The Circle is Born

Karen Westendorp, Christina Hadera, Hilary Thompson, and Amy Lowell (pictured in the same order above) all work for the Office of Human Relations (OHR) and all happened to be participants in Black Belt Cohort 86. OHR is a department that strongly emphasizes innovation among its employees, regularly sending staff to trainings and submitting innovations. They saw this as an opportunity to get together and create a support system for their innovations in the form of an accountability circle.

This accountability circle immediately set a goal to have each person in the group earn their Black Belt Certification before their next HR Community Meeting. With a goal in mind and a support system established, the group set forth to innovate.

The Innovations

Karen Westendorp

Innovation: Quarterly Manager Meeting Check List


Karen implemented a checklist and plus/delta sessions to each of her meetings in order to establish a better structure and get feedback to make each meaning more meaningful than the last.


This innovation saved $750 in Annual Soft Savings through reducing the time spent on these meetings by 2.5 hours per quarter. There has also been an increase in productivity of the meetings and a better sense of value in running the meetings.

Christina Hadera

Innovation: “So many things, so little time” Kanban


Christina implemented a visual management board meant to track her various projects, tasks, and recruitment action items from start to finished. The aim of this board was to better prioritize what tasks to work on each day and reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed.


This innovation saved $3,800 in Annual Soft Savings which amounts to 130 hours of time saved per year. The innovation now makes it easier for her to support her peers by saving time on her end and it also makes it easier for her peers to support her by making it clear where they can jump in and help.

Hilary Thompson

Innovation: Workspace 6-S


Hilary began her 6-S by identifying items in her workspace that were unnecessary, unorganized, or irrelevant to the current tasks she was working on. She then established a system for where items should go and how her ideal clutter-free space should look like.


This innovation was able to save her time searching through items and documents needed for her day-to-day tasks. It also helped greatly reduce the amount of stress that comes from an unorganized workspace.

Amy Lowell

Innovation: OHR Delivered Letter Return


Amy implemented a process flow and created standard work for the movement of signed disciplinary letters between herself, superintendents, and supervisors. This helped to establish a consistent timeframe for action to be taken and eliminate excessive waiting.


This innovation saved $26,719 in Annual Soft Savings by significantly reducing her touch time per letter. It also drastically reduced the wait time by about 29 days, 1 hour and 45 minutes. This helps to help the City and County of Denver act proactively when issues occur and frees up more time for her to handle other tasks.

Bright Spot Q&A

Tell us a little about yourself; What should the world know about you?

Karen Westendorp: I grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota and learned from an early age the importance of hard work and community. I married my high school sweetheart (twice!) and our three rescue dogs are my heart! I love murder mysteries (movies and books) and true crime. My work and life philosophy is – I believe that each of us can develop beyond where we are today and that when we work together to solve problems we learn more and go further than when we try to tackle issues alone.

Christina Hadera: I am a communication guru. I love building relationships and enjoy meeting new people. I believe that I can have a conversation with literally any one, and make a meaningful, genuine connection. With this skill, I have been able to endeavor in so many amazing opportunities that have changed my life. I am amazed when I travel the world and can interact with various cultures and languages.

Hilary Thompson: I’ve been with CCD for almost 3 years; I started as an on-call in the Department of Safety in August 2016 and then came over to OHR in January 2017. I grew up in Montana and lived in both Minnesota and Delaware before moving to Denver in August 2015. Fun fact, before becoming a recruiter, I became an All-American triple jumper in college (meaning I placed in the top 8 at a nationals meet – I got 3rd!). I wasn’t even planning on participating in track & field in college. If it wasn’t for some sneaky persuasion from my father and the track coach (they got me thinking it was my idea to join the team), I wouldn’t have ever thought to achieve that accomplishment. Just don’t ask me to be athletic now, all that ability dissipated once I graduated college 😊.

Amy Lowell: I am an Employee Relations Partner with The City and County of Denver. I love helping people, coaching and training, and improving work environments for employees. I have a passion for Human Resources, and am excited to continue using the skills I learned from receiving my Black Belt certification to come up with new improvements throughout the City.

What about your innovation are you most proud of?

Karen Westendorp: It has helped me focus in on a task I do every quarter and make it less stressful. Lowering stress is a great accomplishment in my world!

Christina Hadera: The innovation I am most proud of is my “So many things, so little time.” This innovation helped me with organizing my to do list. By utilizing my white-board to determine what items are to do, in progress and complete, I not only have a visual for myself, but my peers can also know more about my work-load and see if I need assistance.

Hilary Thompson: My innovation was a simple, quick win – 6S of my workspace. It was cluttered and had stacks of irrelevant documents from before I even started. I’m most proud that “everything has a home and there’s a home for everything” and that my workspace no longer adds to my stress-level or hinders my productivity at work.

Amy Lowell: I’m proud that such a little change can have a great impact. By changing a small step in the process, saved me weeks’ worth of wait time.

What advice do you have for other innovators or people seeking to innovate in the future?

Karen Westendorp: Find a friend to hold you accountable, to check in with you and offer support. Meeting with someone who can listen to your ideas will help you troubleshoot and make more progress. You don’t need to do this on your own – there is a whole community of innovators out here to support you!

Christina Hadera: Accountability partners are the most important! I was so excited when I saw that 3 other of my HR colleagues were participating in Black Belt training – we always checked in with one another to see how innovations were going and made a commitment that before our next HR community meeting, we would all have completed and received our Black Belt certification. Three months after training, we still check in regarding our ideas and learn about what other innovations we have implemented into our work space. This has truly been a great experience, and I was glad to go through it with people who understand the agency/department I am in – we are so similar, yet faced very different challenges that were all a result of effecting the bigger picture.

Hilary Thompson: Sometimes all it takes is a simple, quick win to get the innovative juices flowing. Having big goals is great, but they usually take a lot of time, work and stakeholders, so being able to accomplish “little” things can help keep you motivated to accomplish that big thing.

Amy Lowell: No improvement is too small. You may think that a small change isn’t worth it, but it really can be. Especially when you have multiple tiny changes, it really adds up and makes a huge difference.

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