Measures that Matter
In this Accelerate Your Performance podcast episode, Dr. Janet Pilcher welcomes Dale Shaver, Director of the Waukesha County Department of Parks and Land Use in Wisconsin. He is a model leader in how he uses measures that matter to achieve successful outcomes. Listen now to learn how Dale and his team use this principle to gather data, define problems, align teams, and build strong relationships with the community and board.
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Janet Pilcher: Hello everyone, welcome to today’s Accelerate Your Performance podcast. I’m your host Janet Pilcher. Thank you for tuning in to our show today. This podcast is all about leadership.
I don’t mean leadership as a position. It’s all about how we can all see great leadership in action so that we can all be leaders in our organizations.
Leadership is for everyone. And the focus of leadership connects to the Nine Principles Framework highlighted in my new book, Hardwiring Excellence in Education.
As many of you know, we’re offering a book study for the new book Hardwiring Excellence in Education about every other week. On one podcast episode prior to the book study, I highlight one of the leaders I highlighted in the book- that- around that chapter.
So, the next book study is on Principle Two, Measures That Matter, chapter two. Our guest today is Dale Shaver. He’s highlighted in chapter two, and on this podcast, we talk about the story behind the story, and that’s what I’m going to do with Dale today.
So, let’s jump into today’s episode.
As I mentioned, we have a special guest joining us today on the show, Dale Shaver. I’d love to tell you a little bit about him before we begin. He’s been on our show before but let me remind you who Dale is. Dale serves as the director of Waukesha County Department of Parks and Land Use in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. As director, Dale is responsible for a comprehensive range of countywide services and functions in the areas of economic and community development and environmental health. Dale has significant experience in optimizing organizational performance through strategic direction, performance measurement, mentoring, and collaborations.
He serves as a cabinet level advisor to the county executive. Dale is a partner with Studer Education, and he is a model leader in how he applies Measures That Matter with excellence. Measures That Matter is Principle Two. And it’s in our Nine Principles Framework highlighted in Hardwiring Excellence in Education.
During the pandemic, Dale’s team supported 16 school districts across Waukesha County relying on using data to problem solve, aligning key actions to solve problems, and tracking progress metrics to achieve goals. That’s what’s highlighted in the book, but today again, we’re going to tell the story behind the story with Dale.
We’ll dig into how Dale applied Measures That Matter to help his organization achieve excellent results.
Janet Pilcher: It’s with great pleasure that I welcome Dale back to our show. Dale, welcome back.
Dale Shaver: Well, thanks, Pat. Nice to see you again. Before we get started, I have this great new book laying in front of me with a bunch of dog-eared pages already.
Janet Pilcher: [laughs]
Dale Shaver: I was looking forward to coming on today, Janet. I regard you as not only a colleague but a friend. And so, your work here on the ninth- the platform- is the Nine Principles are just so good not only for education, but I think any sector, any business that cares about organizational excellence. So, thank you for sharing your time and talent with all of us. It’s just great.
Janet Pilcher: Yeah, thank you. And, you know, I think it’s really important, Dale, what you’ve done and, you know, most of our work has been in education, but you’ve done such a great job in transferring that work to the county government.
And we, you know, KK is working with a couple of our local county government organizations. So, we always use you as an example of where they need to get to, so, and good progress there. We’ve got a mayor who really believes in the work and hopefully they’ll look at the work that you all have done to really see how they can really benefit from it.
So, as we- as we get started, let’s just refresh some of our listeners’ memory if you’ll tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with as the director of Waukesha County Department of Parks and Land Use.
Dale Shaver: Yeah, thanks, Janet. So, I really serve in a capacity of working on economic and community development projects and issues in the county. I would say probably the best way to describe that is, if we’re successful, Waukesha County is a great place to locate or expand your business or a place for families and individuals to live.
And so, a vibrant economy is really our- our mission, if you will. And when it comes to our park programs, if we offer- we know that if we offer a high quality parks system, that also is a great attraction for workforce, which not only helps our businesses that we’re expanding here, but as you know, for most of your clients, it’s a great, you know, program for school districts as well. And so economic and community development is a broad circle that engages education as well, and we take it very seriously here.
