This allowed them to triple the amount of training programs they could offer without breaking the bank.

Training and development can empower not only employees, but also management who no longer has the sole responsibility of creating and driving the culture.

You can spark transformation in your organization by initiating a pilot. Teach a skill that others need and want to develop, and start a learning lab. Or make your own professional “Life Hacks” video and share it with others. These tactics create an opportunity for you to pitch the idea and show the benefits. When starting a decentralized training program, track up to three metrics that demonstrate success and point toward improvement.

Results to Expect

Change is scary, so expect a level of resistance to it. Remember that culture change takes time.  However, once your organization decentralizes training and development, you will see high performers activated. It creates a support network that allows employees to step forward and continue to perform at a high level. Empowering staff in this way fosters excitement, engagement and yields a more skillful staff, overall. Mentorship allows people to progress professionally much faster.

The National Employee Survey

Measurement is a vital piece to transforming the local government work culture. An organization must make an honest self-assessment before it can make changes. A tool, like The National Employee SurveyTM (The NESTM) can provide metrics to track success and areas for improvement. The NES also reports benchmarks so your organization can compare results with other local governments across the U.S.


Nick Kittle’s new book, Sustainovation: Building Sustainable Innovation in Government, One Wildly Creative Idea at a Time, is a practitioner’s guide for government. Kittle wrote the book to help organizations successfully bring innovation into their culture. It contains actionable pro-tips and a road-map to making innovation sustainable and not just a buzzword. The book is available now on Amazon.

As a local government employee, you’ve got a tough and important job. And the contributions you make to your workplace radiate into the community. So from Nick Kittle and National Research Center, thanks for doing what you do!

Learn More About The National Employee Survey

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