First day back to work at MnDOT

After 20 days of the Minnesota government shutdown, I was contacted by my supervisor yesterday afternoon (July 20) to go back to work today.

The shutdown was over. The waiting was over. The anxiety was over. So was my homecation. I was happy to go back to work today. I got up early and left for work a few minutes early.

At the entrance of the Transportation building, I was, like every other employee walking in, warmly greeted by our MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel and his management team with a cheerful “Welcome back!” and a handshake or a hug. They had been waiting at different entrances shortly before 7 am when employees started to come in.

Coffee and donuts were available which added some bitter-sweet touch to the event.

Reporters from media were on site to report the event and interview people. Check out this MinnPost article MnDOT workers get a warm ‘Welcome back!’

Our office managers also handed out a hand written note from Commissioner Sorel to every employee. In the note, Sorel extended a personal welcome back and thank-you. He ended the note with “We are MnDOT!!” – a slogan and an initiative his management team created in the last couple of years.

“We are MnDOT”expresses the pride of being a MnDOT employee. “We are MnDOT” videos share stories about who we are, what we do, and what makes MnDOT great.

Later in the morning we had an office meeting to go through the checklist that the management team had worked on in the last couple of days to help employees ease back to work. Our office managers also expressed their personal welcome back and thank you.

Around 8 am, Governor Dayton stopped by at the Transportation Building to greet returning employees. At noon, he sent a thank-you note via email to all state employees.

In the afternoon at 2 pm, Commissioner Sorel and Deputy Commissioner Bernie Arseneau conducted a web cast for all employees. The web cast started with a “We are MnDOT” video. Then both leaders again welcomed everyone back to work. They shared what happened during the shutdown, talked about return to work checklists and resources, and how to resume business.

It sure felt good to be welcomed back at work and to be valued.

Thanks to Commissioner Sorel and his management team, I feel proud to be working for MnDOT and being a part of “We are MnDOT.”

“Heroes of MnDOT” honored at the State Capitol

Today MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton honored seven individuals, MnDOT’s Critical Incident Stress Management team and all 1,800 MnDOT Snow Fighters at the award ceremony of “Heroes of MnDOT,” held at the State Capitol Rotunda at 10 AM.

“The purpose of this inaugural program is to acknowledge employees who acted courageously or provided meritorious service in response to extraordinary or dangerous circumstances. I believe it is important to have such a program to recognize when our employees carry out these extraordinary acts and pause to honor their fortitude and commitment.”

2011 Heroes of Mn/DOT include:

Donald Machacek -For his selfless and quick action that saved the lives of a mother and her two children in July of 2010.

Thomas Shields – For his selfless and quick action that saved the life of an infant in December of 2006.

Julie TodoraFor her quick response that saved the life of a heart attack victim in December of 2010.

Judy Jacobs – For her extraordinary support of the City of Wadena following the June 2010 tornado.

Kristine Hernandez and Jessica WiensFor their extraordinary support of Wabasha County during the September 2010 flood relief effort.

Jolyn CrumFor her selfless and quick action that saved the life of a Mn/DOT co-worker in January of 2011.

Critical Incident Stress Management Team(DeLorah Curry, Desiree Doud, Garland Jackson , Tony Kilpela, Jason Penaz, Brad Powers, Bob Wryk, Larry Quade) – For their extraordinary support of MnDOT employees and staff during critical incidents.

Snow FightersFor their extraordinary service during the snow and ice season of 2010-2011 and for keeping the citizens of Minnesota safe.

Since Sorel became the MnDOT Commissioner in April 2008, he has proved himself as a great leader. In my eyes, he is small in stature, yet giant in character, wisdom and leadership.

Sorel has done great work at MnDOT to improve morale, team work, commitment, trust and transparency. He advocated continuously for servant leadership.

When Mark Dayton became the new governor of Minnesota, Tom Sorel was the first commissioner to be reappointed in the new administration. MnDOT employees were happy to keep him as their commissioner.

“Heroes of MnDOT” is another program Sorel initiated to show his recognition and appreciation for employees who go above and beyond their duties.

 “It always will be my honor to pay them tribute,” Sorel said.

Minnesota transportation funding

A reader raised a question in responding to yesterday’s post Let your voice be heard – Minnesota GO: “How can MN build infrastructure with a $5 billion deficit?”

