Poet Rudyard Kipling famously described southeastern Alberta as having “… all hell for a basement and the only trap door appears to be Medicine Hat.”
Indeed, Medicine Hat’s publicly owned natural gas reserves throughout both the city and the region place the municipality in a unique position as a producer and distributor of natural gas and electricity to its residents and surrounding area. With a population of 62,000 people, the city employs approximately 1,200 employees to meet the service needs of the community.
The city’s employees are spread out across Medicine Hat in approximately 10 different work locations. While they all work for the same organization and are driving toward meeting city council’s priorities, a gap in internal communications and employee engagement was identified in 2006 through an internal communications survey.
The survey identified that Medicine Hat, not unlike many other municipalities, needed a way to better connect employees to the organization and to each other. The Corporate Communications Department was tasked with this responsibility and discovered a collaboration tool called Jostle that would help meet many of the recommendations to improve employee communications.
Make it visual
Employees were asking for visual organization charts so they could better understand the city structure and find the people who could help them do their jobs. There are several anecdotes of employees taking the elevator with the same people every day or being in meetings, but having no idea about their colleagues or what they do for the city. In fact, even some of the most senior municipal officials are largely unknown to many city employees. Having a tool that enables employees to look at the organization structure and put a face to a name has been invaluable.
Make it useful
To gain employee buy-in, the solution had to offer work-related value. It had to make finding people more efficient and enable employees to be more effective in their work. The ability to create and work with project teams in the Jostle platform is useful as it allows team members to collaborate and share information in a user-friendly and virtual environment. It is easy to see who is working on which project and what resources may be required to assist with new projects or priorities.
Make it easy
Employee information has typically been stored, updated and shared in several locations such as through the email system, phone database or via the Internet, so locating the most up-to-date information wasn’t always easy. By pulling all of the information into one platform and having regular updates to employee information, Jostle provides a one-stop shop for all contact information including office locations, email addresses and telephone numbers.
Make it social
With workplaces quickly moving towards social media to reach their clients and customers, it made sense to offer city employees the same kind of experience. Medicine Hat wanted to provide employees with a platform that could not only connect them in the workplace, but also provide a space for setting up or joining social clubs or teams. Employee engagement goes far beyond the workplace and having a strong connected culture will benefit any organization.
Jostle satisfied many of the needs identified by Medicine Hat employees and was launched in January 2011. The city used an internal promotion campaign that involved a contest, website information and instructions, as well as email tips and teasers.
Introducing anything new into an organization can be challenging, but there was a decent response. While not all feedback was positive, the city continues to work with Jostle and employees to make the tool more useful. Additional functionality was added and education about using Jostle will continue. Initiatives are expected to include hosting “lunch-and-learns,” setting up project teams and having senior leaders promote its use through a top-down approach to internal communication.
Wilbur McLean is a communications officer for the City of Medicine Hat. He has been involved in the implementation of a visual organization chart for the city’s 1,200 employees.