As the Director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality , Misael Cabrera has embraced this position and masterfully continued the work of transforming his department through adoption of the Lean principles. I had the opportunity to talk with Misael about his background, his vision for ADEQ and what he thinks makes today's state government unique.
Q. Where did you grow up?
A. I grew up in many different places but Arizona has been my home since I was 14 years old.
What were some of your early influences?
My faith, my parents, my big brother Isaac and Star Trek have all influenced me greatly.
Were you in leadership roles when you were younger?
I was the president of a service fraternity (Omega Delta Phi) in college and started leading multi-million dollar environmental projects three years after I graduated from the U of A.
You have worked in the environmental field prior to joining ADEQ. How did being a customer of ADEQ impact your approach when you joined the agency?
That experience provided me with an intrinsic “voice of the customer” and it continues to help me solve problems every day. Most people don’t get to have that perspective, so I consider myself lucky to be able to view everything from both sides.
What is the “ADEQ Way?”
The “ADEQ Way” is the list of habits we want to display every day. They were created to inspire those in our department and to keep us accountable. They include:
- Evaluate everything we do for its impact on the mission.
- Hire only those who believe in our way and have a passion for their work.
- Train those who cannot, replace those who will not and promote those who excel.
- Never hide a problem – respect others enough to be honest, even if the truth is uncomfortable.
- Do not blame, but hold each other accountable.
- Involve end users early and often when creating or improving services.
- Never stop asking why.
- Continuously design and redesign for quality and radical simplicity.
- Freely discuss, promptly decide and totally commit.
- Do not fear failure.
ADEQ is viewed as a national leader when it comes to environmental protection – you’ve closed two state superfund sites, reduced the average time required to return facilities to compliance by more than 50% and more than doubled the number of state-led underground storage tank cleanups. And, those are just a few of your accomplishments! Tell us more about how the application of Lean principles has transformed ADEQ and supported these efforts.
Our transformation started before we adopted the Lean methodology and before I joined the state government. It really started under Director Henry Darwin, who is now the Chief of Operations for the state. His vision was to transform ADEQ into a professional and efficient agency. Now Henry works directly with Governor Ducey who has a vision for efficiency and accountability across state government. What Lean does is give hands and feet to greater vision. It helps everyone see problems more clearly and without fear. Most importantly, this approach allows customers, staff and leaders to collaboratively engage in the joy of problem-solving.
What do you see as the biggest opportunities for ADEQ? The biggest challenges?
ADEQ’s greatest opportunities are solving some very old problems, like improving small drinking water system compliance; accelerating clean-ups; and better informing rural Arizonans about their water and air quality. I have no doubt that we can and will do all of this. Our biggest challenges are federal rules that were created with good intentions, but poorly designed. Those can be tough to work around
Do you have any favorite expressions?
Yes! I have two current favorites: “Transformation is about application, not just information.” – Pastor Chad Moore. And, “Everybody, every day, everywhere coming together in small teams and asking, ‘how did we do yesterday and how can we do it better tomorrow?’” – Joe Murli.
What are some of your favorite hobbies or pastimes?
As a father of two kids (ages nine and seven), I love playing with my kids. I also enjoy drawing, reading about leadership and the human brain, and – when I have a chance – playing basketball.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in public service?
This is a unique time in Arizona state government. Under Governor Ducey, you can join the most dynamic and visionary administration this state has ever seen and make a difference for Arizonans every day.