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In this Issue

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Featuring Kelly Dowe, Chief Business Officer and Director of Finance

This interview with Kelly Dowe, Chief Business Officer and Director of Finance of the City of Houston, was conducted and condensed by Mahogany Johnson.

MMJ: What is your vision for the future of your department?

KD: I want people to be clear about four things that we’re trying to accomplish. 1.) We’re always looking to promote fiscal responsibility; 2.) We concentrate on providing high quality of services to our internal and external clients. 3.) For several years now, a big focus of ours has been to improve process execution both internally and citywide. 4.) We’re always looking to provide our employees better tools by which to get their jobs done, whether that is technology, training, or other tools that help them achieve the objectives of the organization.

I wear two different hats, that of the finance director and the chief business officer. In the CBO role, I work to foster collaboration and partnership between Finance and the Human Resources Department and the Information Technology Department. I try to find ways that we can all work together more effectively in order to add value to the City of Houston and its citizens. We’re the key support organizations that help all other departments work more effectively and efficiently, and that’s really important as we move to address the City of Houston’s financial challenges.

MMJ: What are your thoughts on revisiting the revenue cap, how it works, and what altering or lifting it might do to address the City’s deficit?

KD: So far, the revenue cap has reduced taxes paid about one hundred million dollars since it’s been in effect. It is a voter approved limit, and it caps the amount of property tax revenue that the city can budget each year. It was one of three things that Moody’s, a leading provider of credit ratings and research covering debt instruments and securities for the City of Houston, cited in revising the City of Houston’s long-term credit outlook, along with pension obligations and lack of a long-range financial plan. We consider that heavily as we make decisions going forward.

While it’s a hot topic and one that elicits a lot of discussion, Mayor Turner has been clear about his intent to take a comprehensive approach to solving our long-range financial issues and improve our fiscal strength. We’re moving quickly to develop a long-range plan that incorporates various strategies and shared contributions to the City of Houston’s financial challenges. Right now, it’s imperative that we take a broad look at our options and pursue a comprehensive solution rather than focusing on any single item in isolation.

MMJ: What are a few highlights of the new financial policies for FY 2016?

KD: One of the most important parts of the policies increases the minimum financial reserves to 7.5 percent for the general fund, and requires all other funds to have a stated policy for what their minimum reserves should be. That’s key in raising the minimum to hedge against risks. Another key focus is clear communication to Council members and members of the public around our compliance with the policies themselves, and making it clear how we decide to spend public funds. It requires a higher level of transparency, earlier communication to Council members than the process that we had had before. We had also anticipated and known that there was a need for a greater emphasis on long-term planning and forecasting. As a result, Mayor Parker and City Council members decided to codify that requirement to have more long-range forecasting in the financial policies. While some of it had been practiced in the past, they decided to make it formal policy to do that type of work going forward.

The policies lay out some very important standards for us to meet, and now Mayor Turner has indicated he’d like to develop a plan for how we meet those requirements. There’s no way you’re going to solve these issues without a plan in place. You have to look at it in whole, and while there’s been a lot of discussion about how pensions are a part of the issue, there are other major issues as well and there’s no “silver bullet.” One final thing to note before we move on from policies is that we probably won’t fully realize compliance with the policies even this year. We knew it was ambitious when we put them in place, and thought it was important to include a full disclosure of where we are and where we’re not in compliance in the budget each year and into the capital improvement plan as well. It’s very ambitious to think that in year one, you’re going to be able to fully solve the pension issues or reconcile our debt issues. This is where the financial policies state to list in the proposed budget and in the adopted budget where you are and where you aren’t. By exposing it for everyone to see, we’re able to encourage everyone to strive to get better.

MMJ: How are you incorporating the mobile app solutions of project creators from this year’s Hackathon?

KD: The mobile apps are one of the higher profile deliverables that are produced during the hackathons. We’ve gotten a lot of great ideas from citizens through the hackathons. We’ve received great marketing ideas and graphic arts for the City of Houston that we’ve been able to leverage on our websites. We’ve received work that has helped us build property databases and understand which laws and restrictions apply in different areas around the City of Houston. One of the winners of the hackathon last year was, a web app that features campaign spending and donations that citizens can use to view the sources of funds for our candidates; our democracy works best when citizens understand who’s involved in government. I encourage people to take a look at it because it’s very interesting.

