The 2nd 100 Days: It Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better

Monday, August 7, 2023 | 10:30 – 11:30 a.m.
Melissa A. Alterio, Cobb County (E911) Department of Emergency Communications

Director Melissa Alterio of the Cobb County (E911) Department of Emergency Communications has 33 years of experience in the emergency communications center (ECC) which she jokingly explained, began at the age of 10. Her engaging sense of humor carried on throughout the session while she shared her process of a successful transformation of the workplace culture as director of a medium-sized ECC in Roswell, GA, to the ongoing transformation that’s taking place in her current, larger ECC.  Director Alterio begins the session with a recap of her APCO 2022 session, “The 1st 100 Days”, which refers to the beginning period of a new directorship.

The first 100 days included creating a 30-, 60- and 90-day plan with clearly defined goals and objectives, establishing a vision, mission and core values, meeting with supervisory staff and frontline employees, collecting and evaluating feedback, adjusting and changing leadership where necessary, and finally, reorganizing the ECC. Director Alterio asked her frontline employees to voluntarily sign-up for 15-minute, one-on-one meetings with her. Though hesitant at first, feedback from the meetings began to circulate amongst peers and ultimately resulted in participation from 95% of staff over a period of 90 days. During these meetings, she talked about positive changes to come and prepared staff for really hard changes that would likely result in things getting worse before they got better. As an incentive to employees to hang in there, she made some easy changes early on to improve their comfort, such as relaxing the dress code and approving a request to clean up and restore their outdoor garden.

Director Alterio then took us through the 2nd 100 days of directorship during which she implemented creative solutions for declining morale, broken trust with leadership and the never-ending cycle of complaints.  A “Be Kind Campaign” was launched that follows three basic principles; be nice, be kind and be positive, even and especially during the most challenging situations. To help with morale, it was important to combat negativity, explaining that negativity can be an effect of “organizational trauma” stemming from absent or poor leadership and employee neglect. She tackled trust by being genuine, open, and available and spending time getting to know each of her approximately 160 employees. To address the complaint cycle, she offered bold ideas of reducing and even eliminating discipline for basic mistakes such as keystroke errors she referred to as “fat finger mistakes”.

The key concept of transforming workplace culture, which can take up to five years, according to Director Alterio, is “people are what matters” and managers should “adopt a people over process mindset”.  This may mean helping employees create a professional development plan to “level up” and evaluating the applicant selection process by “hiring for fit and training for skill”.  By separating fit (capable) from skill (tasks that can be taught), you reduce the number of eliminated candidates based on skills that can be taught on the job thus expanding your candidate pool. Finally, Director Alterio invites you to check out the Cobb County (E911) Center’s social media pages which play a significant role in the evolving culture shift.  There you will find staff recognition, pictures of the various and plentiful celebrations they share and engagement with the outside world.

Submitted by Jen Stein