APWA Accreditation? WIIFM (What's In It For Me?)

Rick Becker
Senior Management Assistant
City of Chandler, Arizona

December 15, 1997 was a historic day for APWA's accreditation program. On that day the City of Greeley, CO and the Village of Schaumburg, IL became the first two accredited agencies in North America. In the past ten years, an additional 41 agencies, making a current total of 43, have joined the ranks, with 41 in the United States and two in Canadian provinces.

Throughout 2007, accredited agencies, their staff members, evaluators, and elected officials will be sharing their experiences with the program. The tenth article in the series is presented below. For more information about the program, contact Ann Daniels at adaniels@apwa.net or (816) 595-5223, or visit the website at www.apwa.net/About/Accreditation/.

Invariably, when anyone ponders the thought of participating in the time-demanding APWA accreditation program, they usually ask themselves, "What's In It For Me?" I know I did, being the curious Homosapien that I am. After all, my time is precious. Isn't yours? I had heard the rumors. I knew it was a monumental, time-consuming, administrative juggernaut of a monster, waiting to devour the many productive hours I used at work to ponder life's wonders (don't tell my boss).

  Accreditation team members at the weekly meeting

Actually, there were and still are occasions where I sit and mentally ponder on how the department can become more efficient at work. That's part of my job. Actually, when you think of it, shouldn't it be part of everyone's job? Whether it's an administrative process or work in the field, they are all made of one or more processes, and the amount of value a given step has in that process can only be determined by adequate analytical review. The self-assessment process of the accreditation program enables you to take a good strong look at the way you do things. It also helps you by asking, "Why are we doing it this way?" To get the full benefit of the program, you need to establish a team dedicated to improving themselves, their work environment, and have a sincere desire to help others.

I'm analytical by nature and up for a challenge, so when the proposal by superior management (I say superior because they knew just enough to hire me) came to me to head up the APWA accreditation program for the department, I jumped at the chance. I usually jump before thinking, so I was committed before I had the time to think. I do it all the time at home (just ask my wife), so why not at work? I did take time to ask WIIFM and came to the conclusion that it was a chance to put all those hours of productive pondering, not pandering, into use. It would challenge my ability to convince others (a little harder than convincing myself) what the benefits were, to justify them giving up the many precious hours needed to get through the self-assessment process. I won't go into the gory details (you may be eating as you read this), but it was more than well worth the effort.

  For answers on a different level, consult the Great Pumpkin.

Also, there were times when the butterflies in my stomach were not flying in formation because of the various type of personal challenges posed by the accreditation process. There were times I questioned my abilities and my tenacity. I'm glad I did, as the program and its challenges helped us grow, both personally and professionally. There were also the rewards of watching others get excited by seeing processes improved, the humor among team members that evolved, and the camaraderie resulting from the process. The self-satisfaction and pride exhibited by anyone intimately involved in the program and seeing their portion completed is something to see and experience.

I can relay plenty of positive and rewarding feelings that resulted from earning accreditation, which put the "WIIFM" mindset to rest. Ask any of the agencies that have completed the program and earned accreditation, and you will hear of the challenges, rewards, resulting continuous improvement, etc. I do know that four years after earning accreditation, we are still seeing and experiencing the positive impact/fallout from going through the accreditation process and slaying the administrative juggernaut monster. It has been helping to change the cultural climate of our organization...for the better.

Chandler Public Works and Municipal Utilities Departments went through the program four years ago and were awarded accreditation in April of 2004. Some of the results our agency experienced were:

  • Public Works reduced the number of department policies/procedures from 78 to 38 and we are on a two-year review cycle. You usually think of having to increase the number of policies during the accreditation process.

  • Creating a department strategic plan that was actually implemented with timetables attached to each objective/task. The results of the strategic plan are still impacting in a positive way how we operate and will continue to guide us in looking at the way we do business.

  • Enhanced communication by having us interface and work with other department staff during the self-assessment process. This has resulted in new and improved working relationships among staff, who otherwise wouldn't have communicated what they do, how they do it, and how it impacts others.

  • Education and improved processes in other departments. We had to review other department processes (Human Resources/Legal/Safety & Risk Management/Finance to name a few) during the program because we are impacted or involved with their processes. The accreditation program acted as a catalyst to improve their processes and helped them in various areas because of the review. It also helps educate any of the staff involved in reviewing those chapters by learning what other departments do and why. Staff involved in the program learned so much about what other divisions do by helping to review each management practice at the team review meetings.

  • Teamwork. The camaraderie and teamwork developed during the program are valuable beyond reproach. Positive working relationships established during the challenges of the program help in the future to belay or reduce any potential negative situations that could otherwise possibly surface if the relationship hadn't been forged.

  • Staff buy-in and a belief that continuous improvement works and is accepted as a way of doing business. This is fundamental to succeeding in this day and age. When all levels of staff are involved in the program, their contributions and participation garners you important buy-in. They are contributing their innovative ideas as well as challenging those they don't agree with. Involvement with the program adds another dimension of purpose to their work life.

When someone didn't agree with our initial compliance rating, we took appropriate action.

Those are just some of the benefits we experienced. They are all positive fallout of going through the program and are possible answers when you ask "What's In It For Me?" If you and your agency are sitting on the fence post, asking WIIFM, and wondering if you should jump off and get started, just call any of the points of contact from the 43 agencies that have earned accreditation thus far and are listed on the APWA website. You'll be surprised at all the good things you hear. Then again, maybe you won't be surprised, because you already know that anything that reaps great rewards doesn't come easy.

Life's journey is made of the many hills we climb and the challenges we face along the way; although, looking back, the accreditation hill doesn't look as steep as it did while we were climbing it. The view from this hilltop is sweet and rewarding. There's plenty of room for you, so chart your course and start climbing.

Rick Becker can be reached at (480) 782-3402 or Rick.Becker@chandleraz.gov.