Rollout was our mobile app that helped the Solid Waste Department communicate trash pickup schedules and recycling pickup schedules to citizens. The myHPD mobile app is still in development and is expected to be great but is taking a little longer to develop. It will also become the police department’s primary mobile application. The goal is to have it rolled out by the summer of 2016. We’re relying heavily on volunteers who have committed to doing this in their spare time, and we really appreciate their work.

MMJ: What is your approach to performance improvement and how do you ensure your metrics reflect strategic drivers for organizational success?

KD: I mentioned the four elements of our mission, so we take a balanced scorecard approach to make sure that we cover all four of those, we outline our goals, place performance measures against those goals, and establish aligned initiatives. We’re not just saying there’s an increased goal, but with these initiatives, we’re saying how we’re going to accomplish them. We track our performance on a monthly basis against those goals and make sure the initiatives are on track, and if necessary, we make adjustments. We’ve come a long way in Finance from when I started and there were no goals. We were all doing a lot of really good work, but no one had established how we were moving the bar, or even what bar we were trying to move.We’re not perfect by any extent in terms of how we manage, but I think that a balanced scorecard approach with performance measures and goals aligned to it has definitely helped us improve and focus our performance from where it once was.

We’ve taken the lead on implementing a tool called Strategy Management from SAP -- it facilitates and manages goals, metrics and initiatives. It’s not easy to accomplish this in Excel, nor is it the appropriate channel. We’ve piloted the tool, and we’re currently evaluating whether or not it’s the right tool for the City of Houston, and that will be presented to Mayor Turner. We’ve definitely tried to lead the push for better goal alignment, visibility and operations at City of Houston, and move the bar on where you are today and where you want to go.

MMJ: What have your experiences in municipal government and the private-sector taught you about leadership?

KD: I’ve learned that leadership can actually be easier in the public sector than in the private sector in that there’s an intrinsic motivation for a lot of people working in government that comes from knowing that you’re serving the public. In so many jobs people can see a direct difference they’re making in the lives of other people. Even in the Finance department, while I’m not out there on the front lines like say the Parks and Recreation department is, I know that when we find more money and help things run more efficiently, That has a direct impact in our citizens’ lives. We have to remind our people that we have a profound impact, and the work that we do can make a big difference in people’s lives, and that’s been really pleasant and fulfilling for me personally.

Coming into government, I was very interested in the politics and it always looked intriguing, but I wasn’t anticipating that intrinsic motivation. Coming to work and knowing that you’re making a difference in the City of Houston and also knowing that what you’re doing can last for decades or even longer; we help find money for important projects, and human resources helps hire the people to serve the public, and our information technology group supports hardware and software that helps those people do those jobs. We all contribute to lasting improvements in our community. When you think about Bayou Greenways, for example, that network’s going to be here for as long as there’s a city, and there’s plenty of work behind the scenes that helps make those kinds of projects reality. I think we can all help each other tap into that source of motivation, but in terms of leadership, that’s been a great source of inspiration for me and that’s a message that I try to convey to members of my department.

Secondly, in terms of leadership, coming from private sector to public sector a lot of people have misconceptions about public sector employees, and it is also a very easy place to lead because people by and large are amazingly hard workers. They are very motivated and talented, and that source of motivation and dedication to the overall goal of the organization isn’t present in every private-sector job. It makes it easier to lead in some ways in the public sector than in the private sector when you tap into that larger source of motivation that a lot of our employees already possess.

MMJ: What is your leadership philosophy?

KD: I try to model a servant leader approach. I’m a firm believer that you hire good people and then support them but largely stay out of their way. I’m not a micro-manager. I believe in setting goals and objectives and then helping people get there rather than spending time on a daily basis asking exactly where they are in their work and trying to be involved in every decision that’s being made. That’s why you hire good people and let them do their work. I think that is important for any leader, and it’s a hard transition for anyone coming from a frontline level job into management.

Most people, especially people who received a frontline level job and were promoted into a managerial job, liked what they were doing and so the natural tendency is to stay down in the work when the job of a manager is to help facilitate that work, not to do the work themselves. With that said, I believe that there are certain times when you have to be a working manager, and there are certain projects I take on myself. It is something that a director, assistant director or manager should do on his/her own to keep the primary work flowing in the organization. When special projects come up, sometimes you have to take them on yourself because there is so much to do here. We all still need to have a hand in making sure it all gets done.

