Top Workplaces 2023: People, communication key at Moulton Niguel Water District

Opportunity and a sense of fairness were mentioned several times by employees in the anonymous Top Workplace survey.

The key to bolstering a positive working environment at Moulton Niguel Water District is communication, says longtime general manager Joone Kim-Lopez.

The district provides water and wastewater treatment services to more than 170,000 customers in South Orange County, including the cities of Aliso Viejo, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Hills, Mission Viejo, Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano.

This is the seventh consecutive year that the public agency has been honored in the Top Workplaces program.

Opportunity and a sense of fairness were mentioned several times by employees in the anonymous Top Workplace survey.

“I am trusted and respected,” wrote on employee. “My opinion is valued and I am valued as a person, not just as a team member but on a personal level.”

Another wrote: “I fully trust our general manager and the direction she is taking the district. Her genuine concern for our overall well-being is tangible. The reason I love my job the most is the people!”

We asked Kim-Lopez to tell us more about the company’s approach, which she said is not to change employees but to change their workforce. Her answers have been edited for length.

Q: What have you learned in the past year that has helped create a working environment that people feel safe and welcome in?

Organizations, just like people, change. So as someone who leads an organization, we have to evolve in order to meet the changing demands and expectations of our employees.

The other thing that we learned is we’re growing as an agency and when there’s growth, it’s just like the human body, there are growing challenges and pain. We all have to embrace that and really emphasize the importance of communication because that’s how we hear from one another, voice our concerns, our opinions.

We’re really trying to make that a focal point because it’s a lot easier said than done. During and after Covid, all of our work schedules have evolved and changed, and it’s really important to be conscientious about how we communicate with each other.

Q: How do you keep all the negativity in society from affecting the work environment?

We talk about it. I think it’s important to acknowledge what’s happening because whether it’s what’s going around the world or what’s happening in our daily lives, everyone has their struggles. I do think it’s important to acknowledge that.

But it’s also important to stress the criticality of maintaining our focus and being lifted because it’s easy to get very down when bad things are happening around the world, but it’s important to celebrate the things that we have, the goodness that we have.

Q: What does success look like to you and how do you share that with your team?

Success for me really is a combination of employees who feel fulfilled to be at work. As the general manager, have I created a safe environment emotionally, physically and mentally? Do we feel safe? To me, that’s an important part of success.

The other success, of course, is a business and it’s about how we perform. Are we delivering on our promise to our customers and to our communities? Are they satisfied? Because that’s really important. We’re a public agency providing the most critical resource.

Q: How do you deal with the days folks are feeling down or less appreciated?

We all go through things in life, and I absolutely am sympathetic to things that happen in our lives, and I try to work with them as much as possible to give them the time and the space to take care of what they need to do. But the workplace is not where you come to take it out on people. When you come to work, it’s not time to take out on others what you’re going through.

As far as employees not being happy at work, there are a variety of reasons that happen. Some people may feel that they should have been promoted or they should make more money. Those are very natural things that happen in our organization. We deal with those things with very honest and open communication.

Those who ask, those who are curious, we tell them what they need to do to advance. We tell them how they’re doing, honestly assessing their performance or potential, but also supporting them in getting to where they want it to be.

Ultimately, my goal is to make sure that if they can’t be happy in this organization, I also support them in finding opportunities outside the organization. Sometimes it’s not possible to have 25 superintendents and 10 assistant general managers and three general managers. So there is a sort of realistic or practical restraint. But for those who want to achieve, I always create a path within the organization, even outside of our organization. I call that spreading the goodness.

Moulton Niguel Water District

Founded: 1960
Headquarters: Laguna Hills
Industry: government utility
OC employees: 180

Quote: “Moulton Niguel is a very special place. We call it the ‘Moulton Magic,’ but it’s not magic. Having a top workplace, having a great culture that employers want to stay at, that employees want to work for, that doesn’t happen by chance. It takes a lot of work at all levels.” – Joone Kim-Lopez, general manager of Moulton Niguel Water District.

Link to article: Top Workplaces 2023: People, communication key at Moulton Niguel Water District – Orange County Register (