What was the "Platteville Project"? In September 1999, the Employee Suggestion Board and the then-Department of Employment Relations (DER), now known as OSER -- which provides staff support to the Board -- began a unique partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.
Then-DER Secretary Peter Fox, appointed to lead the Department in 1999, took an active interest in the Wisconsin Employee Suggestion Program. One of the major issues was a lack of employee awareness. It was Secretary Fox's idea to connect with a University of Wisconsin campus where a marketing/design class could take this on as a class project.
You can read the "story" of The Platteville Project below...
September 1999 Client Presentation by DER
Madison-Platteville Connection: Platteville is in southwestern Wisconsin, located only a few miles from Belmont -- the original state capital (the present capital, Madison, was later chosen). Not only is this link fitting, but it's also symbolic of the "Wisconsin Idea" -- which proposes that the borders of the University are the borders of the State. This partnership project is an excellent example of the Wisconsin Idea in action.
In September 1999, Robert Toomey of DER made a client presentation to the UW-Platteville student team, which was led by Professor Paul Shecter. The students included: Jeff Brown and Nathan Maxwell (business/marketing); and Derek Carpenter, Shann Deprey, Kathleen Ebben, and Miriam Schroeder (graphic design).
In addition to an overview of the board, program objectives, and history, Robert discussed the critical role of Agency/Campus Coordinators, the need for management support at all levels, and the importance of employee trust in the program's credibility.
Challenges and Needs in 1999 included:
- lack of visibility
- a new logo
- eye-catching posters
- a new Web site
- redesigned & simple forms
Success Stories which could be reported:
- Original (previous) Web site went on-line in November 1998
- Model Agency: Department of Transportation (DOT)
- Support from new DER Secretary Peter Fox
- Lieutenant Governor and State Treasurer attended Annual Awards Ceremony at State Capitol
- Board member commitment to success
- Publicity: article in Madison daily newspaper (The Capital Times)
The Suggestion Program -- begun in 1954 -- was due for revitalization. This was an opportunity for the UW-Platteville design/marketing student team to make a positive impact on state government -- enhancing a program which has enormous potential to improve government services, increase efficiency, save taxpayer money, and boost employee morale.
In autumn of 1999, the Wisconsin Employee Suggestion Program was compared to the Wisconsin Badgers basketball program...a "Sleeping Giant." Also at that time, while it couldn't have been predicted even by the most ardent of fans, the Badger basketball team was about to embark on a journey which led to Wisconsin's first Final Four appearance since 1941.
At UW-Platteville, the Final Four (NCAA Division III) is old hat -- four national championships in the 1990's. Was the "Sleeping Giant"/Basketball comparison more than coincidence? In any event, the project to revitalize the Employee Suggestion Program appeared to be in the right hands....
January 2000 Project Status Update
During the Fall 1999 semester, the UW-Platteville student design team conducted research, including a survey of agency/campus coordinators.
In January 2000, after everyone survived Y2K, the design team presented survey findings, conclusions and recommendations in a 20-page report to the Board and DER.
1. Objective & Methodology:
a. General purpose of this study was to discover the attitude and amount of effort put towards the State Employee Suggestion Program by program coordinators. Moreover, how to improve the program according to their input.
b. Primary research data was in the form of surveys mailed out to all identified program coordinators with an e-mail address.
c. The sample consisted of 33 qualified program coordinators. The surveys were sent out on e-mail and responses were sent back to one of the teammate's accounts.
d. The data was collected over four weeks and then tallied by one individual.
2. Findings (excerpts)
a. "38.5% of respondents felt a neutral or moderately negative attitude toward the program."
b. "The average coordinator spends 4.44% of their workweek toward the program."
c. "Program coordinators manage a variant population for the program ranging from 5 - 1,500 state employees."
d. "70% of the respondents feel if one more person was added to help them in their division, more responses and effort would be put toward the program."
e. "The average program coordinator uses brochures and posters to inform employees of the program."
f. "A common response for improvement was that the rewards have to be higher in order to motivate employees to spend the time to suggest ideas and follow through with the submission."