And I would say, as you know, Janet, I have the pleasure of working with a leadership team here that works and plays to our strengths.
And so, we call that swimming outside of our lanes. And what it allows us to do, I think, when we have very challenging projects, we can just tap into our best skillsets, irregardless of title, or without being confined by the artificial barriers of a department name to really work on service. And so, it’s just a great place to be and be able to deliver service like in this kind of platform.
Janet Pilcher: Yeah, so good. And you all do that so well. And, you know, one of the things that we’re focusing on today, Dale, was chapter two in Hardwiring Excellence in Education and Principle Two, and you’ve got a strong team that follows most all principles, if not all of them in the- in the book, but I just wanted to double down a little bit on your story with measures that matter, because you all do that exceptionally well.
It’s a major strength of your team is really defining problems and aligning actions to build solutions to those problems and tracking the progress metrics. So, talk a little bit more. I highlighted a little bit in the book, but let’s get deeper. You know what does this process look like for your team?
Dale Shaver: Sure. Well, first, I’m a strong believer in the practice of culture before strategy. And I would admit- I’ll admit that, man, I wish I would have figured this out much earlier in my career—
Janet Pilcher: [laughs]
Dale Shaver: —because what I’ve learned over the years, Janet, by practicing a lot of this is when our organization clearly understands the direction and maybe more importantly, the why, and they feel empowered to make those decisions to those outcomes—in fact, one of your team refers to it as delegating to the edges—really down to, again, without worrying about title, if our team down to our front desk staff really understand where we’re going and feeling empowered to make day-to-day decisions to help us get there, we very often find success.
And it’s so important to us now that we monitor this. Those are very specific questions in our employee engagement survey. “Are you frequently asked your opinion? Do you feel that your work aligns with our strategic objectives? Do you feel empowered?” And so, it’s a continuous improvement cycle around those philosophies, just because we know that’s the secret sauce.
And as you know, those- the material that you present in your Hardwiring for Excellence and Nine Principles, they’re just taught here. And as we onboard our staff now, we have what we call our core curriculum that every new staff, regardless of position, they’re introduced to classes that we self-teach with our own experts because of you, on continuous improvement, service excellence, and measuring what matters.
We also then pair that employee with what we call a cultural ambassador. That’s not an original thought, by the way. We stole that from education, and quite frankly, my children were blessed by going to an elementary school that when they came in the kindergarten, they were paired with a big buddy that was a fifth-grade student.
And so, we thought, well, if it works there to acclimate a student to a new elementary school, what if we did that and we use some of our cultural ambassadors that really model organizational excellence here, our culture, that we can welcome our new team members? And, Janet, I think that’s a real key tactic that helps us continue to hardwire our culture going forward. So, we’re always just investing from day one into what that means.
And I would say the next is when we assign or re-empower our staff to be project managers on a project that are really trying to get at a strategic outcome or a key operational need. They just know that the first thing we’re going to be looking for is, what is the baseline information? What’s the data tell us? First of all, do we even have a problem?
So, we have that. We know automatically that we can clearly define what the problem statement is. And then we’ll use that data to prepare a smart objective. And now that project manager is very equipped to meet with their project team to explain what’s the desired outcome, our timeline, and they’re set for success.
The blueprint has now been established. And very, very infrequently, do we ever see variance from that path. And so, again, I think just the discipline of that system is really valuable.
Janet Pilcher: So good. And I think it’s what you just said. It’s the discipline in that system, right, as well. You’ve created the system, provided support to people, and trained to it, which obviously is important. Sometimes we forget that, though, and it’s extremely important.
And, you know, as you think about building that discipline and building that system, sometimes it’s what we talk about is that consistency of leadership practices and staying in alignment and focusing on the right work. Like, if we can do those things, have the consistency with the leadership, know what those systems are and focus on the right work, you know, then we usually can achieve the results in the outcomes that we want, or if we’re not moving in a direction that we want, we know how to make those adjustments.
