Time to get back to the blog.

At the annual Florida Sterling Conference they always tell us that it okay to use someone else’s best practice.  It makes sense not to reinvent the wheel but from my experience it rarely happens.

Each year we do thousands of appointments for our customers so they don’t have to wait.  It also helps us better manage the crowds.  Out IT staff developed a very slick application developed in Fox Pro to manage it and we used it for years.  The only problem was that our staff had to book the appointments and Fox Pro was discontinued in 2007.  So recently we began to look a new more innovative approach.

ProsCons

Matrix

After much due diligence and comparison of several systems we ended up going with a web based application that was already used by the Alachua (Gainseville) and Okaloosa (Crestview) County Tax Collector offices. The photos provided were matrices written up on a wall to look over all the options each system had available.  It looked so impressive we hated to erase it.

The online appointment system went live Monday February 2nd but wanted to share what it took to make it happen:

  • 508 cumulative hours spent (research, testing, meetings, set-up, training, etc.)
  • 37 FAQs updated on website
  • 33 Customer Information Publications updated
  • 11 webpages on taxcollector.com updated (1 of which was created for appointment-related transactions)
  • Media release announcing system rollout
  • Brand new “Schedule Appointment” button on front page of taxcollector.com
  • Revamp of our lobby PC interface (layout, added new section to schedule an appointment)
  • 102 email templates and 19 recorded voice transaction boxes updated
  • 90 staff members trained on using new system (front line staff, receptionists, and field service staff)
  • Manual input of 652 appointments into the new appointment system that were scheduled in the old appointment system for February and March

In the first four days 573 appointments were scheduled

  • 476 (83%) of which were scheduled by customers online
    • 79 were scheduled while the office was closed
    • Various times of the day; i.e. 7 PM, 9 PM, 1 AM, 5 AM

Assuming that it previously took our associates an average of 2 minutes to schedule an appointment in our old appointment system, those 476 online customer-scheduled appointments saved our associates 952 minutes of processing (almost 16 hours or 2 man days).

With the new online appointment system, we are averaging over 140 appointments scheduled/day.

In the old appointment system, only offering during our working hours (9 AM- 5 PM) during the last week prior to rollout (January 26 – January 30), we averaged 72 appointments scheduled/day.

 

Left to Right - Kerri Ward, Mimi Murray, Frankie James, Angie Ford, Sara Ackley, and Kathi Seger on May 16, 2014

Left to Right – Kerri Ward, Mimi Murray, Frankie James, Angie Ford, Sara Ackley, and Kathi Seger on May 16, 2014

I had the distinct opportunity to share today at Mimi Murray’s celebration service at Bible Baptist Church in Palmetto:

First of all, I would like to thank Mimi’s family for the honor to represent the Tax Collector’s office today. Mimi served with excellence for nearly 32 years at our office. She came on board in 1978, 14 years before I was elected Tax Collector; and if you know Mimi, she was already well in control by that time!

Mimi was dedicated public servant who treated everyone with kindness, integrity and respect every day. She truly cared about those she worked with; and even more importantly, she was devoted to Gabriel and Marlena and her family who always came first in her life.

We begin every meeting by reciting our mission statement, something Mimi did hundreds of times. I’d like to ask both present and former Tax Collector’s staff to stand and join me as we honor Mimi by reciting our mission statement – “The mission of the Manatee County Tax Collector’s Office is to perform our duties with integrity and respect, focusing on innovation and serving with excellence.”

Thank you, staff.

Our office framework is built on that mission statement. Mimi performed her duties with integrity and respect; she focused on innovation and most of all she served with excellence.

Her life encompassed each of our 7 core values. Let me show you how she lived:

First – Customer Focus. Her Director, Ray Williams, used to say they had a different style of customer service in Delinquent Collections. He referred to Mimi, Frankie, Sharon and Vicky as “Ray’s Angels” – because they went into the field as commandos. They were quite proficient in obtaining funds from folks, who let’s say, had no intention of paying their taxes until they were “encouraged” to do so. They were good – really good.

Mimi’s understanding of and appreciation for our customers was truly remarkable. Back in the day when she served on the counter, she always looked for ways to help each customer achieve their desired result. We call it “exceeding expectations.” That practice went right along with her as a Field Deputy in delinquent collections.

Second – Innovation. Mimi and the Field Deputies were always looking for ways to improve service. They implemented “red tags” to alert tax payers that they were in arrears in property taxes. This “red tag” best practice has been adopted by Tax Collector offices around the state who appreciate this innovation.

