The end of the calendar year is often a time of closure, looking ahead and resolutions. It is a time of change by its very nature. This year, which has been full of so much change, is no different. Some organizations are seeing high rates of retirement as we head into the new year. Some retirees may be moving closer to family, focused on what is important in their lives as the result of the pandemic. Yet others have underlying heath conditions and feel it necessary to leave the workforce. Some retirees may be taking advantage of high home prices as they downsize. Whatever the reason, they take institutional knowledge with them. The loss is felt by the colleagues, who during this time of disconnection and distance, may feel that loss differently than previous retirements. One department director said of a colleague retiring with over 20 years of service, “He’s earned it, but we’ve worked together every day of my career, so I am wistful.”
Upon those retirements, new supervisors, managers and directors come to fill vacant leadership roles and must evaluate the culture of their workforce. They may be internal or coming to the county from another jurisdiction or from the private sector. Likely, these new supervisors will speak with their employees to learn about the culture they are entering. Talking to staff, meeting colleagues and identifying leaders is important, but there is also data that can assist in assessing culture. Here are several data points incoming directors or supervisors can gather from Human Resources when putting a finger on the pulse of culture:
1. Look at an internal equity report of your team. It should include staff names, titles, hire date, date in current position and pay rate. This report will show you longevity but also pay inconsistencies and pay progression. Who is your most senior employee? Are a lot of employees new in their roles? Good follow-up questions might include: Who are the leaders in this department? Who do you go to when you need assistance? Who trains new employees?
2. Review the organizational chart. The organizational chart can tell you a lot about the team. Are the direct reports balanced between the supervisors or have staff been moved to or away from a certain supervisor? What is the average number of direct reports? Are their staff who supervise one staff member? Organization charts may evolve to capitalize on the strengths and avoid the weaknesses of individuals. If a new supervisor compares the actual department structure to structures they have seen elsewhere, it can tell them a lot about the people. It is also good to know when the organizational structure was last updated and when the structure itself last changed.
3. Consider the job descriptions of all the team members. What are the titles of the staff? Are the roles specialists or generalists? Good follow-up questions with employees might include whether the job description and/or title reflect what the employee does. Does there appear to be support if a person is out? Who supports you if you are out or need help? Who is cross-trained to be your backup?
4. Dig up the most recent applications of your staff. Reading the applications will allow you to see work history. Perhaps an employee has worked in a different public sector agency and has strong relationships with that agency. What are the skills each employee brings to work each day? Knowing the skills and strengths of your employees can help you engage those skills. It is also a great conversation starter when you meet with each person individually.
5. How much vacation, sick or PTO does each person have? Are there staff that are losing vacation because they are up against an accrual cap? This report can give you insight as to whether staff feel they can take vacation or if they feel the workload is so high they can’t step away.
6. What is the turnover rate on this team or in this department? Are there some positions that churn consistently? Perhaps an entry-level job has high turnover. Is that due to the position being an effective bridge to a promotional opportunity and a portal to a new career? Is this a position that people either really love or don’t feel a connection to the work? Is the position low paying? What has been done to address turnover in this role?
7. Look at the number of temporary employees the department hired in the last year. Does the department use seasonal temps? On-call temps? Interns? This data can not only show when the workload is at its peak, but how reliant the department is on temporary staff. It is also important to get a list of independent contractors the department utilizes as those do not run through payroll and may need to be obtained from Finance.
8. Review the current vacancy rate. In addition to the number of vacancies, do staff have alternative schedules, flexible schedules or telecommuting agreements? What is the staffing picture?
While culture can be hard to measure, there are multiple data sources that can help a new manager have a better understanding of the culture. These data points can be clues to unlocking information about the culture that are not just anecdotal or the result of perception alone. This information combined with information about budget and policy can provide a strong foundation to the success of a new leader. Accepting a new position is exciting and having the information you need when you start that journey makes the transition smoother and more effective. And, if you aren’t new in your position, looking at your data and seeing what it would tell you if you were new to the position can be enlightening as well. Wishing you a happy and fulfilling 2021.