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Connecting Culture to Celebrate and Commemorate Employee Accomplishments in Scottsdale, Arizona


by Brent Stockwell, Assistant City Manager, City of Scottsdale, Arizona

Employee recognition that also makes a connection to the city's history is one way that the City of Scottsdale creates an innovation culture.

The City of Scottsdale, Arizona (pop. 240,000) is an organization committed to exemplary service to residents and visitors as evidenced in the mission statement, “Simply Better Service for a World-Class Community.” Long-standing traditions have supported and strengthened this commitment to excellence, including the annual employee awards program held at the Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts each December, the symbolic awarding of Hopi Kachina carvings representing the Scottsdale Employee Values to employees and teams who have modeled the values over the previous year, and the selection of unique years-of-service gifts to connect and celebrate Scottsdale’s history.

Assisting a single mother in crisis. Rescuing victims of domestic violence. Supporting LGBT issues through advocacy efforts and new events. Those are just some of the actions over the past year by Scottsdale employees honored in December for their outstanding work performance and commitment to the Scottsdale community. In all, 25 employees were honored at Scottsdale’s annual Employee Awards Program. The winners were among 222 employees nominated in various categories from the total workforce of more than 2,600 employees.

The annual employee awards ceremony, held in an 800-seat theater, is Scottsdale’s version of the Academy Awards. Individual and team achievement is recognized along with lifetime achievement (years-of-service awards). It is wrapped up with a series of fun videos that model an informal slogan to “you’re your job seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.” Puppets, Jib Jab, and Darth Vader have all made appearances in recent ceremonies to poke fun at management and shared experiences (“inside jokes”), but also to launch city-wide campaigns such as the city-wide customer service initiative. 

What do Scottsdale employees have to say about this tradition? These responses were provided in the post-event survey conducted after the most recent employee awards ceremony.

“The event is a great way to remind us all why we are public servants and why we do what we do. It's not only a great way to recognize our employees, but also a wonderful way to motivate and re-energize folks to keep doing a great job.”

“I am a new employee from [another local city]. I truly felt Scottsdale was for all the employees and that those employees matter. I like how you acknowledge all the nominees versus just the winners… For me this sets a tone of how I am viewed as a valuable asset to this city.”

For almost 30 years, Kachinas have been a symbol of recognition for the City Manager’s Awards of Excellence in Scottsdale. Kachinas (sometimes called katsinas) are hand carved wooden figures representing various Hopi ceremonial dancers. Initiated Hopi carvers spend about four days carving cottonwood root to create just one Kachina. These intricately carved figures are highly regarded by the Hopi people, and are each a hand-crafted work of art.

The Hopi recognize several hundred varieties of Kachinas. Authentic Kachinas are easily identifiable by their colors, types and arrangements of feathers, tools, weapons and other accessories. Typically, the Hopi give Kachinas at their winter celebration as a tool for teaching their culture’s tradition. Traditionally, Kachinas were reserved within the Hopi culture, but are now produced and shared as art objects for all to enjoy.

These figures with their rich cultural background have been presented to select employees at Scottsdale’s winter celebration – the Scottsdale Employee Awards. The tradition continues and each December, special employees or teams of employees are honored with a Kachina for outstanding achievement in exemplifying Scottsdale’s Employee Values.

In 2016, 222 employees were nominated to receive Kachinas, based on the city’s eight employee values:

  • Show Caring & Compassion for Others;
  • Listen, Communicate, Take Action;
  • Be Accountable & Act with Integrity;
  • Collaborate as a Team;
  • Focus on Quality Customer Service;
  • Plan & Innovate for the Future; and
  • Learn & Grow Continuously;
  • Respect the Individual

Kachinas were selected for several reasons. It was appropriate to choose awards that uniquely relate to the Southwest. Kachinas were first created centuries ago by Pueblo Indians (ancient ancestors of the Hopi tribe) to enhance their quality of life. Each Kachina has a different narrative or role that encourages good values, behavior and a balanced environment – critical issues that affect all of us today, and as timely as they were hundreds of years ago.

It seems appropriate that each December Scottsdale employees gather for an important occasion, the Employee Awards Ceremony. Kachina “spirits,” impersonated by people dressed in elaborate costumes, also visit Hopi villages each December which marks the beginning of a great festival. People decorate their homes, share feasts and games, give and receive gifts. There is much celebrating, dancing, singing and storytelling. It is the winter ceremony – Soyaluna – which means “all assembly.”

There is also an important link to Kachinas in that each “spirit” has an importance in the community. Each role interacts with the next to ensure a better quality of life for the people, wildlife and the land itself. As employees, we also have specific jobs to do, yet like the Kachinas, there is a great amount of cooperative interactions between work units, divisions and departments to provide high quality service to the community. The hard work and commitment that is evident in terms of what has been accomplished embodies Scottsdale’s commitment to Simply Better Service for a World-Class Community. For example, the Kachina “Butterfly Girl” that helps all insects cross-pollinate all the crops was selected to represent the Employee Value “Focus on Quality Customer Service.”

In addition, the dedication of city employees is a big part of why Scottsdale has earned its reputation as a world-class community. The City's years of service award program recognizes employees who dedicate substantial years, if not an entire career, to serve this community. Employees celebrating significant service milestones are recognized through the Years of Service Recognition Program. Employees hitting those milestones receive a gift at the City’s annual Employee Awards Ceremony that connects their years of service to the city of Scottsdale with Scottsdale as a place.

For example, employees celebrating 5, 10, 15 and 20 years with the city receive a solid brass challenge coin commemorating each anniversary with a significant person or location in Scottsdale’s history. Employees celebrating 25 years of service receive mini brand of “The West’s Most Western Town,” handcrafted by George Cavalliere at the downtown Scottsdale blacksmith shop that has borne his family’s name since 1909, and employees celebrating 35 years of service to Scottsdale are each presented with a handcrafted key to the city by the Mayor.

The time and effort that goes into a high-quality awards ceremony, along with the intentionality behind presenting meaningful works of Native art to high-performing employees, and the selection of thoughtful mementos for long-serving employees are all designed to demonstrate Scottsdale’s commitment to the employees who comprise its workforce, without whom the City’s longstanding reputation for outstanding service to the community would not be possible.

Each 12” Kachina is hand carved by local Hopi artist Kevin Horace-Quannie and cost $390. The entire Employee Awards Ceremony, including recognition awards and plaques, years of service awards, breakfast for 800, and equipment and facility rental cost $21,505 in 2016. The Employee Values and pictures of each of the Kachina carvings may be viewed online at ScottsdaleAZ.gov, search “Employee Values.” Kevin and his art were also featured on an episode of “How It’s Made.” In addition, the artist has painted Kachinas representing each of the Employee Values and they hang proudly in the City Manager’s Conference Room as a reminder of their significance. The Scottsdale City Hall, also known as the “Kiva” was also designed in the late-1960s by a local architect who used the Hopi community gathering place, also known as the Kiva, as his inspiration for the seat of Scottsdale’s City Government.

Contact Brent Stockwell, Scottsdale’s Assistant City Manager, 480-312-7288

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Jurisdictions

City of Scottsdale, AZ