CASE STUDY: THE CITY OF RICHFIELD’S DRIVE TOWARD EXCELLENCE

This is a universal study of all organizations that strive toward excellence through successful leadership. What’s needed is a powerful, transformational experience that unleashes peoples' potential to be the dynamic communicators they envision themselves to be: in control and having a good time getting things done in the spirit of shared cooperation and excellence. To reach this state of finding a clear, useful voice, employees at all levels must unlearn much of what they’ve been taught and undo much of what they do.

Brief

The City of Richfield, an innovated suburb of Minneapolis / St. Paul, Minnesota, prides itself on delivering the highest quality of life for its community. The City’s mission is to constantly strive to use “innovative and cutting-edge solutions” to solve problems of governance by “providing the most experienced and trained personnel” possible.

The results of this confusion were that time was wasted, resources were not maximized, opportunities for collaboration were lost, clear leadership was missing, and people’s expertise at all levels was not fully utilized.

The City’s drive toward excellence was challenged by the need to improve the clarity of its written and spoken communications—communications that often resulted in confusion. The results of this confusion were that time was wasted, resources were not maximized, opportunities for collaboration were lost, clear leadership was missing, and people’s expertise at all levels was not fully utilized. Inefficiency was inevitable. These results extend beyond the City of Richfield. They are universal to every organization we’ve worked with—at every level of management.

Challenge

One challenge inherent in government agencies–as in all organizations–is clear written and spoken communications. The City of Richfield realized that its success in solving issues was dependent on its staff’s ability to communicate clearly… specifically, to use communication as tools for getting things done and solving problems, meeting important deadlines, keeping projects on target, and creating a spirit of cooperation.

The cause of this challenge is twofold:

Academia. Writing a term paper is not like writing an email. Students are taught in school to write for teachers for the purpose of showing competency for a grade—not to write to colleagues in business for the purpose of getting things done.  From grammar school to graduate school, students are taught to write narratives (term papers, book reports, essays, research papers, etc.) that tell a story. But these kinds of documents have nothing to do with getting things done.

Click here to see an example of the challenges inherent in the narrative story writing style taught in schools.

When reading an email, one of the first questions readers in business ask is “Do I have to do anything, and if so, what?” The fact that the answer to this pressing question is often buried in a multi-paragraph narrative like in an essay or book report—or is absent altogether in the form of FYI—leads to Rambling Prose

Rambling Prose. People write as they type, following their stream of consciousness. This Rambling Prose Process leads to emails and other documents in which most of the content is not easily accessible to the reader. In other words, readers are left to figure out for themselves what to do, why/how to do it, and when to do it.

Rambling-Prose.gif

 

Two-Pronged Solution

The City solved its communication challenge in two ways: (1) by educating its own employees and (2) by educating its contractors’ employees.

Prong One: Educate City Employees. Since 1990 the City of Richfield has used Writing to Get Things Done® to create a critical mass of city employees who are writing clear, easy-to-read internal and external communications.

The focus for the seminar is on writing those kinds of documents that are the crux of running the business of municipalities successfully:

  • emails to residents
  • recommendations to city council members
  • work documents, RFPs and SOWs to contractors
  • emails to city project applicants
  • emails between supervisors, colleagues, and subordinates
  • recommendations to management
  • meeting minutes
  • research reports
  • updates
  • policy and procedures

The results of this training made it clear that the emails, proposals, technical reports, engineering updates, etc. of the City’s consulting contractors were in equally dire need of improvement.

Click here to read more about WGTD's background working with municipalities.

Prong Two: Educate Contractors’ Employees. The City of Richfield found its own communications improving to such an extent that it required the same from its consultants, the companies hired to work on City engineering projects. The City’s Terms of Consultant Agreement states, “All consultant staff identified to provide services to the City will be required to complete a Writing to Get Things Done writing seminar offered by Berry Writing Group at their own cost.”

As a result, many of the major engineering companies who’ve won bids in the City's consultant pool have complied with this mandate by creating a critical mass of their own employees who are writing to get things done. The City’s most important contractors have conducted multiple WGTD seminars at their office locations with great success.

  • Advance Engineering & Environmental Services at offices located in Maple Grove, Grand Forks, Fargo, and Bismarck.
  • Short Elliot Henderickson at offices located in St. Paul, St. Cloud, Delafield, and Denver.
  • WSB & Associates at its corporate office in Golden Valley.
  • Bolton and Menk at its office in Burnsville.

Conclusion

Writing to Get Things Done helped the professionals at the City of Richfield and its consulting contractors become better leaders by becoming better communicators. Delivering good news or bad is situational. Successful leaders navigate the circumstances with confidence, offering clear compelling explanations that earn respect and get things done. 

“Writing to Get Things Done revolutionized the way we communicate internally, with our colleagues, and to our stakeholders, saving us time and providing a more effective way to get our messages and needs across. What I learned during the workshop I was able to put into practice immediately and began seeing more responsive results from day one. Best course I have taken in a very long time.
— Kristin Asher, Director of Public Works, City of Richfield

What You Can Do to Help Your Organization Be More Successful

Help your leaders communicate more successfully by unlearning much of what they've been taught and undoing much of what they do, such as: 

  • Burying what they want to get done in narrative academic paragraphs.
  • Using the Rambling Prose process as they write.
  • Beginning emails with the starting blocks of Rambling Prose, such as:
    • "Enclosed please find…."
    • "The purpose of this email is to...."
    • "Per your email...."
    • “In confirmation of our phone call.…”
  • Ending emails with the exit strategy of Rambling Prose, such as:
    • "Your prompt attention to this matter is greatly appreciated."
    • “Please respond at your earliest convenience."
    • “Thank you in advance for your cooperation.”
    • "If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact me."

Click here to read more about the structure of the course.

Improve the Communication of your Organization by using the Writing to Get Things Done online course. Or call to talk with us.

 
“WGTD provided the top 28 drivers of my Central Region Leadership Team with a clear process to get results. From a simple process comes clear thinking, clear writing and clear results. Excellent training!”—Tracy L. Ekola, PE, Vice President, SEH
 

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“In 2010, with an engineering staff of 150 professionals, I was hoping to improve our communication skills to better serve our clients’ needs and create an edge with our competition. WGTD surpassed our expectations. We still have an item on our department meeting agenda for someone to give a Writing to Get Things Done example!”—Pete Willenbring, PE, Vice President, WSB & Associates
 

About Stan

Since completing his graduate degree from Yale University, Stan Berry has devoted over 3 decades to improving the productivity of tens of thousands of business and government professionals with his Executive Communication Program. Stan’s unique and energetic approach to teaching makes the classes engaging and fun. Stan has also authored five books on business writing that he uses in his seminars.

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