Project Description

Fostering Self-Sufficiency to Improve Lives

Department of Human Assistance – Sacramento

"They [DHA employees] are all surprised, and profoundly grateful, that a government organization would invest in their employees by offering this curriculum. It has so much applicability to their personal lives that most people start by using the tools at home, and they can't believe that we are doing this for them. I share that I think that if they are doing well, and feel good about themselves and what they're doing, that also benefits the organization."

-Ann Edwards, Director of the Department of Human Assistance, Sacramento, CA


The Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance (DHA) oversees a broad spectrum of programs and services, all designed to transition people from public assistance to independence and self-sufficiency. With 12 locations, the department offers a range of programs to their community, including employment services, housing, health care, transportation, homeless services, education, and childcare assistance. Constantly committed to their core purpose of improving lives, Sacramento DHA serves an average of over 400,000 community members per month and operates with a budget of over $700M.

The department, which consists of more than 2,000 employees, two deputy directors, and seven division managers, is led by Director of Human Assistance, Ann Edwards. With over 20 years’ experience in health and human services, Edwards was appointed to the position in 2014, after serving as the Director of Social Services for Solano County.

When Edwards first joined the organization, she made several observations about the current state of the culture. “Growing the culture has been a challenge, but a challenge worth taking. When I first got here, one of the things I noticed is that all of the programs we administer are very rules driven. There are rigid rules around every single program we offer, and, as a result of that, the culture within the organization was rigid and rules driven.” Edwards’ observations would later be confirmed in the findings of a culture survey that was administered to a large portion of the department.

Knowing the importance organizational culture has on outcomes, Edwards began to share her vision of alignment within the department. This shift in mindset, however, did not come easily to the rest of the team. Edwards recalled, “I felt like a lone soldier trying to make this change. People thought I was crazy – focusing on how we treat each other rather than our performance metrics. I don’t ignore the performance, but I am a firm believer that if we get these other things right, then the performance will be even better.”

Edwards also notes that it was very important that she and the executive team, comprised of 10 members, were in alignment and consistent in their mission. Shortly after she arrived, Edwards recalls that the misalignment between them became evident. Program managers – who report up to members of the executive team – were constantly challenged that the executive group was not on the same page.

Edwards was first introduced to The Pacific Institute® (TPI) through Terrie Porter, Sacramento’s Director of the Department of Child Support Services, who was in the process of implementing TPI’s mindsetting curriculum – Investment In Excellence® (IIE®) - within her department. Edwards attended the workshop with Porter’s employees and recollects her initial reactions about experiencing the program. “I fell in love instantly. I have a master’s degree in counseling, and I am a licensed marriage and family therapist, so I have had a lot of training in these kinds of things. But one of the things that struck me about this – very often you go to a training, and you leave, and you are pumped up and excited, and then you get back home, or to the office, and you’re not sure what to do. What I loved about IIE®, is there are concrete tools that can be used immediately, and I think that makes all the difference in the world. You can use the tools or not, and I choose to use them. Most trainings don’t offer that.”


Edwards decided that her first strategy was to partner with The Pacific Institute®. And, to ensure that there were measurable benchmarks as they embarked upon their culture journey, Edwards used the Organizational Cultural Inventory (OCI®) survey with her staff to assess the initial culture. The results solidified her initial perception that the culture was defensive, rigid, and fear-based.

Since she had previously experienced TPI’s curriculum, Edwards introduced Investment In Excellence® to her department. The program was required for all managers, and voluntary for the rest of the organization. Edwards started the intense culture work first with her executive team and spent two years working with them to align and unite their group. A TPI senior consultant was brought in to facilitate the process of alignment, and they laboriously crafted the department’s mission, vision, and values. As a part of those executive discussions, it was also uncovered that there was an element of fear among the members, left over from past circumstances, and, after reflection and conversation, those limiting beliefs began to be addressed.

Two years later, in 2017, Edwards conducted another OCI® survey to measure their progress. She was thrilled to discover that the results had improved since the last survey.

