Executive Office takes steps to improve customer service

The Southern Ute Executive Office is taking steps to improve customer service for the tribal membership with the consent of the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council and Chairman Jimmy R. Newton Jr.

With the tribe’s Permanent Fund boasting a hefty 17 departments reporting to the Executive Office and a few directors reporting directly to the chairman, the workload can prove to be very overwhelming — even for two executive officers, Steve R. Herrera Sr. and Amy Barry. The Southern Ute tribal membership is hovering around 1,485, with approximately two-thirds living on or near the reservation.

While the majority of the needs come from local members, the administration must not forget about those tribal members who live off the reservation. Under Newton’s administration, the Executive Office has made a change never before done in the history of the Permanent Fund: splitting the departmental supervisory duties between the two executive officers.

The departments in which the director reports to the chairman are still under signatory authority from the Executive Office.

According to the Executive Office, tribal members have been concerned they aren’t receiving the services they’re entitled to and the customer service from the departments sometimes disappoints.

“We want to make sure we’re providing top-notch service to the membership and can speak to the expenditures of the Permanent Fund,” Barry said.

Services have grown in recent years, and tribal members are asking questions about access to certain services and policies.

“We have authority to make decisions a little quicker since we’ve divided the departments,” Herrera said. “We have the same philosophy, and we have the ability to meet one-on-one and provide better feedback in a timely manner. Then we can answer membership questions more efficiently.”

In August 2012, a survey was sent to 75 employees asking for feedback on the first-year performance of the Executive Office. Human Resource Generalist Michael Brennan suggested the survey because the Executive Office was new and wanted to improve the lines of communication with departments.

“The results were very candid, and the managers felt that what the Executive Office was doing was good, and they wanted more: more interaction and face time,” Brennan said.

The Executive Office took a look at the comments and brainstormed ways to become more accessible to employees while still keeping tribal members’ customer service needs at the top of their priority list.

“Dividing the departments like this gives us more time to spend with departments, which gives us a chance to dive deeper into the services provided to the membership,” Barry said.

Some survey feedback said directors and staff were often confused about which executive officer to go to with their departmental issues because both were dealing with the same issues.

“The Executive Office responded by providing a go-to person and more individualized attention for every department,” Brennan said.

Herrera said one thing hasn’t been consistent in past years: the chain of command. According to Herrera, the chain of command is something the Executive Office has tried to gain control of since Newton was elected.

“We’ve worked with council during our Thursday work sessions to support the chain of command by directing community members or staff members to discuss and document concerns with their direct supervisors,” he said. “We have worked with Human Resources to ensure when we get a personnel concern, they are working with the department through the proper chain of command rather than going over managers’ heads. We have indicated to directors and division heads that we want to continue that way, and any employee who wants to circumvent that process will be subject to appropriate policies and procedures.”

One of the most positive things this change has brought to the organization is an increase in employee morale.

“We have to be seen. It’s not enough to communicate through email. Employees want to show us what is being done and how they do their job. They also want to show us what a good job they’re doing,” Herrera said. “They don’t want to see us just for complaints.”

Every department has developed goals and objectives based on the seven guiding principles developed by the Tribal Council. Within those goals, each director, division head and staff member has their own goals and objectives that reflect the departments’ mission statements.

“All of these things are going to reflect the priority list provided to the administration through the leadership,” Barry said.

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