Southlake Performance Excellence 

Southlake, Texas 

Shana Yelverton, City Manager

In 2006, the new city manager in Southlake, Texas, worked with the city council to redefine Southlake’s employee culture after a scandal rocked the public’s confidence in the organization. The first step was to adopt five values—integrity, innovation, accountability, excellence, and teamwork—to act as guideposts for performance. Southlake employees “lived the values” through yearly employee appreciation events and programs that identified excellent work. Still, these programs didn’t always recognize what motivated employees to strive for excellence for themselves and the city’s customers.

In 2013, city leaders worked with Gallup to become one of the first local governments to use their Q12 platform to conduct the city’s first Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey.  They then combined the results with specific questions in the city’s citizen satisfaction survey, using what they learned to create a correlation between employee engagement and customer satisfaction. Survey data from 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019 helped support a roadmap for internal and external services.

In August 2020, the Wellbeing and Inclusion Survey was added, using Gallup-developed questions to gain an even deeper understanding of employees’ points of view. This survey, like the others, is biannual, alternating with the Q12 survey. The city’s citizen satisfaction survey informs the engagement strategy by assessing how residents evaluate employees’ customer service skills. Research shows that high engagement levels enhance customer satisfaction and, in turn, improve organizational performance. The challenge? To improve scores in specific areas such as customer follow-up and follow-through.

In 2020, the city made two vital investments. First, the city hired an operations manager for customer service charged with pursuing excellence on behalf of the city’s customers. One example of the manager’s initiatives was a time study to inform voters of wait times at the polls during the 2020 election. Second, the city established the Employee Champions Matrix Team, charged with implementing employee engagement strategies based on findings from the surveys. The employee surveys help city leaders identify department and citywide actionable priorities.

The following initiatives are just a few examples.

  • An Organizational Learning and Development Strategic Operations Plan was created to address the need for a more coordinated approach to developing managers and emerging leaders.
  • A “Making Better Best” work group was created to improve succession planning and internal growth opportunities.
  • The public works director increased department communication and one-on-one employee meetings and saw the department’s overall engagement scores improve from a mean of 3.99 (68th percentile) in 2017 to 4.26 (86th percentile) in 2019.

So what does better engagement look like in Southlake? Based on the 2019 Q12 survey, Southlake is among the top 20 percent of local governments and the top 25 percent of organizations worldwide in engagement. Approximately 53 percent of Southlake employees are engaged compared with the 34 percent average among Texas state and local government employees. Further, 83 percent of employees are satisfied or extremely satisfied with Southlake as a place to work. In the 2019 citizen survey, 90 percent of residents reported satisfaction with the city’s services, showing the service delivery strides the city is making.

Beyond the numbers, there is a visible difference in employees’ outlook and performance, even after facing challenges brought on by the pandemic and an unprecedented ice storm. It’s not about the numbers. It’s about a culture of engagement. Southlake cares about its employees and the work they do and invests time in them, elevating the bar for local government service delivery. Employee engagement is a “must have” for any high-impact organization seeking to achieve exceptional outcomes.