After Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers was sworn in back in 2007, the state Judicial Branch's first long term-strategic plan was initiated and a Public Service and Trust Commission created.
The panel vowed to enhance the public's confidence in the Judicial Branch. Following the commission's initial strategic report, the Judicial Branch announced its new core values – integrity, fairness, respect and professionalism.
At the time, it just seemed like a series of buzzwords in a lengthy report tackling more pressing issues like the ever-increasing number of self-represented parties using the court system.
But now those core values are prompting action. More than 400 managers in the Judicial Branch's Court Operations system are receiving training about how to bring those values in their daily jobs. By next year, there will be workshops for regular staffers.
The program is called the Pillars of Service Excellence. Each pillar represents one of the core values.
"The goal of the program is to make the four values part of the Judicial Branch culture, so when the public interacts with employees….they exemplify those goals," said Joseph D. D'Alesio, executive director for the Judicial Branch's Superior Court Operations Division.
D'Alesio explained that the commission conducted focus groups and surveys of court users, with more than 1,500 people offering opinions. That input was the basis for specific improvements made in the court system, as well as for the formulation of core values. "We just wanted to make sure we addressed what was important to our stakeholders, not what we thought was important but what they thought was important," said D'Alesio.
The Pillars of Service Excellence program won't cost the Judicial Branch much, as officials found their own internal do-it yourself-ers to implement it, rather than paying exorbitant rates to a consulting group. "If we ever had to pay a consulting group to develop a program like we have, it'd be tens of thousands, if not over $100,000. This was basically done over a shoestring," D'Alesio said.
He added that administrators have volunteered to work nights and weekends to help implement the program.
Last month at Central Connecticut State University, about 1,250 court operations division employees took part in an initial "Leading the Way" program.
"We wanted employees to understand that they are integral to the Branch's success in delivering services the people of Connecticut expect," said Michael Kokoszka, the Judicial Branch's acting director of staff development.
Kokoszka said officials knew they needed to keep the presentation lively to keep interest and get the message across. He said they purposely avoided the overdone PowerPoint presentation, as he did not want employees to sit through the roughly 2.5 hours "and come away with nothing."
So the employees were shown a "multi-media presentation" that included various movie clips to illustrate examples of the four core values. "We knew it couldn't look like any other presentation we'd ever done," said Diane E. Hatfield, deputy director of the Judicial Marshal Academy in the Superior Court Operations Division. "We really had to wow them."
She added: "Also, we verbally tied in what concepts we tried to portray with video and told them, you play the lead role in this very important story."
Kokoszka said the livelier video was "a path not taken by the Branch before."
"It was a way to keep employees engaged step by step through the process and added a level of excitement to the audience," said Kokoszka. "They didn't get tired halfway through."
Officials emphasized that the result is as important as the process.
"We're trying to make sure our employees understand…it's not more nameless faces going through the metal detector but to see them as people coming into our court each with their own unique story," said Kokoszka. "And that we were playing the lead role in that story in our attempt to try to understand their situation and provide a service, if possible, that will mend the situation."
Kokosza said the presentation addressed such topics as cultural sensitivity, ethical behavior, and the importance of understanding emotional and nonverbal cues. "So all of us as employees acting ethically over and over would add to the Branch's integrity," said Kokoszka.
D'Alesio stressed that the program wasn't implemented because Judicial Branch employees are doing anything wrong. Instead, officials are simply trying to do more to please the public. "They do a tremendous job under a lot of pressure," D'Alesio said, referring to the employees, many of whom work in departments with staffing shortages. "We're refining skills everybody has."
To date, mainly managers have received the majority of the training sessions. Workshops with groups of 20 to 25 employees will take place over the coming year.
"We don't want to call it training," said D'Alesio. "Some of it is role-playing. We try to look at it as a facilitated discussion where a facilitator puts concepts out to the group and the group reacts to it, rather than sitting there and being told what integrity and professionalism means."
The curriculum for non-supervisory staff members is still being developed. Topics will include the importance of teamwork and how to be culturally sensitive in an office setting. For some workers, the sessions will be even more job-specific. For instance, clerks will discuss the importance of keeping files confidential.
D'Alesio said the program will likely continue on into the foreseeable future. In the meantime, the Judicial Branch will try to get more feedback from the public about how the court system is operating and what can be done better. That information will help officials tailor future programs.
"This will not end, hopefully," said D'Alesio.•