So how do you and your team stay aligned and move in the same direction and focus on that right work?
Dale Shaver: Yeah. And I would also say the other thing I’ve learned, Janet, is that while the project and the outcome is very important because we put such value on the strategic direction or the overall goal, I’ve really come to the point where it’s equally as important or even more valuable is that our team has learned how to do this, right?
And so, we can take and throw them into any other project that they won’t be a subject matter on- expert in, but now they’re equipped with the skills to lead something like this. And so, the more we train that, to me, that’s the bigger organizational win, which is why I’m such an advocate for culture over strategy.
Janet Pilcher: Mmmhmm.
Dale Shaver: When we get this down, Janet, we’ve had staff that are totally unrelated to a particular outcome are having success in leading a project team. So that’s just a lot of fun to watch. To keep that lane established or the discipline, if you will, well, I would say that we’ve tried some new things in the past four years now, all around our strategic planning process.
I think us, like most organizations, we haven’t figured out where you do the environmental scan, the big idea analysis and move down the path. But what we really tried the last two cycles here is let’s be mindful about who’s at the table and how are we doing this.
And so, we have been using StrengthsFinder assessments—
Janet Pilcher: Mmmhmm.
Dale Shaver: —to be very mindful in who we pick from our team to serve on this process. And specifically, what we’re looking for are our strategic thinkers, our influencers, our executors, and our relationship builders.
We find that if we have that really healthy mix, you bring in a really good perspective, and you begin to see where people are just playing to their strengths throughout that process.
And I would also say that as we are very mindful and not only picking people because of their strength, we’re also, because employees, we watch each other, right? And I think in their training, mid performers or newer employees are always watching around for who’s modeling what’s right, right? I want to be successful. So, we are also very mindful to pick our mid to high performers because we want them recognized as being leaders in different projects and things.
So, that’s- I would say that’s a very key and deliberate move as well. So that team will move through the whole process. And when we get to those key strategic themes, we assign a staff person to be a project manager, usually somebody that’s very strong in the executing skillsets or strengths. And then our leadership team will help them pick their project team.
We want to set them up for success right out of the shoe. We’re going to give them their A-Team so that – if those are- we’re just clearly saying to our team, we care the most about our strategic objectives versus anything else we’re doing and we’re putting our A-Teams on it.
And then I would say we asked those project managers to appear before our leadership team quarterly just to give us an update. And I will retire out of this position not truly understanding that in my mind, I’m just one of the staff, right? But they come to the director’s office, or they come to the leadership, I’m thinking it’s kind of like going to the principal’s office as a kid, what am I going there for, right?
And what I think- it’s what- why that’s a key piece for us, Janet, is it has created such pride and accountability in the staff that are leading those projects that while they may be a little nervous about how do I present this, they are excited to showcase their work.
Janet Pilcher: Yeah.
Dale Shaver: And that is such a gift. And I would say the nugget inside the nugget, that’s one thing that we did that has created this environment or deepened it that employees are working with purpose.
Janet Pilcher: Yeah. You know, Dale, as you’re talking- you know, one of the things that was really important to me when I was writing the book, and the book is about leadership, but I really wanted to make a point that it’s not about leadership in regard to a position. You know, it’s- it’s- everyone can be a leader, everyone can gain leadership skills and be part of an organization as a leader.
And I think, am I right with- with what I’m thinking here? I mean, that’s what you’re presenting is such a great example of that. It’s not necessarily people in positions, but you’re really empowering people across the organization to exert leadership skills in particular ways that help move the organization forward.
Dale Shaver: I can- I am- and this is a different thought process for me over the years. I’m honored to sit here and say in the last two strategic planning cycles for this department setting this, the direction, I did not have to touch much.
Janet Pilcher: Yeah.
Dale Shaver: Because the process was set. They understand that these are people that live it every day. They know what we need to do. And my job is simply just to set some loose sideboards on it to keep the discipline of the practice, and quite frankly, coaching the learning.