I think Minnesota, or  the US in general, cannot afford not to build a better infrastructure. Even public transportation in China is much more advanced than in the US. Here is a post I wrote on this topic after my trip to China last summer.

Yes, Minnesota has an estimated $5.03 billion two-year budget deficit. But Mn/DOT’s funding comes mostly from designated sources, almost half of its funding comes from the fuel tax. Approximately 80 percent of Mn/DOT funds are appropriated by the legislature and 20 percent is statutorily appropriated.

The following charts show where Minnesota’s transportation funding comes from and where it goes (for fiscal Year 2010)

Sources of Minnesota state transportation funds

Uses of Minnesota state transportation funds

Mn/DOT is a multi-modal agency. Its activities include transit; aeronautics; freight and commercial vehicles; construction; maintenance; and operation of 12,000 miles of state highways. Approximately 30 percent of Mn/DOT’s appropriations are state aid to local governments for road and bridge projects and other activities.

*Source of information: Mn/DOT Funding and Finances

The biggest speech of my life

If you ask my kids or anyone in my family whether I am funny and have a sense of humor, they will for sure say: “No.” They can’t picture me as being funny and humorous. And that’s true.

But somehow, some people at work think differently of me. They think I can entertain people and make people laugh. That’s why I was invited to speak at the farewell party for MnDOT Deputy Commissioner Khani Sahebjam today. He was roasted by several high profile speakers from the federal, state and city governments, from the state legislature and consulting firm. 

Being invited by the MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel to speak at the event was an honor for me. I was the only female on the panel and I am no body, i.e. not someone with an important title, but I sat among the others who all have impressive titles. It was truly an honor. I was grateful for the opportunity to speak. I made the biggest speech of my life in front of 100-200 people.

Don Theisen, Washington County Public Works Director and County Engineer was among the guest speakers. I didn’t know him at all, but I took the opportunity to thank him for the work his Dept. does. Thanks partly to the nice work the Washington County and Woodbury Public Works Departments do, Woodbury made it into several Best Places to Live lists in the last few years.

Woodury does feel like a better place to live, especially after a snow day.

After we had the biggest snow storm since 1991 on December 10-11, 2010, I was able to dig my car out of my garage and drive from Woodbury to work in St. Paul on Monday, but my coworkers who live in St. Paul were not so fortunate. They couldn’t go to work in St Paul, because their streets were not plowed for a couple of days.

I enjoyed the public speaking, something I just discovered recently. It was fun to make people laugh.

Above and Beyond Award

Today the Mn/DOT Health & Wellness Committee members received the “Above and Beyond” Award presented by Commissioner Tom Sorel.

Among all the Minnesota State agencies, Mn/DOT has the most active Health & Wellness Committee that offers a wide varieties of programs to employees, such as yoga, Tai Chi, relaxation, fitness boot camp, weight watchers, the biggest losers, brown bag learning series, annual walking and running events, etc. The work is done by volunteer employees, with no financial support from the agency. 

Thanks to the creative and hard work by the committee members, most Mn/DOT H&W programs are offered free to Mn/DOT and other state employees. Some are paid by participants themselves. Mn/DOT also has a fitness center that is solely supported by membership fees.   

Mn/DOT is leading the way in promoting healthy living among state employees. Some other state agencies look up to Mn/DOT for inspiration and support.

I have enjoyed working on several H&W projects – brown bag learning sessions, Minnesota State Capitol Run@Work Day 5K, etc. Most recently we organized our first Cafe Mn/DOT. We invited employees to show their talents. It was such a fun and community-building event. People loved it.

I am glad to be part of the Mn/DOT H&W Committee.  Today we were all very thankful that our Commissioner came to present the recognition award to us, along with the Human Resources Director Eric Davis and  Employee & Corporate ServicesDivision Director Pam Tschida.  

This is the first time that the H&W Committee members were recognized with the Above and Beyond Award. It really shows Sorel’s commitment and support for making Mn/DOT a workplace of choice.

Sorel has done a great job at Mn/DOT in the last two year. We are happy that he will stay for the next few years under the new governor Mark Dayton.

Highlight of the day

I was just checking my Facebook account in the evening and saw the following question posted by tinybuddha:

“Share your joy! What’s been the highlight of your day?”

