Employee Involvement and Access to Knowledge Creates Connections
In the 90s, the city of Westfield, Indiana, was known as a town, defined by some as a “bedroom community,” due to its proximity to Indianapolis. Between 2000 and 2020, Westfield’s population quadrupled from 10,000 to 40,000 residents. Along the way, Westfield incorporated as a city, began a town center revitalization project, welcomed numerous new businesses and opened Grand Park, a showcase sports campus that sees 2.5 million visitors annually. This explosive growth prompted an increase in the need for public services such as police, fire and other functions. For the Westfield city managers, two major imperatives were the steady financial management of this growing organization and being best-in-class at recruiting and retaining a strong workforce in a competitive environment.
Chief of Staff Todd Burtron’s tasks include keeping employees of the city equipped with health benefits that help them live healthy and productive lives and help the city compete for their continued service. From the start, Burtron knew health insurance was an important quality of life factor for city employees and more than a transactional decision to be made in a command-and-control fashion. Burtron says, “early on, we established a strategic input group. This is a peer-selected, non-supervisory city employee group, coming from across the organization. We have a regular standing meeting to review issues affecting us all – maternity leave, technology, employee benefits and so on. Health insurance is probably a ‘top three’ topic for this group.”
The goal for Burtron wasn’t to create another meeting. Burtron says, “these are decisions that affect us all. I’m responsible for these decisions, but I want the process to be open and collective. And I don’t want health insurance to be a black box. I want to demystify it.” The input group acts not only as a sounding board for Burtron, but also a connector between the office of the mayor and departments across the organization to create conversations and remove barriers to accessing information. Burtron says, “this group is able to see the challenges within health insurance for themselves and say, ‘yes, we need to address this.’” That group can then fan out, share information, get input and collaborate within their departments. The group was crucial in making the decision, in 2020, to pursue a self-funded health insurance plan and to helping ‘acculturate’ the plan.
Internal Communication and Technology are Key
One way Burtron and his group have navigated tough decisions is to leverage technology to communicate and build trust throughout the organization. “We have video monitors throughout our various offices and workspaces,” Burtron says. Burtron and his group connected those monitors to an app that gathers information from various sources to report employee birthdays, years of service recognition, weather conditions and other pertinent information. It also broadcasts health insurance information – specifically a color-coded gauge showing near real-time status of the city’s self-funded health insurance account. For Burtron, this form of storytelling in human resources is crucial and carries over into web applications – a necessity as more workers have gone hybrid or exclusively work from home.
In Burtron’s words, having this highly visible tracker available for every employee to see creates ’a consciousness.’ He adds, “It is a simple gauge. If you are on the job thinking about your shift and the work you’re doing, you are not likely to want to think about the details of ’third-party administrators’ or ’stop-loss ratios’. You can, however, look at this simple gauge and say, ’OK, I see where we are, I get the scale of things and I get a feel for how I fit in.‘” As Burtron’s colleague, project manager Sam Rivard notes, “I can see the needle at orange or red on this gauge and say, ’Wait a second. Is there a need for caution? Are there things we can be doing better? Are there things I can be doing better?’ It starts a conversation.”
People Want to Know They’re Valued
Burtron concludes, “Ultimately, I understand how personal work is to people, and I want our people working for the City of Westfield to know they are valued through this component of their compensation. An insurance plan advocated for by employees and a status update in the form of a simple graphic – these things help humanize health insurance. I think knowing what it costs, what it costs the city and its taxpayers, what factors into it – that all helps in painting a real picture that empowers us all to create a culture of mutual benefit. Communication, transparency, team input – it’s not perfect, but it all goes a long way into helping us in a cycle of continuous improvement in a situation where our health and real dollars are involved.”