Third – Future Focus. Although not professionally related, I’d like to tell a time when Mimi was afraid that Gabriel might consider choices that would ultimately harm him. Being proactive, Mimi and Ray arranged for him to visit the Sheriff’s Port facility where the always tough Col. Johnny Potts gave him a personal tour of inmate life – up close and personal. After the visit, Col. Potts told Ray, “At lunch, I dug into my plate and he just sat there. I looked up and he said we couldn’t eat until we’d said the blessing. Listen, there ain’t nothing wrong with this boy.” Mimi raised both Marlena and Gabriel right.

Fourth – Integrity and Respect. Mimi personified the Golden Rule. Whether you were a colleague, vendor or delinquent taxpayer — she treated everyone with the same kind demeanor and compassion. Vicky said she could not remember a time when Mimi ever raised her voice to anyone in frustration. She was always willing to listen to your problems and pray with you.

Fifth – Teamwork. You don’t consistently achieve 99% mobile home compliance without teamwork. Mimi was a team player who came to work and gave 100% for 32 years. There are few who achieve this longevity with the same passion as when they started. Her loyal partner Frankie, who were nicknamed “Salt & Pepper,” served right alongside her. Probably no one knew the kind of pain that Mimi endured to get the job done, but she persevered with Frankie’s help. They were teammates, friends, sisters who had each other’s backs.

Sixth – Excellence and Accountability. Mimi was recognized as an Employee of the Quarter because of her determined pursuit of being the best along with her willingness to help others succeed. Years ago as a new employee, one of our managers, Carmen, was welcomed to the old Palmetto office and was seated next to Mimi. It was the first day of hunting permits and Carmen was pretty terrified of the “muzzle loading permit” the customer demanded. Mimi quickly showed her the intricacies of hunting permits – even “muzzle loading permits” – and they became fast friends. She taught another new employee named Coco, now a manager, how to operate the vessel computer. But Kathi has the most legendary story – when the “Tag” Office on the main drag in Palmetto was robbed – Mimi took off chasing them! She was destined to be a field deputy!

Mimi was a great mentor, confident and friend. And even as her health deteriorated, she could be counted on to do the best she could with the strength she had. Dependability was in her DNA.

Seventh – Community and Social Responsibility. For many years, Mimi and Gabriel rode with me in the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade. We would talk and joke throughout the whole parade route. I’m not sure who had more fun – but I know that riding with her was a blast.

Mimi had a heart for those who were in need and her sacrificial giving was an inspiration to all of us. Adopt-a-Family is one of our community projects. Each year we raise hundreds of dollars with our annual “penny drive,” and the Delinquent Collections now called Field Services & Collections contribution is always at the top. On their own they have supported Military and Veteran causes, Toys for Tots and other local charities with their time and money.

There are story after stories of Mimi’s great personality and her love of fun. Billy Manning often teased her mercilessly as he pursued “the love of his life” – Once he came into the office and burst into song professing his love for her. Another time, again in front of customers, he begged her to come back home to him and their kids. Of course there was no truth to it, but the looks on the customers’ faces were priceless. And on her birthday, Ray gave her a “photoshopped” autographed picture of Denzel Washington that decorated her office for years. She never let on that she knew it was fake.

But, the real essence of Mimi was that she was a solid Christian. She was the rock that others would cling to in crisis. She was the comfort and strength when her own heart was breaking at the loss of her precious mother and beloved sister Roz. She was the one who read her Bible during every lunch hour, sometimes chasing her Director around the office with it, if need be.

And in that last moment, she was prepared to meet her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; to spend eternity in glory, where there are no more tears and no more pain. And I truly believe that one of the first people to welcome her to heaven was Lillie Robinson.

Mimi’s loss has broken the hearts of my staff and my heart grieves right along with them. Psalm 34:18 says “The LORD is with the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Our thoughts and prayers for her family, her office family and for those who knew and loved her will continue.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to express my love and gratitude to my friend. Mimi Murray touched us in many individual and special ways. So we say rest in peace, we will see you again.

Recent Mentor Program graduates Teresa Farrell, Sharelle Freeman, and Current Collections Assistant Director Ronda French

Recent Mentor Program graduates Teresa Farrell, Sharelle Freeman, and Current Collections Assistant Director Ronda French

For more in depth information on our Mentoring Team please read my March 22, 2012 blog.

