In January 2013, Governor Gary Herbert set out a vision for the performance of state agencies. Led by the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB), the State of Utah has developed the SUCCESS framework, which provides a structure and the tools for executive agencies to improve government operations and services by 25% using a combination of quality, cost and throughput.
The Labor Commission currently has implemented the SUCCESS framework in 6 areas within our agency: Adjudication, Employment & Housing Discrimination, Wage Claims, Boiler Inspections, Elevator Inspections, and Workers Compensation Policy Compliance.
From these six systems, the Commission has shown a 54% improvement in performance over the past 18 months. This is accomplished by setting measurable goals and targets, applying tools and principles modeled upon the Theories of Constraints, creating a strategy, applying the strategy, engaging staff at all levels, synchronizing policy and projects and, finally, staying focused. It may be helpful to see some tangible examples of how the SUCCESS framework is being applied in the Labor Commission:
Industrial Accidents/Policy Unit
The workers' compensation policy unit was chosen by the Industrial Accidents Division to be part of the Governor's SUCCESS project. The policy unit is responsible for verifying that employers that are required to have workers compensation do so, or issue a penalty for noncompliance. This is done by correlating records from the Department of Workforce Services (DWS) and from the insurance carriers. The policy system matches the employers with their workers’ compensation policy. When an employer has employees and the policy system cannot find a workers’ compensation policy, an investigation is created.
The first step to increasing our efficiency was to evaluate all job duties of the policy unit and categorize them. While doing this, we realized our investigators were spending significant time performing data clean up, corresponding with the public, and locating noncompliant employers. The Industrial Accidents Division created two distinct jobs within the policy unit. The first would do all the data clean up, take all the phone calls, and verify that the investigators would only focus on truly noncompliant employers. The second job function would take the investigations that had been verified as valid and pursue investigations to determine whether or not the employer is not compliant with statutory requirements to provide workers' compensation insurance.
By implementing this new process, we were able to increase the number of employers that gained worker compliance by 19%. Additionally, investigations of non-compliant employers increased by 33% per investigator.
The second step was to look at the investigation process, and see if there were any efficiencies that could be made to the investigation process itself. There was room for improvement with the time frame of our process, which was streamlined by eliminating lengthy response periods, creating form letters and templates, and clarifying our internal policies and procedures. These efficiencies cut the average investigation period from approximately 72 days to 50 days.
Starting in the summer of 2013, the Adjudication Division underwent a detailed examination of every step in its processes from intake to case closure. In doing so, the Division identified several areas where improvements could be made. For example, typically, judges were scheduled with 16 hearings every week, which meant they did not have enough undisturbed blocks of time in which to write decisions. Instead, their attention was routinely refocused from writing decisions, to hearing cases, and then back to writing. This forced multitasking was not efficient. So, starting in September 2013, the Division moved to a new hearing calendar: each judge conducts one week of hearings, followed by two undisturbed weeks of writing decisions. Surprising, this new system resulted in a slight increase in the average number of hearings conducted (from 20/month to 21.6).
The real improvement came in the timeliness of decisions. Prior to the change, 38% of all final decisions were issued within 60 days. Now, that percentage has increased to 94%. The Division has also implemented many other process improvements from re-designed templates, standardizing medical records exhibits, conducting trainings, hiring new medical panel chairs, and creating model medical panel questions, etc. The Division has also implemented a better tracking process and incorporated reportable measures to make sure it is operating as efficiently as possible. These measurables include the age of cases, the rate decisions are upheld on appeal, the number of cases closed and the number of decisions issued monthly. Overall, the Division has achieved a 49.5% improvement in efficiency in just under 2 years.
The Commission will continue to implement the SUCCESS Framework. Our focus will continue to be on more efficient processing of cases while maintaining quality and reducing our backlog. We look forward to reporting on our successful efforts.