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Research Projects (2000-01)

Identifying Number


Project Title

Strategies for Improving DOT Retention and Motivation among Professional Staff


North Dakota State University

Project Investigator

Gene Griffin
Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, NDSU
PO Box 5074
Fargo, ND 58105

Lynn Kalnbach
5548 Beechmoor Court
Grafton, WI 53204

Jill Hough
Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, NDSU
PO Box 5074
Fargo, ND 58105

External Project Contact

Rich Millard
Human Resources Division
Missouri Dept of Transportation
P.O. Box 270
Jefferson City, MO 65102

Project Objective

The general objective of this project is to identify human resource management strategies that result in significant levels of job satisfaction of DOT employees, improving retention and increasing motivation, productivity and quality of work. Specific objectives include:

  • Quantify and qualify the scope and seriousness of the problem.
  • Identify and evaluate alternative methods for improving retention and motivation among DOT employees.
  • Determine how DOT employees would react to alternative human resource strategies by conducting three or more case studies.
  • Assess whether a difference in attitude regarding the work culture exists between management and employees.
  • Develop strategies that DOTs could implement that would improve retention and motivation.

Project Abstract

Retention of qualified DOT employees is reportedly a problem with many if not all Region 8 DOT's. This appears to be true nationwide as well. This perception is based on anecdotes from several people including the Chief Engineer of the NDDOT, Director of AASHTO, and the Executive Director of TRB. This seems to be especially true of highly skilled technical people such as engineers. DOT's are reportedly recruiting from other DOT's in an attempt to bid engineers away to their own organization. This is not even a short-term solution since such tactics are readily available to all DOT's. It results in increased salaries, turnover, possibly poor morale, and does nothing to increase retention and motivation. This project will identify the scope of the problem on a national scale.

One other perceived problem that DOT's face is an organizational structure and culture that does not capitalize on the full potential of the human capital that they employ. This is part of the retention problem. The organization and culture most likely does not emphasize the job attributes that employees seek to satisfy their psychological well being. These issues, although separate, are related and need to be addressed if DOTs hope to maximize their contribution to mobility with the limited resources they have available.

This project will utilize the Job Characteristics Model and the corresponding Job Description Survey (JDS), or some other applicable model, to analyze the motivating potential of jobs of DOT professionals and how they would react to a job with high motivating potential. Further, strategies are developed that DOTs can implement to improve both retention and motivation simultaneously.

Research Methodology

The major discipline employed for this study is Organizational and Industrial Psychology. More specifically, the psychology of work behavior will provide the underpinning knowledge base for conducting the research. The study consists of two separate parts. All U.S. DOTs will be involved in the first part of the study and a case study approach will be used in the second part of the study. The general research method used for this project is survey research. A total of three mail surveys, in combination with focus group discussions and a private seminar, will be used to gather the information and data necessary to make the project a valid research effort.

A technical advisory committee will be created to provide input to the project and help promote the successful completion. Further, the committee will participate in the development of recommended strategies. Committee members will consist of interested DOT employees involved in the retention issue as well as representatives of DOT's that participate in the study.

The first objective will be accomplished by conducting a mail survey of all of the state DOTs in the United States. This survey will be sent to a narrowly defined group of management who are familiar with the retention problem. It is presently envisioned that the survey will be quite short and very explicit with only one, or a few open-ended questions. The purpose of this part of the study is to identify the scope of the problem.

Objectives two through five constitute the second part of the study and will be achieved by conducting case studies of three or more DOT s. A mail survey will be used to identify the opinions (perceptions) of employees regarding the nature of the job and the personality characteristics of the individual employees. The survey instrument will be based on an existing standardized job survey instrument such as the JDS. Additionally, the survey instrument will be modified to assess how managers perceive the nature of the jobs being analyzed and the employees work culture preferences. This will be done to determine if a significant cultural divide exists between the employees and management. These two sets of perceptions will be compared and evaluated for statistical differences.

This information will provide the basis for focus group discussions at each participating DOT. The results of the focus group discussion will be used to develop a second survey of employees. The second survey will address how potential job attributes will impact their decisions to stay or leave the DOT. The sample frame for the second survey of employees will not necessarily be the same as the first sample frame. It may be important that they are different if the population is large enough to support such a sampling scheme. This would allow for a validation of the information obtained in the first employee survey.

The data and information gained from the surveys and focus group discussions will provide the basis for a private seminar for the participating DOTs and the project technical advisory committee. The seminar will be used to develop strategies that DOTs can implement to improve retention and motivation. This is a crucial part of the project in that it involves a collective effort on the part of the participating DOTs, the technical advisory committee, and the project investigators. The project will culminate with the development of a final report and some type of public seminar.

Task Descriptions

The tasks as defined below assume that the Job Characteristics Model and the corresponding Job Diagnostics Survey (JDS) ed by Hackman and Oldham will be utilized to evaluate the jobs studied in this project. However, a thorough review of literature will be conducted of alternative methods for evaluating the nature of different job families and if more appropriate evaluation instruments are identified they will be employed in lieu of, or in addition to the JDS. It is assumed that the tasks will remain the same, or nearly the same, irrespective of the job evaluation instrument used.

