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As water agencies move to demonstrate increased accountability, staff can become the forgotten factor. This paper will outline how staff survey techniques have been used to quantify staff opinions and identify significant business improvement opportunities.

Water service agencies are typically required to make extensive investment in infrastructure in order to provide services and meet customer service standards. These investments result in ongoing replacement, depreciation and interest expenses which can account for well over 50% of annual expenditure. On the other hand, staff costs are often less than 15% of the total annual costs. In this situation a 7% improvement in workforce productivity (or 7% reduction in staffing costs) is required for each 1% improvement in business performance. Instead of expecting more for less from water agency staff if productivity is to be improved, staff surveys were seen as a means of involving staff in addressing the total picture and identifying opportunities to improve efficiency throughout all aspects of the Triple Bottom Line.

The results of staff survey forms are fed into computer analysis packages which have been developed to collate and present the results. Two survey forms have been developed and used to specifically identify:

the ‘ business approach’ survey which assesses the level of commercial and sustainable practice within the organisation; and

the ‘ readiness’ of staff within the organisation to respond to change.

The ‘ business approach’ survey is based on evaluating progress or perceptions by individual staff members in addressing seven areas which loosely align with the Quality Awards Criteria. The seven areas of organisational developed covered by this survey include:

commercial focus;

life-cycle and strategic planning;

data, information and knowledge;

customer focus;

people management; and

quality focus.

The ‘ readiness’ survey has been used to identify the location or level at which communication problems are occurring in the organisation and includes some 30 statements. The ‘ readiness’ survey identifies staff perceptions covering four areas within the organisation:

the organisation;

the leadership;

the workgroup; and

the job.

The paper will outline a number of case studies where the data collected from the staff surveys lead to immediate identification of issues and establishment of ongoing momentum to implement change. The staff survey techniques have been utilised in the lead up to effective negotiation of workplace agreements, organisation rearrangements, value for money service reviews and business improvement projects. The extent of business improvement opportunities quantified by the staff surveys within a very short timeframe cover a wide range of workplace issues including:

points of negotiation for workplace agreements;

distribution of workloads;

opportunities for organisational realignment;

staff communication barriers; and

extent to which day-to-day activities are directed by strategic or commercial planning.

The paper will address a number of questions faced by managers within water agencies such as:

how can staff contribute to increased business performance?

will staff commit to strategic asset management approaches?

will staff performance or quality procedures improve the business?

will public infrastructure agencies rely more and more on achievement of performance targets, audited quality systems or establishment of an asset management program to justify performance or do staff still have a few good ideas left up their sleeves?

These staff survey techniques have successfully been utilised in the lead up to effective negotiation of workplace agreements, organisation rearrangements, value for money service reviews and business improvement projects. The extent of business improvement opportunities quantified by the staff surveys covered a wide range of issues including:

points of current agreements and areas for future negotiation for workplace agreements;

opportunities for redistribution of workloads;

opportunities for organisational realignment and restructuring;

identification of staff communication barriers;

the extent to which day-to-day activities are directed by strategic, corporate or commercial planning; and

specific locations within organisation with specific business improvement opportunities.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2003

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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