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E-Splash November 2012 - ISPI
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Illinois Section AWWA - E-Splash - November 2012


Illinois Public Service Institute
11th Annual Illinois Public Service Institute 2012
Focus on Service Excellence
David Trais


The 11th Annual Illinois Public Service Institute was held October 7-12, 2012 in Effingham, Illinois. IPSI training this year focused on service excellence. There were approximately 150 people from all over the State at IPSI this year. Positions ranged from administrative, arborists, directors, foreman, maintenance workers, project managers, water operators and others. As we are all aware of the current economic challenges facing municipalities, counties and the private sector, there was a common theme that was seen among all of the participants. We all have to do more with less.

I was a recipient of an ISAWWA scholarship to attend IPSI. I want to take a moment to thank Steve Page, Chair IPSI, ISAWWA Representative; Laurie Dougherty, Executive Director ISAWWA. The people attending IPSI commit to three one-week sessions (one week per year). The sessions focus on leadership development, service excellence and personal supervisory skills.

As a first time attendee, I did not know what to expect other than what I had read in the registration materials. As we were driving, I was asked whether I brought dollar bills. I did not know what the driver was referring to. I did know that the individual I was with liked to joke around. I was a first-year student, and he was a second year student. I was also told that I would find out when I got to the conference. You will find out later, too. Not to worry, it is nothing immoral or unethical. However, you do need to attend the conference to get an appreciation of the message.

Not all topics can be covered due to space limitations, and may be covered at a later date. The topics covered at IPSI were:

Communication skills, business etiquette, creating an action plan, performance appraisals, service excellence in public works; The Supervisor's Role in Service Excellence – Creating a Service Culture; Serving External Customers; Serving Internal Customers; and a Legal Update.

Performance Appraisals

I do not think that any supervisor likes to give performance appraisals to a fellow employee. There are many different ways to do performance appraisals or evaluations and there are different types. A performance appraisal should be meaningful, motivate an employee; try to correct behavior; measure performance and achievements. During this seminar, Lew Bender, Ph.D. said, "If performance appraisals are not done correctly, do not do them at all.”

An effective performance appraisal is one in which the supervisor adapts to changing tasks or objectives; is fair and honest to the employee; has a thorough understanding of the job or appraisal system; uses specific job related performance standards; establishs relevant job appraisal criteria; properly observes employee(s) throughout the entire evaluation period. During the evaluation between the supervisor and employee, a meaningful discussion should take place. Specific examples should be used throughout the entire evaluation period; and the main focus should be placed on the employee.

There are many factors that can undermine effective appraisals: job, evaluator, design and operation of appraisal system, and raters' errors. Some of the inconsistencies can be attributed to: halo effect; central tendency; strict rating; lenient rating; latest behavior; initial behavior; initial impression; spill - over effect; same as me or different from me.

Some things can be good indicators to an employee that performance evaluations are not taken seriously. A supervisor talking on the telephone, if it is not an emergency call; a supervisor being subjective; communication such as body language; re-scheduling discussion for another time with no reason.

A supervisor should not rely on memory to provide facts on performance. These should be written down for both positive and negative. Again, be fair and honest. Maintain and check any documentation to ensure consistency with other employees.

Service Excellence

What is service excellence? What are the internal and external customers that your organization serves? What does customer service actually mean? What is your organization's mission statement? Do you even have one? Have you ever stopped to think about it?

Turban et al. (2002), [1]

"Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation.”

"Service is about taking the responsibility for managing perceptions, expectations and experiences during customer interactions.” [3] Having a service goal can be broken down into two categories: a service and functional mission, service standards; service experience, internal and external customers.

Functional mission describes what you do and how you handle it; Service mission is how you go about deploying functional mission. The mission statements should be clear and concise.

Internal customers may include members of the same department, department heads, other departments, and inter-governmental agencies. External customers may be residents; commuters, rail, bus, pedestrians, auto; business owners; property owners; shoppers; diners.

In servicing internal and external customers, know your customer. Learn how to use people skills; be an active listener; communicate effectively; be empathetic.

In Libertyville, the downtown area, bus shelter, train station is very clean. The Village maintains planter boxes; brick paver sidewalks; decorative street lighting, signage, snow plowing; supplies water and provides other vital services to businesses and residents. The Village also ensures that visitors, commuters and residents are able to travel safely throughout the community. [4]

These are all maintained by Public Works to provide a service to the end user, the customer. Other communities hold open houses to showcase the Public Works facility and equipment. There are some that have pre-construction meetings for capital improvement projects. However, there are always a few emergency water shut- downs that seem to come up.

As far as businesses and residents, try to accommodate as much as feasibly possible. However, there is still the need to say "NO.” Even during these economic times, communities choose to provide quality service in an effective and timely manner, while maintaining high standards.

Deb Dunbar, John Heinz and Larry Lux brought up many valid points. Some of their comments have been incorporated into this document.


In conclusion, IPSI Focus on Service Excellence 2012 was well received by all attendees. As I reflect back, there was a vast amount of information covered during the week. Define culture of the organization; service and functional mission statements of an organization; serving external and internal customers; business etiquette; having good communication skills; performance appraisals; learning about recent legal updates and learning workplace and personal safety. The participants in IPSI this year were from all over the State, and were mostly in the public sector. With that in mind, the service levels may vary from municipality to municipality or city to city. However, in these challenging times, there is one thing that is not changing: providing service excellence.

Lewis Bender, Ph.D. does a great job keeping participants' attention and actively involved and introduced speakers. Lew is kind of sensitive when you make comments about his beloved Detroit Lions. In other words, tread lightly when you discuss the Lions. By the end of the week, you will have a couple of phrases engraved in your brain along with a couple of sounds. It has been over a week and I still cannot get the phrases "Hunker down” [2] or "Tick Tock Tick Tock” [2] or that beeping sound out of my head. Again, these all have relevant meaning. Just remember, be on time; watch your tongue and you will be fine without a fine. If not, be prepared to pay the consequences with a joke or two or maybe three.

I almost forgot to mention about the dollar bills. The participants at IPSI agreed to contribute to three charities. Fines were assessed for being late, perhaps telling a joke in poor taste or even having to pay the consequences with a fine and jokes. This is all in good fun and for good causes.

All of the other presenters mentioned above did a great job. All of the topics were relevant. The information provided should be passed on to other members of your organization.

Personal Supervisory Skills is scheduled for October 6 - 11, 2013. Focus on Leadership is scheduled for October 5 - 10, 2014. For more information, please go to IPSI website at:

A quick note, the IEPA does recognize this training for water operators. There is an IEPA # associated with this training for the week, which amounted to approximately 34 hours. Please contact Mary Bender for more information: 231-797-5536 or Also, if someone is trying to obtain an MPA, arrangements can be made with the facilitator to get 3.5 credits at NIU or SIUE.


1. Turban, Efraim (2002) Electronic Commerce: A Managerial Perspective. Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-185461-5.

2. Bender, Lew Ph.D., IPSI, Illinois Public Service Institute (2012)

3. Dunbar, Deb, University Director, Organizational Development, Indiana University

4. Heinz, John, Director of Public Works, Village of Libertyville (2012)

Lux, Larry, Lux Advisors Ltd (2012)

For more information, visit the Illinois Public Service Institute website.
To request a sponsorship for 2013,  complete this online form.


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