26 June 1998

 

Honorable Judge Frank J. Ochoa, Presiding Judge

Santa Barbara Superior Court

1100 Anacapa Street

P.O. Box 21107

Santa Barbara, CA 93121-1107

 

RE: County Administrator’s Response to Findings and Recommendations in the 1997-98 Grand Jury Report on Employee Training in the County of Santa Barbara

 

Dear Judge Ochoa:

 

The following is in response to the 1998-99 Grand Jury Report entitled "Employee Training in the County." Our thanks to the Grand Jury for its interest and report on this matter. Providing employees with learning opportunities is an important issue for me and one I have actively pursued since arriving here in December, 1996. This office is firmly committed, as you will see in these responses, to the value and importance of continuous employee skill development.

 

 

FINDING 1: There is no countywide coordination of various training needs and resources.

 

Response: We agree with this finding.

 

RECOMMENDATION 1: A method for countywide coordination of management training needs and resources should be established and administered.

 

RECOMMENDATION 2: Topics for training requested by employees should be forwarded and monitored by the County Administrator’s office.

 

Response: These recommendations are being implemented. In October, 1997 the County hired its first Director of Organizational Effectiveness. One of the key roles of the position is to develop and lead a countywide approach for designing and implementing an employee development program. After four months of preliminary research and planning, a countywide Training Forum was created and began meeting in February of 1998. That Forum, consisting of 26 County employees representing most departments, agreed to use a ‘corporate university’ format as its model for coordinated, countywide employee and management skill development. During the winter and spring the Training Forum continued to meet and begin the work of establishing the framework for the corporate university. Summary minutes from the meetings are attached for your review. From this initial work has grown the Santa Barbara County Employees’ University (Attachment A).

 

Two of the goals of the university are aligned with Recommendations 1 and 2. The concept behind a corporate university is an organization-wide, comprehensive learning opportunity aligned with the organizational strategic plan and the skill development needs of all employees. This includes the assessment of training needs, coordinating the curriculum design, delivery and evaluation, and tracking the progress of each employee in their continuous learning efforts. A corporate university follows a sequential curriculum, helping employees enhance their skills in a progressive manner. Courses build on, rather than duplicate, each other, and employees can follow tracks that are specifically related to their job needs. Employees are able to earn professional certificates recognizing their completion of a specific track or group of courses. A preliminary curriculum plan for each of the certificates is attached. Course objectives and evaluation methods are focused at on-the-job application of what was learned.

 

Beginning in April, 1998, the Training Forum began the next phase of the Employees’ University by retaining the University of California-Santa Barbara to assist with an assessment of employee training needs. At the same time the Training Forum began to establish initial courses and proposed curriculum tracks for UCSB to test in its assessment process (Attachment D). In late April UCSB held four focus groups with employees representing all levels of the organization at locations in Santa Maria, Lompoc, and Santa Barbara. The focus groups explored training topics that employees felt they needed and those they felt were needed by others in the organization (including supervisors and managers). The information from the focus groups was used to refine the proposed curriculum and to develop a survey to send to employees. In May, the training assessment survey, developed by UCSB, was mailed to a scientifically selected random population of 850 County employees based on employee group. To date over 500 completed surveys have been received. In June UCSB will analyze the results and prepare a report to the County on the recommended topics based on employee feedback. Copies of the employee announcement, survey, and cover letter are attached for your review (Attachment B).

 

The resulting employee information on topics, importance, and needs will form the foundation for the final decisions on courses, course content, and priority for when the courses will be offered. As suggested by the Grand Jury, a significant segment of the survey and the proposed curriculum centers on supervision and management training for employees.

 

The Training Forum felt, as did the Grand Jury, that an on-going--formal--body was necessary to implement, operate, coordinate, and evaluate the Employees’ University. In May, the Training Forum agreed to the establishment of the Employees’ University Governing Council for that purpose. An initial charter was drafted (Attachment C) and the County is currently soliciting nominees for membership. The 15 members are expected to be selected by late June and begin their work as identified on the attached timeline in July.

 

A significant task for the Council is to develop the County Training Plan. This will include the methodology for coordination of management training needs and resources, and the process for identifying and monitoring future training topics. It is currently expected that the training plan will be presented to the Board of Supervisors in late August, and the first Employees’ University courses will begin in late October of 1998. We will forward you a copy of that plan when it is presented to the Board of Supervisors.

 

 

FINDING 2: Based on the responses provided, there is no consistency in how departments identify or charge training costs to their budget.

 

Response: We agree with this finding.

