Communications, Respect Help Collection Teams Succeed

Communications, Respect Help Collection Teams Succeed
The collections team serving the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority (PARSA) have racked up multiple awards for collection systems innovations.

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“Keep the group in the loop.” That’s the motto of the Evansville, Ind., collections team and it assures that everyone knows what everyone else is doing and what the overall objectives are. 

“If our people are just clocking in, putting a hose in the street, and clocking out, there is no ownership of the job, or the overall project,” says Mike Labitzke, deputy director of utilities for the Evansville Water and Sewer Utility. “We really try to let everyone know what the purpose of the job is. We explain the goals for the year, and what we’ve been mandated to do.” 

A consent decree and its accompanying Capacity, Management, Operation and Maintenance program are driving the utility to proactively clean, maintain and manage its sewer infrastructure, addressing serious overflow issues that date back many years. 

An effort like that requires effective communication and ownership in the project on the part of the utility’s team of over 80 people in collections and engineering. 

Labitzke says when the work began, the entire group participated in three large kickoff meetings. “Since then,” he says, “groups meet on a weekly basis, and with our work divided into over 50 sub-basins, each sub-basin team holds regular progress meetings to keep everyone involved and informed of the progress.” 

Boost the mood

Communication enhances morale. “Morale is good,” Labitzke says. “I try to really let our people know what the purpose of their job is, what their roles and responsibilities are. There’s a purpose for what they’re doing and that keeps morale going.”

He says it’s critical that management gives employees the tools they need to succeed. “That’s the key,” he says, “giving guys the tools they need to get the job done and satisfy requirements.”

Transparency is also vital. “We take pride in what we do, and what’s expected of us as a public utility. We don’t keep anything a secret.” 

On the East Coast, the collections team serving the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority (PARSA) is much smaller than Labitzke’s group, but the teamwork principles are similar. 

PARSA Executive Director Robert Villée stresses the value he places on each of his five operators who are responsible for PARSA’s 26-mile interceptor. “I make sure that our board recognizes that our human assets are just as important as our capital assets. It begins at the top, and our commissioners have been very supportive,” he says. 

The respect for employees is reflected in their job titles. “Our people go out and meet others from companies, other utilities and associations,” says Villée. “We make sure they have a title that commands respect — not just ‘operator’ or ‘maintenance worker.’” Villée adds that employees are eligible for performance compensation, and have the chance to attend professional conferences. 

And the attitude and accomplishments of PARSA haven’t gone unnoticed in the profession. Villée received the Collection System Award from the Water Environment Federation (WEF) at its annual conference in 2013, and PARSA’s operators have racked up two Operator Ingenuity Awards for collection systems innovations. 

Like Labitzke, Villée stresses the importance of employee success. “My position is to make sure our employees have the tools to succeed and the equipment needed to do the job,” he says. “We give them the flexibility and responsibility to make calls on their own and to make sure things get done and get done right.” 

Villée sticks up for his team, as well. “On all construction projects, we make sure the operations perspective is seen and heard,” he says. “Last year we saved the authority over $1.8 million dollars (through projects and improvements). I make sure that we — as an authority — don’t forget the guys that did all the work.” 

Watch the Evansville Water and Sewer Utility team in action

Read more about PARSA’s successful collections team


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