In terms of us being results driven, it’s important as a manager to make decisions and be accountable. I try to allow people to do that and own their decisions, as do I. In any big organization it can be very easy to get bogged down in meetings and endless circles of emails, and not reach decisions. You’re never going to drive results if you’re not willing to say this is the way we’re doing things, and there may be consequences for it, and we may have some cleanup, but that’s how you progress. I try to preach that and model that: let’s get things done. They may not always be perfect, but I’d much rather be doing something by not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. You can always spend more time discussing it and more time mulling it over, but let’s be sure we’ve given the idea appropriate study, then go for it and deliver some results.

MMJ: Tell me about a time you realized you had the power to do something meaningful.

KD: I can’t remember exactly what it was but early on it struck me that this environment is not private sector. My family is composed of a bunch of entrepreneurs, and through them I’ve discovered that you can definitely make a difference in the private sector. You create jobs and provide an income for people. There is motivation in doing that, but it struck me early on that work here in the public sector is a different animal. Making a difference in tens of thousands and hundreds, and even millions of people’s lives is really cool and unlike anything else I’ve done. I don’t remember the exact moment, but I do remember the feeling that this is a different animal and I enjoy it.

MMJ: Since the inception of the Lean Six Sigma program, thousands of employees have been trained on processes to improve city performance. Please share your thoughts on how this program has led to systemic change throughout the City of Houston.

KD: I think it’s scratched the surface of what it can do. We’ve trained 2,100 employees and that training itself has been the primary focus to date. It’s about building a common understanding of what Lean Six Sigma and process improvement can do for an organization by introducing a proven way of looking at processes and rooting out waste and inefficiency. It’s important to also demonstrate that throughout the organization, supporting departments have chosen to participate in the effort. We have the only Lean Six Sigma program that is accredited by one of the two outside agencies/accrediting bodies for Lean Six Sigma, ours is the International Association of Six Sigma Certification. So we’ve laid a solid foundation and made some significant accomplishments.

The Department of Neighborhoods has increased code compliance inspections by 1,800 per month and decreased the days from request to initial inspection from 15 to 10, and that makes a direct difference in neighborhoods where citizens want a response to see their code compliance problems. We’re producing a lot more at a much faster rate. Houston Airport System has achieved a 20% reduction in many of their overtime activities that has resulted in a savings of $305,000.00 annually by better managing their overtime. Houston Library Systems cut wait times for passports from three hours to 30 minutes and increased revenue by 45% in that area. Public Works and Engineering has reduced instances in which repair crews visited work sites without making road repairs by 21%.

As I said earlier, I think we’ve only scratched the surface of what we can do, so we’ve seen an uptick in the numbers over the last twelve months and the number of projects completed. When you think of 2,100 employees trained, there is a lot of potential to do more. It’s a great foundation, but hopefully it’s just the foundation for a lot more good work going forward. Where you can really start to drive value is by not having director-led or department-led projects. When someone starts to see this work and understand that it makes a difference, their job is easier, and not only is their job easier, we’re doing more for the citizens. That’s when you really know the training is making an impact on the organization. I’d love to see this catch fire at the frontline level where no director or assistant directors are asking, people are simply saying, “Why don’t we use this tool in this area or process map this out?”

In Finance, it’s been really rewarding for me to hear -- after the fact -- that in the budget office they completed four process improvement efforts. They took the initiative and completed it on their own. When I first started in budget we stayed until 10 or 11 o’clock at night all the time for weeks on end, and I prepared the first process map. It addressed what we were doing, and how we could have a common understanding of what it takes to get from point A to point B? Now you will not believe the tools that they have. The process should list what is needed for the process to be done when a document is received from someone within the department. They no longer have to ask whether or not something was completed because now there’s a process in place. This makes things a lot less stressful on me and on my team as well. While there’s still a lot of work to be done, it’s orderly and I don’t go home as stressed on a Saturday as I once did. In a lot of ways, that area is a model of what I hope other people see when they start to employ these tools over and over again to improve their jobs.