Janet Pilcher: Yes.
Dale Shaver: I think that’s what my role has become on this type of work now.
Janet Pilcher: Yeah, that’s so good, Dale, and you know that’s- you know that you moved yourself in the right place when you’re really a good coach to others, right? That’s really the- as an executive leader, you know, that’s where we all want to be.
We want to provide that strategic direction in terms of where we’re trying to go from a visionary perspective, and empower others to really help us get there, and then really nurture those relationships and coach people, you know, to move along with their teams, so such a such a great example and role model for- for the way that this works.
I’m going to shift just a little bit because when we work with school systems, you know, they’re having to work with boards, and there are all different types of ways that that they have to manage that, and I still think I’m optimistic and- and I still think regardless of the external factors that play in, if we do the things that are most significant like you’re talking about in the long run we’re going to win out, right?
And so- so just- I’d like to just kind of hear from you as a leader who works with the board. You know that establishing strong relationships are important and essential. You know, so how do you and your team develop that relationship of trust with your board and the community as a whole, because I think we could learn from that as we transfer that into education.
Dale Shaver: Yeah, I think- I think this is a real key topic, Janet, right now as you and I have talked previously on this that I think our teams in an organization look to senior leadership to have the relationships that are needed by the organization to either advance where we’re going or to eliminate barriers, and I think this hits this board relationship smack on target.
So, we take this very serious here and so county government is no different than school districts or tech college boards. And that is, we have board members that are- are serving to their elected role, their own community perspectives, many of them have experience in businesses.
And so, because so many of them have some business experience or business experience, we have found that it’s more important when we initially touch that the introduction or the onboarding process. It’s- it’s not so important anymore for us to talk about what we do, we will get to that through the actions that they will be involved, we’ll give them the context of that. What’s really important, I’m finding, is that we talk to them about how this organization directs itself and makes business- and makes decisions using business principles.
Said another way that we work in a business-like manner. And I think for a policy body or elected official coming in that may have a perception, it can be very- it can be very impactful for them to be hit right away with “Oh, this is different.” Just because it’s a public body doesn’t or a public organization doesn’t mean it can’t run really effectively like a business.
And so for context for our listeners, our board- our county board is comprised of 27 elected members who serve two-year terms. So each representative will represent about 14,800 voters in the county. And so last year, our board held 101 board and committee meetings to discuss 133 policy actions. So we learn a lot every year. We are always in this “What did we do? What could we do differently?” in an improvement process.
And I would say those key takeaways, Janet, are this: you need to view your board as your policy partner and build that relationship. And that means they may come in with certain political views or perceptions. That’s all okay. Ask about them. Understand them because it plays into your understanding of what the community needs are, and how I’m going to work and message what we’re going to do here, right?
Janet Pilcher: Mmmhmm.
Dale Shaver: And so when we- to build trust, I think about those key things that we make data-driven decisions. These aren’t emotional decisions, right?
And that if you have data, it builds that trust; it bolsters the argument if you can create the visuals, and quite frankly, it’s easier for them to digest that with the story, so they can repeat it, right? Now you’re been- now you’re converting skeptics potentially into advocates and influencers. Right?
Janet Pilcher: Yes.
Dale Shaver: Very- it’s a very different presence on your board. We’re very clear with the why. It just gets back to the credibility and the trust. We validate our sources and our- our data accuracy. If we come in with half-baked information, we’re not using our baseline, we’re not using our benchmark information. We’re undermining our own credibility and undermining trust.
We talk to them very openly about how we invest in continuous improvement training, and we practice it. Right now we’re close to 40% of our labor force in this department that have some form of a Lean certification belt. And that’s just again, I can say- I can share that with our board, and it indicates to them that this team is working with its head up looking for ideas on how to improve literally every day. And so, Janet, those types of things—
Janet Pilcher: Yeah,
Dale Shaver: —sharing that and being even transparent with our employee engagement data with our customer service data, all of that just builds trust in confidence.