From the public’s perspective my staff makes the job duties we perform every day look easy. That is the farthest thing from the truth.   Since 2011 in the hiring process we require all prospective employees to shadow a current employee for two hours and at least three have fold us no thanks.

Current Mentors Jennie Johnson, Victoria Hiestand, Teresa Farrell (grad), Sharelle Freeman (grad), Heather Alicky, and Lindsay Hoffman

Current Mentors Jennie Johnson, Victoria Hiestand, Teresa Farrell (grad), Sharelle Freeman (grad), Heather Alicky, and Lindsay Hoffman

Once a new hire starts they are provided a very systematic and comprehensive training regiment that takes anywhere from three to six months before they/we can feel comfortable to be on their own.  We keep telling them “the light bulb will come on – just hang in there.”  Some have shared they dream about processing work at night while sleeping.  The light bulb eventually comes on and then they are fine. I guess it is like a marathon runner hitting the wall at 20 miles and working through the last leg of the race.

This is where our mentors come in.  The mentors help offset all the training with third party encouragement and assistance along the way.  Thirty five employees have graduated from our mentoring program since its inception in 2007 and many have said in follow up surveys that the mentor program kept them from quitting at some point before the light bulb came on.

Long story short – the Mentoring Team is critical to the overall success to our organization.  You can have all the latest greatest technology in place and brag about how great your processes are but you still have to have qualified people to execute them properly.

Manatee High Football

Manatee Coaches

WR Coach Chuck Sandberg, QB Coach Chris Conboy, and Head Coach Joe Kinnan. Not pictured is special teams coach Dennis Stallard

I had the honor to speak at the Manatee High School’s football team’s character meeting on Wednesday October 23rd  after practice.  This puts me in the same category with Tony Dungy who spoke to them earlier in the season.  To me this was a daunting task to speak to a group of players that are currently the top ranked team in Class 8A and are also nationally ranked. Thank goodness they came back and won their game that Friday in a tough match-up against nationally ranked University High out of Broward County.  Had they lost the game they could say the Tax Collector jinxed them.

Fortunately, I was blessed to play in a tradition rich football program like Manatee High School that not only contends for a championship every year but it is the expected standard.   I played on the 1983 & 1984 national championship teams at Carson Newman University which is located in Jefferson City, TN.  Three of the coaches I played for are still there including the head coach Ken Sparks who won  his 315th game last weekend which ranks him 7th all time among college head football coaches.  There are many similarities when comparing the programs.

I chose Proverbs 22:6 as the basis of my  message to them – Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.  I paraphrased it for the players  using football terms to say – Prepare a football player to give his all one play at a time and one game at a time; the lessons learned will provide the CHARACTER needed to be successful the rest of their life. 

I  have heard Coach Sparks say countless times that “the football field is a learning laboratory for life” and he is right on.   You may not realize it at the time but later on in life when opportunities arise you have something to fall back on to help get you through it.  When I ran for Tax Collector in 1992 I had no idea what I was getting into but realized I had a solid foundation to work off of.  I wish all my staff had the opportunity to play football (or a team sport).  There is so much to be gained from it.

In my research I found fifteen things that football teaches you:

  1. Football prepares you to work with a variety of people – people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and people with a variety of mental and physical abilities. You will have to do it every day throughout life to be successful.
  2. To play football you have to meet academic standards to be eligible – you have to meet high intellectual standards to be successful in life.
  3. Football teaches you how to deal with the bumps, bruises, and bloody noses that the game throws at you and life creates bumps, bruises and bloody noses too.
  4. Football takes an EMOTIONAL INVESTMENT from your heart and soul to help the team and teammates to be successful. So does life take an EMOTIONAL INVESTMENT to be successful.
  5. Football teaches time management – management for academic, athletic, and social needs. Time management is an important function in life.
  6. Football requires sacrifices – so does life – give unselfishly.
  7. Football develops an understanding of the concept of team. After you leave football you will be on a team for a long time.
  8. Football helps you to learn to take instructions. A necessity in football and business.
  9. Football requires accepting responsibility to win – blocking the right defender – covering the right receiver – helping teammates get better and helping them not to do something stupid. Responsibility is a lesson in LEADERSHIP.
  10. Football teaches you to play with aches and pains. You will have to do that numerous times as you go through life.
  11. Football challenges your brain – so work it overtime – pay attention to detail. Working overtime and paying attention to detail will help you climb the dollar latter.
  12. Football fundamentals make you a better player and fundamentals in the workplace will make you successful.
  13. Football teaches that hard work pays off – practice hard everyday to get better. You will have to work hard on the job everyday to be successful.
  14. It is important in football to learn to handle success and disappointments to maintain a positive attitude – win or lose. Don’t be an idiot when winning or losing. That could cost you a good job.
  15. Football creates lasting friendships – friendships and networking that can create job opportunities in the future.