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The Learning and Development Center in Partnership with Strayer University holds Work-Life Balance Workshop January 28

This Organizational Development initiative was designed to help employees evaluate their current degree of life balance or unbalance


Houston, TX—February 11, 2016The Learning and Development Center's Organization Development (OD) and Auxiliary Service team in partnership with Strayer University hosted a Work-Life Balance Workshop on Thursday, January 28, 2016.

Conducted by Author, Motivational Speaker, Trainer, and Life Coach DeNeen K. Attard, the workshop was designed to teach participants how to attain the ever elusive work-life balance and evaluate their current degree of life balance or unbalance by participating in self-reflection activities and open dialogue.

This unique workshop encouraged participants to assess the power of their words, the thoughts they engage, and the actions they take. Participants were asked to take a 7-day affirmation and thought challenge that outlined the steps to creating a successful mindset.

Goals and objectives of the workshop include:

  • Make the connection between mindset and work-life balance
  • Evaluate current degree of life balance or unbalance
  • Set boundaries and take action

"For the past two years I've worked 10-12 hours, but I enjoy my job. I love public health and I'm so passionate about the work that I do. I also value having a quiet time to read my bible in the mornings and that's fleeting due to my work schedule. I'm here today at the recommendation of my boss, but I really appreciated this workshop. You have to have balance in your life," said Dr. Teresita Ladrillo, DDS, HHD.

"Employees are eager for classes that can help them invest in their professional development, which is evident by the interest and increased enrollment expressed for more courses such as these," said Erika "EJ" Johnson, OD Specialist, LDC.

The professional development workshops offered by the Learning and Development Center can benefit those employees who are in various stages of their careers, no matter their occupation.

About Strayer Education, Inc.

Strayer Education, Inc. (NASDAQ: STRA) is an education services holding company that owns Strayer University. Strayer's mission is to make higher education achievable for working adults in today's economy. Strayer University is a proprietary institution of higher learning that offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs in business administration, accounting, information technology, education, health services administration, public administration, and criminal justice to working adult students. The University includes Strayer@Work, which serves corporate clients by delivering the next generation of performance improvement and workforce development. Strayer University also offers an executive MBA online and corporate training program through its Jack Welch Management Institute. The University is committed to providing an education that prepares working adult students for advancement in their careers and professional lives. Founded in 1892, Strayer University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 3624 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104. (267-284-5000). The Middle States Commission on Higher Education is an institutional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

About the Learning and Development Center

The Learning and Development Center (LDC) is a strategic development and employee performance improvement organization that offers comprehensive training solutions that significantly affect performance and institutional outcomes. The LDC’s consultancy is comprised of an experienced team of professionals with the knowledge and capabilities to design and implement strategies that help our clients’ achieve their goals. The LDC’s primary focus is to provide transformational learning programs that enhance the skills, job competencies, and improve performance and overall satisfaction for the City of Houston's workforce.

For more information, please visit the LDC website at


Mahogany Johnson


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***Click on the following course title to register in the Talent Management System (TMS).***

Upcoming Industry Webinars & Events

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8 Tips for Awesome Onboarding: How to Create Employee Engagement That Lasts

Employee engagement expert Kevin Sheridan will show you how to transform your organization’s on-boarding program into a key driver of employee engagement and retention. Not only will you get a complete framework for improving your existing on-boarding program or setting up a new one, you’ll discover best practices for:

  • Recruiting: Setting the stage for engagement while finding the right hire.
  • Pre-boarding: Building first-day excitement, reinforcing positive new-job feelings and getting busywork out of the way.
  • Day one: Avoiding the most common first-day miscues and doing your best to make a great first impression.
  • The first week and beyond: Moving beyond low-level orientation tasks to help your new hires become full-fledged members of the team.

Topic: 8 Tips for Awesome Onboarding: How to Create Employee Engagement That Lasts

Date: Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Time: 2:00 PM EST


About the Speaker:

Kevin Sheridan, high-level human capital management consultant

Kevin Sheridan has spent 30 years as a high-level human capital management consultant has helped some of the world’s largest corporations break down detrimental processes and rebuild cultures that foster productive engagement, earning him several distinctive awards and honors in the process. Sheridan's premier creation, PEER®, is consistently recognized as a long overdue, industry-changing innovation in the field of employee engagement, and his most recent book, Building a Magnetic Culture, has made the best-seller lists at the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.