Janet Pilcher: Yeah, you know, and as we think about the Measures That Matter, you know, what you’re talking about Dale is, you know, just something that, as I was writing the book just became so significant to me throughout is that we have data and evidence in front of us.
But it’s the conversations that we have around that evidence that are the most important- that’s most important, I mean. That’s how we connect people to the work where there’s employees. That’s how we help people move from just kind of an opinion or emotion or I’ve just- I’ve got this, you know, I’m talking from my personal standpoint to bringing them back to let’s look at what’s in front of us.
And I think what you’re what you’re talking about is really, really engaging a board and very meaningful conversations around that evidence and giving them that opportunity to really decipher that, provide input, and manage to that, and I love what you said, too; that helps them talk to the people that they’re accountable to, right?
Dale Shaver: Yes.
Janet Pilcher: So, you’re giving them those tools to do that. And that’s really the, you know, to me the value of measures. It’s not measured just to measure something, but it’s measures to really engage in the right conversations to move us in a direction that’s meaningful to help be the best at what we do as well as an organization.
Dale Shaver: I like to put myself in their shoes. What would I want?
Janet Pilcher: Yeah.
Dale Shaver: If your organization, Janet, would come to you with a proposal, you’re going to ask for the same type of thing, right?
Janet Pilcher: Absolutely.
Dale Shaver: And so why would we expect that somebody that is volunteering their time as an elected official would want anything less than that, right?
Janet Pilcher: Yeah.
Dale Shaver: And so good business practice is good business practice.
Janet Pilcher: Yeah, it’s so good. So, you know, as we- as we close today, you know, just thinking of, you know, just a last minute thought, Dale, as we think about Measures That Matter and- and Principle Two and as they- as the measures that matter connect to other principles, I know you are so big in terms of really looking at how you really build the right culture so that you can engage in this meaningful conversation.
So, any last-minute thoughts you would leave us with today?
Dale Shaver: Yeah, I think, as I was preparing my thoughts to- to meet with you again. Again, it’s the data and the why, right?
Janet Pilcher: Mmmhmm.
Dale Shaver: The more clear we can be with our organization, our boards, our stakeholders as to why it is that we’re on this journey and why it matters, that alone, you can have missteps along the way, but at the end, your path will lead to a successful outcome. That’s the- if I were really to boil it down, being really clear about the why and communicate it very often.
Janet Pilcher: Yeah, so good. Dale, so, so glad to have you on our show and as always just, you know, phenomenal work that you and your team are doing and setting the model across the country. Other county governments should follow this- this path because we would all be better for it in our community, so thank you so much.
Dale Shaver: Well, thank you. It’s always great to see you, my friend.
Janet Pilcher: As you can see, Dale leads, and is a model leader applying Principle Two, Measures That Matter.
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So, appreciative of Dale and the work that he does in county government. We can all learn from Dale’s great leadership. He applies many of the principles, but I’ve never seen anyone apply measures that matter as well as Dale does, so just appreciate Dale being on our show today.
I’d love to take a moment to invite you to our next virtual book club where we’re diving into each chapter on my newly released book Hardwiring Excellence in Education: The Nine Principles Framework. If you want to grow as a leader, this book club is for you. It’s for anyone who practices leadership regardless of their position.
So, meet us twice a month for interactive sessions and discussions starting next Monday through November 13th. Each meeting we will go chapter by chapter as we dive into the Nine Principles. I’d love for you to join us.
We’ve been through the intro and Principle One and now we’re diving into Principle Two. So, for details and to sign up please head to studereducation.com/hardwiringexcellence. Studereducation.com/hardwiringexcellence.
Thank you for tuning into this episode of Accelerate for Your Performance. So, please share this episode if you would with a friend or colleague that you think this episode would be meaningful to.
And as always, I thank you for tuning in to Accelerate Your Performance and I look forward to connecting with you next time as we continue to focus on the Nine Principles Framework so that we can be our best at work and be our best at work and be great leaders.
Have a great week, everyone.