Yes, data can inspire empathy. In fact, it was the end result of a Peak partnership for the Residential Housing team at Denver’s Public Health Inspections division.
In January of 2017 I entered into my first partnership engagement, which is when an analyst from the Peak team works with front line staff of one specific group for six to 12 months. Together, we work consistently on process improvement training, performance metrics and improvement projects.
Public Health Inspections, which maintains public health and safety for restaurants, residential housing, pools and child care facilities, reached out to the Peak Academy for help because the Residential Housing team was struggling to keep up with their workload. This
was causing a lot of frustration and a drop in the team’s morale. My task for the partnership was to work with the housing team staff and help them identify opportunities for innovation and ultimately, to improve their situation.
During the first month of the partnership, we decided to focus on two main issues: managing the ever-increasing workload and improving the consistency of their regulation enforcement.
In the early stages of the partnership Antonio Pasquarelli, one of the investigators, provided considerable support with navigating their inspection database. It holds information about things like complaints, contact information, inspection scheduling, violation tracking, etc. We utilized a software called Power BI that allowed us to measure how many cases had been received, how many were being worked on, who they were assigned to and how long they had been open for.
We discovered that each of the six investigators on the team had over 50 active cases. Many of them had been ongoing for months, and in some cases, years. Once case had been open since 2002!
After more a comprehensive analysis, we discovered that the biggest contributor to the overwhelming workload was the rate of re-inspections, which averaged between seven and 10 per active case. This meant that each investigator was visiting case locations an average of seven to 10 times, and was ultimately causing the cases to stay open much longer than needed.
The first action we took was to implement a bi-weekly supervisor check-in, which allowed each investigator to review the cases that had been open the longest. We used the inspection data to rank cases by how many days they had been active, from longest to shortest. They were able to discover some common themes as a team, and implement changes and improvements that ultimately reduced their re-inspection rate down to around three to four per open case.
After a few months of innovation, their active case load was reduced to around 24 cases per investigator – 50% reduction! The decrease in re-inspections allowed them more time to focus on their enforcement consistency, which also increased dramatically.
Now back to my point about empathy. The overwhelming workload was not caused maliciously or due to incompetence or any lack of skills. It developed simply because specific bits of information about their work was hard to access and analyze. Once the useful data became easily accessible by staff and management, empathy for each other made its way through each member of the team. A sense of common understanding took shape and the feelings of frustration started to melt away.
This is the power of data – it can lead you in a lot of positive directions, including toward empathy.