In the comment line I wrote: “Spoke in front of a crowd and discovered that I have some sense of humor and can make people laugh.”

Today I did something out of ordinary, or out of my comfort zone, and in the process I discovered something new about myself.

I am an introvert. I grew up in a family where no one is very talkative.

My father is the best handyman I know in the world, but he is not a man of word. He is quiet and doesn’t talk much.

My mother is a math teacher at school. So she talks more than my father. But I don’t remember her being very talkative either.

My brother and I are more like my father. We are all introverts and quiet.     

None of us had any sense of humor. There were not much joking and laughter at home.

Since coming to the U.S. almost 20 years ago, I think I have changed a little. Though still an introvert at heart, I have picked up some extrovert traits. I am not as shy and quiet as I used to be. I feel comfortable talking to people, even strangers.   

But being humorous? Not me. Public speaking? Not me.

I am so much more comfortable with written words than spoken words.

Today we had a Library Grand Reopening Celebration at Mn/DOT Library where I work (More info is available in the Dec. 8, 2010 issue of Mn/DOT Newsline). We had invited guest speakers including 

  • Tom Sorel, MnDOT Commissioner
  • Bernie Arseneau, Division Director
  • Nick Thompson, Office Director
  • Linda Taylor, Research Services Director
  • Sheila Hatchell, Library Director

In the last few weeks and months the library staff had worked hard on the remodeling project and in preparation for this event.

Last night as I was laying in bed feeling excited about this big day ahead, I wondered what it would be like to speak in front of a crowd, standing next to the big guns in the organization. Would I have the courage to do it? 

The more I thought about it, the more I felt like that I could do it. At least I could give it a try.

So this morning before the event began, I talked to my supervisor Sheila and volunteered to present the prize drawing at the end of the formal speeches, which I did.

It turned out that I did a great job, to my surprise and probably everyone’s surprise. I brought people to laugh a lot.

Afterwards I got many positive comments, and a nice big hug from our great commissioner for a job well done.

My heart was filled with joy, because I did something I had never done before that brought joy and laughter to others.

This was the highlight of my day.  It could be the highlight of the week or month.

 

MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel at Library Grand Reopening Celebration. Dec. 15, 2010

Tom Sorel stays as MnDOT Commissioner

Today Governor-elect Mark Dayton announced that Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel will continue his post under his new administration.

This was not a surprise to me. I heard rumors before the official announcement that Sorel would stay. That’s what I hoped and expected.

As the MnDOT Commissioner since 2008, Sorel is well respected and liked by MnDOT employees and people in the transportation community.

Like some other MnDOT employees, I also sent my comment of support for Sorel to Mark Dayton via his website a couple of weeks ago.  

I was not surprised that Sorel was Dayton’s first appointment as governor-elect. I guess it was an easy decision. With strong support from inside and outside of the organization, from both parties, from public and private sectors, and from unions, Sorel was obviously the best choice.

When the announcement was made, I heard cheering from some co-workers.

Tom Sorel lives with his wife and son in Woodbury.

The following are two interviews I did with Sorel.

Interview with Mn/DOT Commissioner Tom Sorel (Feburary 2010)

Meet the new MnDOT commish (June 2008)

Interview with MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel

Recently I have the pleasure of working with Minnesota Dept. of Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel and his staff to create the Commissioners’ Reading Corner to promote reading, learning, and servant leadership within MnDOT.

Sorel’s article “Enhancing our leadership skills, one book at a time,” a list of his recommended books on leadership, and my interview with him on the first book in the series titled “Drawing leadership inspiration from Muhammad Ali and other” are available in the Feb. 24, 2010 issue of MnDOT Newsline, a biweekly employee e-newsletter posted on the MnDOT Newsline website.

More information including my complete interview with Sorel on reading is posted on the MnDOT’s internal website which is not accessible to the general public. I have posted it below.

A previous interview I did with Sorel published in Woodbury Bulletin on June 11, 2008 titled “Meet the new MnDOT commish” can be view here.

I created an account on www.Goodreads.com and posted the list of Sorel’s recommended books here.

Interview with Commissioner Tom Sorel

2/8/2010

Tang: Commissioner, I know you are an avid reader. You read a lot and often recommend books to others at meetings. What has influenced you to be a reader?