 

RECOMMENDATION 3: A single budget line item identified as "Training" should be created and used to consistently track the cost of employee training, including direct labor, travel, tuition, books and materials.

 

RECOMMENDATION 4: The Financial Information Network should be used consistently by all departments to track training costs.

 

Response: These recommendations require further analysis. Tracking the cost of training is important to understanding the investment the County is making in its employees. The 1993 report from the National Commission on the State and Local Public Service (the Winter Commission) recommended that "... states and localities should aim for a stable learning budget set at least 3 percent of total personnel costs." That requires, as the Grand Jury observed, a consistent, complete method to track costs.

 

To accomplish these recommendations requires four steps that must be agreed to by all County departments: 1) common definition of what constitutes structured training; 2) identification of activity, project, or program codes used exclusively for training by each department; 3) each employee, division and department properly coding their training activities; and 4) budgeting for these costs in the annual budget process.

 

While these are all doable, they will require time to be planned, discussed, and agreed to by the department directors. This will best be accomplished once the Employees’ University is operational, and a positive track record is established. We will then be in a better position to implement a cost tracking and budgeting system.

 

The Director of Organizational Effectiveness will work with the Department Directors to create a definition of what activities and costs should be included in training. This will include direct costs (tuition, materials, consultants) and indirect costs (salaries both for trainees and internal trainers). Then, working with the department directors and the Auditor-Controller, identify the various codes used by departments in FIN for the identified training costs. A summary page can the be created identifying the cost of training and where training dollars are being spent.

 

Since the 1998-99 budget is already adopted, the opportunity for implementing an identified training budget cost lies with the 1999-2000 budget. Working with the Auditor-Controller, my staff will explore methods for identifying training costs in the budget. One strategy we will explore is creating a page in Section C of the budget summarizing the total County training costs and tying it to specific performance measures established for the Employees’ University and other County training efforts.

 

On a related note, an element of these recommendations is being implemented. As part of the establishment of the Employees’ University, the Governing Council will be selecting a software package to, among other management functions, track employee participation in County training activities. Various software solutions are now being evaluated by a small team working with Data Services and the Auditor-Controller. The goal is to find a system that can link to the new human resources system now being acquired by the County. This tracking software will be able to provide annual activity reports including number of hours of training per department, or by other work groups or categories. This information will be helpful in evaluating the performance of the university, but can also be used to project the investment the county is making in developing and enhancing the performance of its staff.

 

 

FINDING 3: There is no consistency in measuring the effectiveness of the training at the department level.

 

Response: We agree with this finding.

 

RECOMMENDATION 5: A method should be established to consistently measure the effectiveness of training.

 

Response: This recommendation has not yet been implemented but will be implemented in the future. One of the values of a corporate university approach is its focus on demonstrated application of learning and behavior change in the workplace. This moves responsibility for learning from the trainer to the employee participating in the class.

 

A key task of the Employees’ University Governing Council is to measure the effectiveness of the learning experiences individually and collectively. There are four levels of evaluation which Council will need to consider: 1) immediate participant reaction to the training; 2) what new knowledge or skills participants learned; 3) changes in on-the-job behavior or performance; and 4) impact of training on organizational goals and objectives. Several strategies are already being used in County training. Employee reaction to content, instructor, and application are generally done after each training class and used to improve future courses. Many training classes require some type of workplace project or action plan to evaluate the skills and knowledge employees learned.

 

To further these methods, a number of evaluation strategies will be integrated into the university. These include: 1) assessment of current strategies used by departments for best practices;

2) development of measurable behavioral objectives for each course; 3) design of assessment tools for each course to measure learning acquisition and workplace application (e.g. carry out a class-related project, prepare a report related to the course, demonstrate or test for skill competence); 4) use of follow-up interviews, four to six months following a course, for participants and their supervisors to assess behavioral and performance improvements; and 5) track department performance measures that are linked to the training provided employees to determine that progress towards desired organizational improvements is occurring (see discussion on Finding 6).

 

These will be implemented with the initiation of the Train-the-Trainer class this September. At this workshop, future County training facilitators will be introduced to training in a corporate university context, and develop their training skills. The evaluation methods will be included in their skill development and designed into the courses they prepare. Employee University training is anticipated to begin in October, 1998.

 

Additionally, the Governing Council is charged with creating performance measures and an evaluation system to examine the overall effectiveness and contributions of the Employees’ University to employee productivity. One of the methodologies designed into the UCSB Training Assessment (see Recommendations 1 and 2), is to repeat the skill assessment every 18 months to measure changes in employees’ perceived skill levels and on-going (or new) sill and knowledge needs. The system will also be able to identify topics where training is no longer needed.