Despite the life lessons that are learned we still see players making wrong decisions almost on a daily basis.  No one is perfect and it comes down to choosing to follow these lessons learned or not.

Credit – excerpt from “I Believe in Cream, Apples, and Football” by Larry Beckish. Larry considers this to be one of his best pieces of work, and he’s written a number of books and nearly 200 newspaper articles.

Action Items Meetings are a fact of life and necessary.  Most people hate them because they are are unproductive and a waste of time. Some will bring their tablet or smart phone to help pass the time or other work just to be productive.   So my question to you is – How productive are the meetings you attend?  How would you measure if a meeting was productive or not?

At the Tax Collectors office we have 13 staff meetings a week.  Eight of them last no more than 30 minutes due to time restrictions.  The meetings are organized systematically so that important information can be passed up and down to maximize communication.  We all use the basic same agenda and meeting duties are rotated on a monthly basis.  We also allow “rep ins” that are not a part of the team to join in.  The Senior Team all sit in on a front line staff meeting somewhere in Manatee County at least once a month.

A key tool we use at our staff meetings are action items.  According to Wikipedia an action item is a documented event, task, activity, or action that needs to take place. Action items are discrete units that can be handled by a single person.

This past budget year (October 1, 2012 – September 30, 2013) in our 50 or so weekly Senior Team (myself, my executive assistant, and 5 Directors) meetings we had 215 documented actions items issued.  I am proud to say that everyone of them were successfully completed.  It is probably safe to say that can be said since we incorporated the practice back in 2007.  When I began researching the data I already knew the outcome was going to be 100% and knew this is not the norm.  When I sit in on meetings outside of the office it is very easy to tell early on if it is going to be productive.

I took the research one step farther.  I know I am blessed with a great senior team but did they complete the action items in a timely manner?  Out of the 215 action items 187 were completed on or before the deadline for a 87% on time completion rate.  I was very pleased with the result and I finished at 83% so I need to step it up a little bit.  Many of the over due action items were less than a week and the software we use makes it easy to close them out which could make them late even if completed on time.

We have some rules with action items –

  • we have a designated person at each meeting recording action items.  After the meeting they enter them into the software we use.
  • the owner of a new action item must be present and provides the estimated completion date
  • if the completion date needs to be changed it has to be made known at our staff meeting.  The software we use also requires to list the reason for proper documentation.
  • as an audit function – action items are reviewed near the end of the meeting to ensure everything is correct.

If you want to have a productive meeting incorporate action items into the process and watch those unproductive meetings over time become productive.

Below is a snippet  of our action item list:

Action Items

Most people dread going to the “DMV” because of long lines and the horrible staff working there.  The picture used for this article speaks volumes. In Florida at the local level, elected County Tax Collectors are the “DMV” which is just one of the many duties we provide each day.

We are no different than any other “‘DMV” starting our day with a long line at the door.  On some occasions at our Desoto office the line goes all the way to 301 Blvd.   The difference is how we handle it and the line goes away in a matter of minutes.  Based on stats from our annual Voice of the Customer Survey the #1 choice is “Speed of Service” which does match up with a long line out the door.


Fast Tube by Casper

Here is how we do it:

  • Prior to 9AM Officer Andrew Jacobus gets the customers in 3 different lines:
    • 9AM Appointments (Always go first!)
    • driver license customers
    • all other transactions
  • At 9AM we open the doors and a receptionist reads the following script:
    “Good morning. (pause)
    Customers with an appointment, please come to the front of the line. (pause)(repeat)

    Anyone that is here to process a Driver License or ID transaction, this includes clearing suspensions, needs to have the Driver’s License/ID application completed. If you have not completed this form please step to your right and get the form and clipboard from the associate. You must complete this form before receiving a number.
    Everyone else form two lines at the receptionist desk after entering the building.”
  • A staff person with several clipboards and pens with our office DL application stands ready at the customers right ready to pass those out.
  • In less than 5 minutes the line is gone!

This is a favorite part of my day.

Today may be tax day but this Friday April 19th is National Blue and Green Day.  Our office will be blue and green on Friday April 21st as we join up with our partners Donate Life Florida.  We  urge your workplaces to do the same.

Blue Green Day 2013