Sorel: I was a typical boy while growing up. I was active in sports and other things. I didn’t read a lot. Reading came to me later in life.

Tang: What was the turning point?

Sorel: The turning point came when I was working on my MBA at Thomas College in Maine. I had to read a lot of books on leadership, management, organizational development, business strategy, etc. Reading expanded my mind to other areas. At one point in my life I even read a fair amount of poetry. The more I read, the more I enjoy reading. I became addicted to it.

Tang: When it comes to reading, who has influenced you the most?

Sorel: When I was at FHWA, I noticed that I respected certain kinds of people who had some common traits. They were leaders in upper management who were avid readers and good storytellers, people like Federal Highway Administrators Thomas Larson and Rick Capka, U.S. Secretaries of Transportation Rodney Slater and Mary Peters. Because of them, I was inspired to read more.

Tang: How has reading and books helped shape your thinking and your life?

Sorel: When I read, I pick up thoughts and ideas that apply to work or personal life. Reading about the journey of others can increase knowledge, enrich lives and even save marriages. Reading makes me a better rounded person, positively affecting my work and family life. I am a better leader, a better communicator, a better husband and a better father because of continuous reading, reflection, and learning.

Tang: Tell us a little bit about your reading habits.

Sorel: I read every day, and more when I travel. I read trade publications to keep myself informed about what’s going on in the industry. I often take my 8 year old son to book stores (he reads everything there is to read about the Vikings!) and pick some books on leadership for myself while we’re there.

Tang: Do you have any favorite author?

Sorel: Not really. I will generally pick up a book for the topic. One of my favorite business books is “Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success.” For leisure reading, I like mystery, and my favorite author is James Patterson.

Tang: What do you want to achieve with this Commissioner’s Reading Corner?

Sorel: I want to encourage Commissioner’s staff and all MnDOT employees to read or read more, to help MnDOT become a learning organization. I would like this to reflect what we are trying to do at MnDOT, to build servant leadership and to serve the citizens in Minnesota.

I hope the Commissioner’s Reading Corner can provide a central place, a focal point for people to find books, and provide a more personal and safe environment for people to come together to share their thoughts and ideas. It will also provide an environment for people to “explore” and expand their thinking on various topics.

On the 1st recommended book:

Letters from leaders: personal advice for tomorrow’s leaders from the world’s most influential people by Henry Dormann, 2009.

Tang: Why did you pick Letters from Leaders as your first recommended book in the series?

Sorel: This book is a collection of letters and advice from some of the most successful leaders around the world. Each letter is very short. It’s easy to read and discuss. So I think it is a good start.

Tang: What part of this book inspired you the most? Can you share some quotes from the book that struck you personally, left a big impression and made you reread it, pause and think for a moment.

Sorel: Three individuals and their letters stand out for me.

Muhammad Ali was my hero when I was a boy. He talks about life as a journey and a great adventure. We should have fun and laugh. He says:” I worked hard and then worked some more, trying to be the best that I could possibly be at what I was doing. I learned that tough times are a part of our journey in this life, but that challenges make life interesting. Even though it can be painful and frightening at the time, the greater the obstacle, the more glorious the moment of success… It is also important to have fun. I enjoyed my life. No matter where I was or what I was doing, I took the positive from the experience and lived in the moment, connecting with the people around.”

Dalai Lama talks about love and compassion that we don’t hear much in the business world: “The key to a happier world is the growth of compassion. We do not need to become religious, nor do we need to believe in an ideology. What is necessary is for each of us to develop our good human qualities. We must all learn to work not just for our own self, family, or nation, but for the benefit of all humankind.”

US Congress representative Diana DeGette talks about the benefit of changing lives. She says: “Whatever your interest is – whether science, public health, military affairs, or the environment – you can immerse yourself and have a fulfilling career that also has the benefit of changing lives.”

Tang: How has reading this book opened your mind and broadened your perspective?

Sorel: It made me think what I want my legacy to be. I want to share knowledge. I feel a sense of social responsibility and obligation to share what I have learned and know, to pass on the knowledge to the younger generation, at the same time learning from them. We are all leaders in some way, with opportunities to influence and change lives.

Tang: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and knowledge. I am looking forward to reading with you, learning and growing, and making Mn/DOT a learning and growing organization.

Sorel: I am very excited about this new initiative.