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Research Spotlight: Insights into Measurement and Analytics

The datafication of the workforce continues, and software solutions make it increasingly easier to collect and report on that data. But this has only created a new set of challenges for HR professionals. The obvious issues are what data to pay attention to and what to ignore, but there is also the issue of how best to present and explain that data in a way that helps create change.

Cliff Stevenson, Principal Analyst for Workforce Management at Brandon Hall Group, will highlight data from the 2015 HCM Measurement and Analytics Survey which, paired with examples from well-known companies and insights from top solution providers, will help explain the most common analytics issues faced by modern HR professionals and show proven solutions to those issues.

Participants of this webinar will:

  • Learn the most common HR analytics issues
  • Find both typical and creative solutions to handling people data problems
  • Discover trends in HR analytics for 2016
  • Hear some of the possible complications in using people data in the future

Topic: Research Spotlight: Insights into Measurement and Analytics

Date: Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Time: 12:00 p.m. CST


About the Speaker:

Cliff Stevenson, Principal Analyst for Workforce Management at Brandon Hall Group

Cliff Stevenson is Principal Analyst, Workforce Management Practice, for Brandon Hall Group. He came to Brandon Hall Group in 2015 from the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) where he was a senior analyst since 2012. Cliff's experience as human capital research analyst has focused on data and analytics, performance management, recruitment, acquisition, retention, and attrition. Before joining i4cp, he was the HR leader for a Boston consulting firm. Cliff received his Master's degree in Organizational Development from Suffolk University and Bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of South Florida.

His work has appeared in Talent Management Magazine, Human Resources Executive, Businessweek, Fortune magazine, the Washington Post, and Business Insider and many other publications. He is the author of dozens of reports and articles and wrote "The Real Dollar Value of Employee Engagement" in ATD's Integrated Talent Management Scorecards (2013), and "The Age of Big Data and Talent Analytics" in ATD's Talent Management Handbook (2015).

About the Learning and Development Center-The Center for Excellence

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At a glance...

The Learning and Development Center (LDC) develops and provides programs designed to empower and enhance employee skills and competencies for improved performance and job satisfaction. Our services also extend to external businesses, organizations, and communities.

Our mission is to build a world-class, responsive and results-oriented workforce by providing the following:

  • Learning that meets critical business goals and needs
  • Lifelong learning opportunities that will prepare employees for life and work in an increasingly technological society

Facility Features

The LDC is a two-story, 54,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility featuring:

  • An auditorium capable of seating 150 with fold-down desktops
  • Instructor computers connected to HD projectors and the Internet
  • 170 available campus parking spaces
  • Break-room area with microwaves and refrigerators
  • Welcoming lobby area
  • Open atrium for al fresco activities

Internal & External Room Rental Request Forms

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How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life

In How to Have a Good Day, Caroline Webb—economist and former partner at consulting powerhouse McKinsey—shows us how to use recent findings from behavioral economics, psychology and neuroscience to transform our approach to everyday working life. Her science-based techniques have boosted workplace performance and enjoyment for people in hundreds of organizations. Here, Webb shows us how to build these powerful tools into our own daily routines, to give us more control over the quality of our days.

The book is arranged around seven practices that are central to having a good day: setting the right priorities, making productive use of our time, having effective conversations, doing our very best work, achieving great personal impact, being resilient to setbacks, and sustaining our energy. Throughout, Webb teaches us how to be at our best even under pressure, and equips us to handle common challenges such as co-worker conflicts and difficult deadlines.

Filled with real stories of people who have used the Webb’s insights to improve their working lives, and drawing on cutting-edge ideas from the latest research in behavioral science, How to Have a Good Day is the book people wanted to read when they finished Blink and Thinking Fast and Slow, and were looking for practical ways to apply what they had learned to their own lives and careers.

About The Author

Caroline Webb is an economist, management consultant and executive coach who has spent the last fifteen years showing clients how to apply behavioral science to boost their professional effectiveness and job satisfaction. After a first career at the Bank of England, she worked for 12 years at premier management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, where she was a partner in their leadership and organizational change practice. She then founded her own firm (Sevenshift) to provide behavioral science-based coaching to leaders, while retaining an advisory relationship with McKinsey. She has economics degrees from Cambridge and Oxford, and has taught at Columbia Business School and London Business School. Her work has been featured in the Financial Times, New York Times, Washington Post, The Economist and Forbes.

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