 

Successful practices developed by the Employees’ University will be recommended to departments for their use in evaluating the effectiveness of department-sponsored training activities.

 

 

FINDING 4: Civil Service Rule 16 does not allow training to be required by anyone other than a department head.

 

Response: We agree with this finding.

 

RECOMMENDATION 6: The county should review Civil Service Rule 16 to assure that affected employees attend countywide core management training.

 

Response: The recommendation has not yet been implemented, but will be implemented in the future. In light of the development of the countywide Employees’ University, it will be valuable to review this Rule. As the County begins to offer professional development and training courses, it may be appropriate that some courses or complete certificates be required for appropriate positions. This may be particularly pertinent for people in supervisory, management, and executive positions. Often we promote or hire people into these leadership positions without providing them the opportunities to develop their leadership and management skills. This is particularly critical today. The County as an organization can not afford the time or cost for managers to learn the skills of management and leadership through the "school of hard knocks."

This issue needs to be explored at a variety of levels. Certainly for skills and competencies that have countywide application, it would be worthwhile to consider amending Rule 16 to allow for countywide requirements. However, each department has its own training needs that are exclusive to that department or departments. The department director should retain the responsibility for these types of training and training requirements.

 

To initiate this recommended review, the Director of Organizational Effectiveness will consider this issue as part of the Governing Council’s planning for the Employees’ University. Their thoughts and recommendations can then be brought to the department directors for discussion. It is also important to solicit input from the employees through the Labor-Management Collaborative. Depending on the outcome of these discussions, a recommendation could be made to the Civil Service Commission for revisions to Rule 16. Since much of the training is currently in development, the timing is ideal to review core County policies, such as Rule 16. Within the next fiscal year (1998-99) the various parties identified will be able to consider the Rule and any changes be recommended to the Civil Service Commission.

 

 

FINDING 5: There is no countywide operational definition for on-the-job training. This factor can lead to differences in identification of training costs among departments.

 

Response: We agree with this finding.

 

RECOMMENDATION 7: On-the-job training should be clearly defined and consistently utilized by all departments.

 

Response: The recommendation has not yet been implemented, but will be implemented in the future. This definition is key to implementing Grand Jury Recommendations 3 and 4. Please see our response to Recommendations 3 and 4 for how this recommendation will be implemented.

 

 

FINDING 6: There is no documented direct connection between training that an individual receives, individual job performance, and departmental budget performance measures.

 

Response: While we agree with this finding, it is a difficult task to demonstrate a direct connection between training and a department’s achievement of its performance measures. Training is only one of many variables that affect organizational performance

 

Evaluating the connection between training and organizational performance requires several key considerations: 1) linkage between training activities and the County and department strategic plans; 2) inclusion of training as just one piece of a comprehensive system of County and department management; 3) management involvement and support of employee development; and 4) a tracking system to measure progress towards goals established through performance measures.

 

The Employees’ University is designed to meet many of the goals established in the Board of Supervisor’s Strategic Plan. All of the certificate areas were created to provide employees with skills and knowledge that can be reflected in increased customer satisfaction, efficiency and effectiveness in operations, increased citizen involvement, and better leadership in the County. In sending employees to any training, however, each department and each supervisor must understand the alignment between the training he or she is sending the employee to, and the goals and performance measures of the organization. Managers are responsible to create a linked relationship between the organization’s strategic goals and the knowledge and skills, job behaviors, job success indicators, and performance objectives of each employee.

 

Although an effective training program is certain to contribute to the success of an organization, it is important to remember that training is but one tool used to increase individual performance and effectiveness. Training alone does not guarantee any performance improvements if it is not supported by comprehensive support and management systems in the workplace. At all levels in the County we must move to a systems view of organization performance. Training is part of this system, but it includes other elements aligned to County and department performance goals, such as: rewards and incentives, business processes, job design, job tools, leadership practices, management and supervision styles, communication, and employee performance reviews. For training to truly have an impact on the County’s "bottom-line" the executive leadership in the County must continue its work on implementing the management strategies identified in the County Strategic Plan into the day-to-day operations of the County.

 

To realize the desired behavioral changes that will result in increased performance, management must continue its active involvement in and support of employee development. As executives and managers model the way, employees will see the importance of translating their development opportunities into behavioral changes on-the-job and performance improvements in the organization. Management involvement includes investing personal time participating in and applying their learning in the departments. A number of executives and managers are already participating in executive development and are being very visible in applying their enhanced leadership skills in their departments. The results are becoming apparent as these departments increase their performance and better prepare themselves to anticipate future needs of the community. Several executives and managers have also taken active involvement in the development of the Employees’ University.