  • Task 1. Identify DOTs to serve as case study participants
    • 1.1 Define a strategy for soliciting State DOT participation
    • 1.2 Solicit DOTs and select three to five that best fit the study
    • 1.3 Identify a contact person for each DOT to serve as the study liaison
    • 1.4 Develop a contract for each DOT or develop a pooled fund arrangement
  • Task 2. Organize a technical advisory committee
    • 2.1 Identify potential members by consulting with the AASHTO Administrative Subcommittee on Personnel and Human Resources
    • 2.2 Solicit members
    • 2.3 Inform committee of makeup and responsibilities
    • 2.4 Conduct initial meeting to review proposal and research methodology
    • 2.5 Determine which job families are to be analyzed; e.g., engineers, planners, etc.
  • Task 3. Evaluate the extent and nature of the problem on a national scale
    • 3.1 Articulate the perceived problem
    • 3.2 Identify the issues that relate to the problem (cause and effect)
    • 3.3 Identify a survey group that could contribute enlightened information regarding the problem
    • 3.4 Develop a mail questionnaire that addresses 3.1 through 3.3
    • 3.5 Develop a sample frame that includes all state DOTs
    • 3.6 Mail questionnaire
    • 3.7 Mail reminder postcard and conduct follow-up phone calls as necessary
    • 3.8 Enter data and analyze results
    • 3.9 Develop preliminary draft for this section of the study
  • Task 4. Identify an accepted IO Psychology method for analyzing the retention and motivation variables of DOT professional jobs
    • 4.1 Review alternative industrial and organization psychology models for evaluating the motivational power of the job and the receptivity of employees to a job that has high motivating potential
    • 4.2 Evaluate different job evaluation instruments such as the Job Description Survey (JDS) and select an instrument for use in the analysis
    • 4.3 Select a model and survey instrument for the study
  • Task 5. Evaluate the specific jobs and employees for their motivational characteristics
    • 5.1 Develop a mail questionnaire based on the selected model
    • 5.2 Develop a sampling strategy and request sample frames from each of the case study DOTs
    • 5.3 Administer questionnaire and tabulate and analyze the data
  • Task 6. Evaluate managements perceptions of the nature of the jobs and the employees
    • 6.1 Identify the management positions to be included in the study
    • 6.2 Develop a management questionnaire reflective of the information sought from the professional employee groups (the objective is to determine what managements' perceptions are of the jog itself as well as their perceptions of how the professional employees feel about their jobs)
    • 6.3 Develop a sample frame and administer the survey
    • 6.4 Tabulate and analyze the resulting data
  • Task 7. Conduct interim technical advisory committee meeting
    • 7.1 Organize data and information collected for presentation in a seminar format
    • 7.2 Set a date, time and place most convenient for the committee members
    • 7.3 Organize for the meeting and reserve the necessary space
    • 7.4 Distribute meeting material one week prior to the meeting
    • 7.5 Conduct meeting gathering input and insights for conducting the focus group
  • Task 8. Conduct employee focus group discussions on-site at the participating DOTs
    • 8.1 Develop a procedure for selecting focus group participants at each of the DOT case study sites
    • 8.2 Select focus group participants with the assistance of the DOT liaisons
    • 8.3 Conduct focus group meetings based on the information obtained from the surveys of each DOT within a four to five week period
    • 8.4 Compile the results of the professional employee focus group meetings
  • Task 9. Conduct management focus group discussions on-site at the participating DOTs
    • 9.1 Develop a procedure for selecting focus group participants at each of the DOT case study sites
    • 9.2 Select focus group participants with the assistance of the DOT liaisons
    • 9.3 Conduct focus group meetings based on the information obtained from the surveys of each DOT within a four to five week period
    • 9.4 Compile the results of the management focus group meetings
  • Task 10. Evaluate the retention variables related to the job and the individual employees
    • 10.1 Identify possible reasons that DOT employees are leaving, retention variables, based on information obtained in initial employee and management surveys and focus group discussions
    • 10.2 Develop a survey instrument that will result in a quantification and qualification of the potential reasons for leaving
    • 10.3 Survey DOT employees using the sample frame developed in Task 5
    • 10.4 Tabulate and analyze the resulting data
  • Task 11. Conduct a private seminar for all participating DOTs and the technical advisory committee describing preliminary results and gaining final input
    • 11.1 Develop preliminary study conclusions based on survey data and focus group results
    • 11.2 Set meeting date and place
    • 11.3 Organize seminar and prepare materials to be sent out one week prior to the seminar
    • 11.4 Conduct seminar-should include presentation of results of study thus far and group discussions of possible mitigating strategies
    • 11.5 Compile results of seminar
  • Task 12. Develop final report
    • 12.1 Outline report
    • 12.2 Synthesize results from surveys, focus group discussions, and private seminar into conclusions
    • 12.3 Develop strategies that could be implemented by DOTs
    • 12.4 Develop draft report including methodology, synthesized information, and strategies
    • 12.5 Distribute draft to Technical Advisory Committee for review
    • 12.6 Incorporate comments/suggestions as necessary
    • 12.7 Publish final report

Milestones, Dates

  • Starting Date: October 2000
  • Project Milestones: Tasks 1 through 10
  • Ending Date: March 2002

Yearly and Total Budget

Federal $35,000
University Match $35,001

Student Involvement

Possible use of graduate or undergraduate psychology major

Relationship to Other Research Projects

This project builds on the truckload driver retention research

Technology Transfer Activities

TEL8 presentation, possible TRB presentation, final MPC report, and journal articles

Potential Benefits of the Project

DOTs could apply the results of this research to modify their existing organizations in an effort to improve retention and motivation. Additionally, AASHTO could use the research to develop a nationwide effort focusing on retention and motivation.

TRB Keywords

DOT, professional employee, employee retention, employee motivation, human resource strategies

NDSU Dept 2880P.O. Box 6050Fargo, ND 58108-6050