As a result of the second survey, a culture team was created, which included members from multiple levels of the organization. The executive team and the culture team then went out to every location in the organization and presented the findings of the culture survey. Then, the team created what they called “Culture Cafes” - where the culture team visited every location and set up a café-type environment, with coffee, treats and individual tables. Every single staff member was invited, and the goal was to get input from everyone at all levels of the organization on how to address the findings of the most recent survey.

The response was tremendous! It took several months, but the team received over 6,000 suggestions. There was so much data that they needed to hire researchers to sort and compile all the information. As a result of the department’s monumental work, a new strategic plan was born, with the number one priority of creating a supportive work environment.

Edwards is currently implementing the new plan throughout the entire organization. As she reflects on their work, she states, “Staff are excited. I have received tons of emails from staff after they participated in a Culture Café saying, “We actually feel like you are listening to us and really want our input.” That was one of the criticisms - that it’s a top down organization. Nobody asks us what we think. We have good ideas, and we’re the ones doing the work. So, now we are listening to them and asking them to come up with the plan on how to implement it.” In addition, each location has identified a culture ambassador to maintain the focus on culture. These ambassadors are key to the rollout of the organization’s new strategy.


DHA’s core values are simple yet powerful: Compassion, Integrity, Trust and Innovation – represented by the acronym CITI. Now, people talk about CITI values throughout the organization, and everyone knows what they are. The employees have created a “CITI Values Recognition Program” where a person can submit a recommendation for a team member who is exemplifying one of these values. At the end of the year, there is a large evening ceremony honoring those who went above and beyond demonstrating the values. CITI T-shirts, pins and lanyards have even been created to celebrate the core values at the heart of the organization. Edwards proudly states, “It’s been really exciting to watch. When we interview people now for internal promotions, they talk about our values. It has just sunken into the organization in a way that I just could not have imagined.”

Edwards continues to offer IIE® to her staff through internal facilitators. So far, over 900 employees have participated in the education, and there is almost always a waiting list to attend. She makes every effort to attend the end of every session, in every workshop that’s delivered. Those who have participated in IIE® continue to set up opportunities to support one another with the concepts and share their experiences. Edwards commented, “At the end of the IIE® training, almost every time, there are one or two people who say, ‘You know, we now have more tools to help our customers feel confident that they can get off welfare, get a job, and make their lives better.’”

Even employee performance is addressed differently – choosing to focus on coaching vs. discipline. “We have employees who make mistakes, and in the past, they would have been disciplined for making them. We talk about mistakes being an educational learning process, and people are becoming less fearful. Now, there are times when it is necessary and appropriate to have a disciplinary action against an employee. But the first step, particularly around a mistake, should be coaching. We are embracing coaching first and believing in positive intent. Our staff comes to work with positive intentions and wanting to do well, and we remind ourselves of that.” The most significant change, however, has been within the executive team. Edwards commended the strength of her team, stating, “I have an executive team that is in lockstep with me. That is beginning to make a difference, and the goal is to now drive that down deeper into the organization.”


Edwards has a very clear vision for her department, “People who use our services don’t have a choice. We are the only option in town to receive benefits. Ever since I arrived, my mantra has been around customer service. We need to provide a great customer experience. People come to us when they’re sometime at the lowest place in their lives, and we want to treat them with dignity and respect.”

To support this vision, Edwards and her team redesigned the call center experience to make the customer comfortable, and ultimately, transition people off aid and into self-sufficiency. Customers were interviewed and surveyed to gather information about their experiences, their needs, and how they want to be served. This will allow the department to perform more journey mapping to ensure that their services are more accessible and that the customer is well taken care of. The department is now also beginning the process of tracking their customer assistance and their success at moving people to independence.

As well as focusing on the customer service aspect, Edwards hopes to bring IIE® into their official onboarding process and comments that her goal is for everyone to feel that Sacramento DHA is a great place to work. She wants her team to feel good about the organizational culture and the way they are treated. The plan is to launch another culture survey within the next few years to measure the result of the current initiatives.

Edwards is clearly passionate about her mission within the department, and ultimately wants a legacy where both customers and employees feel great about the work being done within the department. She concludes by saying, “It’s been fun. It’s been a lot of work, and it can be discouraging at times, but I am really proud of the progress that we have made, and I’m confident that we will get there.”

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