 

Coupled with this involvement is management support in the workplace for employees trying to implement new behaviors or skills. It is of little value to send employees to a teambuilding workshop, for example, if the supervisor or manager does nothing to support or reinforce team behaviors in the workplace. The importance of support and reinforcement needs to be modeled and practiced throughout the organization in order for the County to fully benefit from its investment in employee development.

 

Training should be included in the Employee Performance Review (EPR) and other employee development activities within departments where learning and skill enhancement will increase personal performance. The documented evidence in the annual EPR and other reviews should reflect evidence of individual performance improvement based on training, coaching, structural changes, new assignments and a variety of other tools available to managers to improve performance. Assuming training is linked to performance goals and aligned with other management systems, the achievement of individual development plans should be reflected in the ability of the department to make continued progress towards its performance measures.

 

The evaluation strategies discussed in the response to Recommendation 5 and department performance measures will help track the progress of the organization from its current state of performance to a higher, more productive and more efficient future state. As both our employee development and management systems continue to mature, so too will our performance measures and methods for gathering evidence that progress is taking place.

 

 

FINDING 7: There is a need for managers and supervisors to have training in county policies, management techniques, county operations, legal responsibilities, etc.

 

Response: We agree with this finding.

 

RECOMMENDATION 8: The county should develop an in-house management training program and require all supervisors and managers to attend.

 

Response: The recommendation is being implemented in two tracks. Since January the Office of Organizational Effectiveness has been offering a series of customized Executive Leadership Seminars to department management teams. A description of the seminars is attached (Attachment E). Five County departments (Alcohol, Drug & Mental Health Services, Health Care Services, Job Training Network, and Social Services) are participating in this skill enhancement opportunity. Other departments are being encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity as it is immediately available, personalized to specific department needs yet consistently addresses the competencies required of all County executives, and is low cost since it uses our internal expertise. Reports from several of the departments are that the seminar has had a significant impact on increasing the performance and effectiveness of the management team. Results include increased productivity, better communication, less unnecessary conflict, better use of time, improved leadership practices, and improved decision-making.

 

The second track implementing this recommendation is the Employees’ University. The university provides an ideal opportunity to assure a consistent, countywide understanding and application of management and leadership skills. One could expect that successful managers in this County will be required to exhibit competency and, eventually, mastery in each the areas identified in the supervisory and management certificates currently being considered by the university Governing Council. We agree with the Grand Jury that--particularly for managers and supervisors--countywide requirements for completion of certificates or courses is appropriate. This is an approach used by other jurisdictions which have implemented corporate universities.

 

You will note, in examining the attached proposed curriculum for the management and supervisory certificates (Attachment D), that all of the management training needs identified by the Grand Jury-- County policies, management techniques, County operations, legal responsibilities--are included.

 

Employee development programs such as this are often required in order to assure that all managers have the same skill foundation, to build networks throughout the organization, and to increase the effectiveness of the organization through increased skills of it managers. Training, of course, is only one tool to accomplish this. And often the people who most need this training are the most reluctant to volunteer to attend. Requiring training by itself does not guarantee any improvement in management or leadership performance. We need to continually build competence and mastery of management skills into the culture and systems of the County. This includes renewed emphasis of employee development in the departments, continued efforts in coaching and mentoring, effective use of the employee performance reviews, and enhancing our hiring and promotion efforts to focus more on leadership and management skills of candidates and less on their technical competence.

 

Prior to requiring courses or certificates, a number of logistical issues need to be worked out, including the support of a variety of affected parties (employee associations, department directors, Civil Service Commission, and so on). In addition, a complete curriculum needs to be put into place and operational, a plan and timeframe created for how to move all existing employees in the affected positions through the program, a process needs to be developed for qualified people to "test out" of courses or certificates, and alternatives must be considered for people who refuse to attend or are unable to complete required courses.

 

The Director of Organizational Effectiveness, working with the Employees’ University Governing Council, the Labor-Management Collaborative, the Civil Service Commission, and the department directors will explore options for making the core supervisory and management certificates required for affected County employees.

 

 

I wish to thank the 1997-98 Grand Jury for its support of a comprehensive employee training program, and for the opportunity to respond to this Grand Jury report.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 

 

 

Michael F. Brown

County Administrator