3. Conclusions and Recommendations (excerpts)
a. "...Department program coordinators hold an average of a neutral-to-negative attitude toward the program but feel that improvement is possible to turn it around."
b. "In order to get the program to work, more time must be spent by department coordinators advertising and working with the program. Moreover, the board has to work on improving response time because the long wait holds employees back from giving suggestions."
c. "More research should be conducted to try and get more respondents and also do research on the employees who have given suggestions to get feedback on their attitudes and experiences."
d. "A new poster and brochure should be created that informs and catches the eyes of state employees. (Design team's job this semester).
e. "Give each coordinator an assistant so that the work can be split and he/she does not feel overwhelmed."
f. "More research on what other states are doing and look at the success of the program to get ideas on how to increase Wisconsin's success."
Board members reacted positively to the report, agreeing that the three areas needing the most attention are:
- Marketing & Promotion
- Process Improvement
- Recognition & Rewards
Board members later signed a letter to UW-Platteville Chancellor David Markee, expressing appreciation for the Platteville team's continuing good work....
April 2000 Final Project Report
During the Spring 2000 semester, the student design team focused on promotional prototypes and process improvement. The team presented their final project presentation to the Board and DER in April 2000. Their efforts also included a survey of employees who had submitted suggestions to the program. The students also researched other states' employee suggestion programs.
The main areas recommended for improvement were Process, Promotion, and Recognition.
A speedier review of suggestions. Employee survey results indicated that the average processing time was 6.5 months from the time the employee submitted the suggestion until notification of a final decision. It was recommended that 3 months would be a more acceptable timeframe.
Better communication of the status of the suggestion during the stages in the review process was another area of concern.
It was recommended that the annual savings amount requiring sign-off by the agency budget office be raised from $10,000 to $25,000.
Forms should be redesigned & simplified, and the evaluation & summary forms should be combined. Also, space for e-mail addresses should be added to all forms.
The team also recommended that the evaluation process at the agency be limited to one evaluator instead of two.
The team recommended new promotional materials:
A new symbol for the Employee Suggestion Program. Color scheme would be red, gray, and black.
One-time payroll stuffer to all employees
Web site, with shorter URL address
Quarterly newsletter sent by e-mail and on Web site
The team recommended giving increased focus on employee recognition, in order to enhance the program beyond a "suggestion box" concept -- or what may be even seen as a complaint system.
Board members, agency coordinators, and DER staff reacted positively to the team's presentation and commended the students for their efforts and hard work.
The Board met with DER staff in May 2000 to follow-up on the April report and discuss implementation -- targeting August as the desired roll-out date of the new-look program....
(Quick Footnote: The Wisconsin Badgers men's basketball team played in the Final Four on April 1, just three days after the women's team won its first ever WNIT championship.)
Summer 2000 Implementation
In June, DER hired a graphic designer for the summer to assist with implementation: Shann Deprey -- a member of the UW-Platteville project team & recent graduate -- was selected.
One of the first orders of business was to finalize the new logo. A Focus Group was consulted and shown eight potential new logos. The clear favorite was the first choice of 9 of the 12 Focus Group members. In July the Board selected it as the new Wisconsin Employee Suggestion Program logo.
By the end of July, Shann Deprey finalized the design of a new poster and a bookmark to go to all employees as a payroll stuffer; while Robert Toomey revised the forms (which are now in PDF format and can be filled out on-screen) and the coordinator's manual.
A letter signed by Secretary Fox went to the Governor and all Agency Heads on July 28, notifying them of the coming changes and request support at the agency level.
By early August, the new Web site was finished. Shann designed the layout and navigation, incorporating the new logo and color scheme; while Robert was responsible for writing the content.
Shann and Robert gave presentations to the State Human Resource Managers Council (SHRMC) on August 9; and because they are so critical to program success, a conference for Agency/Campus Coordinators was held on August 14. Each participant received an updated Coordinator's Manual, posters and other tools, and had the opportunity to get to know colleagues at other agencies and ask questions.
Finally, on August 24, 2000, the bookmark/payroll stuffer was received by all state and university employees with their paychecks.
Thanks for your interest in the Wisconsin Employee Suggestion Program. While The Platteville Project has ended, if you're a state or university employee...
This is the beginning -- Make a Suggestion!