Business Center

Creating Desire to Stay: How Change Management Helped my Project

Niles Koenigsberg, Process Improvement Intern
December 11th, 2018


Photo Caption: A shadow box at the EJMT, a space to celebrate employee successes and compliment their strengths. This was just one of the initiatives of the Employee Retention project at the tunnels.

At the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), we strive to show our appreciation for employees on a daily basis and adhere to our 3 Peaks Strategy as well as our enduring Values. Though, at times, we need to revamp how we show employees they’re valued, cared for, and appreciated.

The Eisenhower Johnson Memorial Tunnel (EJMT) has, historically, experienced high turnover due to the remote nature of the facility. Brent Reigel, a Transportation Maintenance Supervisor III at EJMT, noted that: “For years and years, [EJMT] had seemed like a revolving door.” Brent wanted to fix this issue and find ways to retain employees at EJMT. The tools and knowledge he had learned in his 1-day Change Management course for Managers & Supervisors provided him the knowledge on how people change and planted the seed for him to embark on improving Employee Retention at EJMT.

Changing How We Retain Employees

EJMT is situated in a unique area, carrying I-70 under the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountain corridor. To keep the facilities fully operational, it requires staffing around the clock, with at least 4 employees per shift. “It’s an interesting dynamic, because the cost of living is high in Summit County and most of the Transportation Maintenance (TM) employees commute for 45 minutes to 1 hour from the Denver Metro area or surrounding suburbs,” Reigel stated, “Who wants to drive an hour both ways to work?” These factors contributed to the high turnover rate and, by working with his coworkers and other supervisors, Reigel began to develop a plan.

Approaching the problem with an ADKAR assessment, Reigel found that staff at EJMT were aware of the turnover rate, but lacked the desire and knowledge to improve the problem. “We not only needed to create a positive work culture, we also needed to improve employee morale in the facilities and turn EJMT into a place you wanted to show up to everyday,” Reigel said. To effectively implement his future changes, Reigel sought out the support of upper-level management and acquired the buy-in of other managers and supervisors at EJMT.

The staff began to implement incremental improvements/changes to the operations at EJMT. “We implemented this thing called ‘Contact Cards,’ where supervisors would meet one-on-one with all the TM-Is and TM-IIs to write down any of their questions or concerns on cards, which the supervisors would later discuss amongst themselves,” Reigel said. “These cards help employee voices be heard and their ideas discussed.” The Deputy Superintendent at the time, Mike Willyard, suggested the team install a few shadow boxes in the facilities with employee pictures, to use as a space to celebrate employee successes and compliment their strengths. To further show appreciation for employees, EJMT began to host cookouts and barbecues at least twice a year. “It was all about increasing that desire to stay at the tunnels and reinforce that behavior.”

However, one of the biggest impacts came from a slight change to a position at EJMT. One of the barriers to working at EJMT was that most employees would need a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) before applying. By working with Jacob Finger, the Human Resources representative at EJMT, and the Labor, Trade, and Crafts (LTC) Operations, this team created an entry level LTC Training IV position, where applicants do not need their CDL to apply. “It has helped us hire a lot more employees at EJMT, especially those with construction or maintenance backgrounds,” Reigel noted, “Without the upper-level support for this change, we wouldn’t have been able to fill up our staff as quickly.”

The managers and supervisors of EJMT additionally have been handing out CDOT leadership coins to employees and empowering their staff to register for courses and classes they’re interested in. “They’ve been terrific advocates for these changes and have been doing great work to improve our culture,” Reigel noted. More recently, the facilities implemented an entire scheduling change, switching from a 5-day work schedule to a 4-day. This idea, developed by Valerie Williams, a TM-III, shifted the schedule to 3 12-hour workdays and a 1 8-hour workday. “That way,” Reigel continued, “you get 3 consecutive days off, which has had a positive impact since so many commute from Denver.”

What’s Next for Employee Retention?

Since the changes have been implemented, the team feels the work environment has improved. “It’s still a work in progress, we’re always looking for more ways to improve retention here,” Reigel stated, “There is still some turnover [at EJMT], not because of unhappy employees, but more about circumstance.”

As the culture changes, staff still needs to mitigate resistance from employees who have been around a long time and had adjusted to a higher turnover rate. “It has just been something we need to coach through, and we may need to do more in the future,” Reigel said, “We just need to reinforce these changes and maintain that positive culture.”

It is important to recognize staff for their dedicated efforts and managing those culture changes can be strenuous, but it is a rewarding process. “The goal was to create a positive culture and make everyone happier,” Reigel said, “I believe we’ve achieved that and now we’ll improve upon it.”

Reigel helped to build upon the awareness of a problem by building desire in members of his team to fix it. Once members had a desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement were soon to follow for everyone impacted by the changes. Reigel ensures that those impacted by the changes at EJMT are successful with those changes by experiencing ADKAR (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement).

Want to learn more about Change Management at CDOT? Check out our improvement efforts at the Office of Process Improvement’s website! Or, for CDOT employees, stop by the Change Hub on our Intranet!