County Manager Column from Dec. 22, 2020

Advancing Talent Attraction, Retention and Promotion in 2020 and 2021

COVID-19 has dominated much of 2020. While the pandemic – along with our constant work to support people impacted by it – will be the headline of 2020, I’m proud that one of the smaller stories of this year is how our organization never lost sight of our strategic priorities, instead using them to guide our response.

That includes Talent Attraction, Retention and Promotion, which continued to be an important focus area in 2020. Just as we all learned to shift service delivery this spring and summer, the Talent priority project teams found ways to adapt their timelines and work to our new normal. The pandemic response may have impacted how and when the work took place – making portions of it feel more behind the scenes – but as we close out this year, I want to share and recognize some key accomplishments in 2020:

  • At the start of the year, we launched a countywide survey and value – behavior alignment workshops for you to help define how we turn our values into actions. Virtual engagement will resume in early 2021; I encourage you all to participate and lend your voice to this work.
  • Our Human Resources department continued to gradually realign into a more effective model to provide more strategic services and more consistent, timely execution of general transactions.
  • HR also identified a new long-term performance management strategy currently being piloted within HR. The new performance appraisal and employee development tools will roll out to additional test departments early next year.
  • While internal resources were shifted to focus on the pandemic response this spring, Gallagher Benefits Services continued gathering and analyzing data for the classification, compensation and personnel rules study. Gallagher is currently finalizing the classification and compensation report and will present the study to the board in January.

More detailed summaries about the work in each theme is available at the end of this column.

As we move into 2021, you’ll see the four themes of our Talent work align more and more frequently as we bring them together into one cohesive piece. I hope you’ll continue to provide your thoughts and voices next year as we engage around:

  • Virtual value – behavior alignment workshops.
  • The classification and compensation study findings and the resulting implementation recommendations from our internal project team.
  • New performance management, development models and training opportunities to help you achieve your career goals.
  • Our flexible workplace future as we consider what our work styles look like in a post-COVID world.

While there weren’t as many news announcements on the Talent work this year, as I reflect back on 2020, I see several moments that show we’ve been able to respond more strategically and proactively as an employer due to the foundation we’ve been laying. These include:

  • Creating Paid Extraordinary Pandemic Event Leave (PEPEL) in March as a benefit available to all employees. This morning, the board voted on a memoranda of agreement to extend PEPEL into 2021. I want to extend a thank you to our labor partners for their efforts to help us make this extension happen on an aggressive timeline.
  • Supporting employees with unmet childcare needs this spring as the Stay Home, MN executive order created disruptions.
  • Working with employees to provide flexibility where possible while working from home, again recognizing the impacts of school and childcare closures.
  • Rapidly transitioning our training and development program to focus on virtual learning opportunities that are aligned with our county values.
  • Extending vacation and floating holiday capping three times.
  • Authorizing compensatory time for unrepresented employees who are exempt from the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

I’m confident these examples show the impact our work is making on our internal processes and culture, and they are charting a path for a future workplace that can learn from this year in ways that ensure Ramsey County remains an organization that all of the best and brightest want to work for in the coming years.

The work we’re tackling through Talent Attraction, Retention and Promotion can’t be achieved in a single week or even a single year. We’ve acknowledged from the start that this is a multi-year process. Lasting change takes time, and as we continue to strive to be the public employer of choice in Minnesota, I thank all of you for sticking with us on this journey, staying engaged and sharing your input. On behalf of the Talent priority executive sponsors and project teams, we look forward to sharing more frequent updates on accomplishments and next steps in 2021.

Read previous From the County Manager columns

Talent Attraction, Retention and Promotion updates by theme

Theme one – Countywide culture

In January, a countywide survey was completed to collect feedback from employees on how we can put the county values into action.

In February, the theme one team began a series of value – behavior alignment workshops to review the behaviors identified by employees via the survey and narrow the list to 10 vital individual and operational behaviors we can focus on delivering consistently and constantly. The workshops were paused in March due to COVID-19. This fall, the team worked to develop a plan to continue employee engagement in a virtual format that will launch soon.

Learn how to get involved through virtual engagement.

The goal is to have the finalized list of behaviors complete by April 2020.

Theme two – HR as a strategic partner

Human Resources continued work this year to build the long-term foundation for reshaping the department into an innovative, outcome-oriented partner with departments and Service Teams. This foundation is rooted in the county’s values along with a commitment to excellence in the execution of HR administrative processes. The entire transformation from a more transactions-based department to a strategic partner, which began in 2019, is expected to take about 3-5 years. The work is occurring in three general phases, and phase one is nearing completion as 2020 comes to a close.

The two new HR deputy directors hired at the end of 2019 – Ann Feaman (Talent Team) and Sandi Blaeser (Enterprise Team) – have been building the department into a realigned, more effective model that can support HR’s strategic vision. In 2020, they worked with the three HR action teams launched last year to identify and begin implementing initial improvements in the areas of General Services, hiring and performance management.

One of the major accomplishments of 2020 was identifying a long-term performance management strategy and roadmap. HR has co-created a Ramsey County Competency Model and developed new draft performance appraisal and individual development plan forms that align with the county’s values. These new tools are currently being piloted within HR; additional pilot departments will be identified in early 2021 to test the tools and provide feedback. HR is currently working with the Enterprise Project Management Office to onboard a project manager to help plan and guide the countywide rollout. HR presented the Competency Model the board of commissioners in a Dec. 15 workshop.

Other accomplishments in 2020 include:

  • Improving internal communication and planning within the department.
  • Creating a roadmap for the talent team.
  • Mapping and improving some benefits processes in order to provide consistent, timely and seamless execution.

Phase two of building HR into a strategic partner is getting underway and will focus on further implementing the recommendations from the three action teams, creating the overall talent strategy for the county and continuing to build upon the foundational work of phase one.

Two additional board workshops will be held in early 2021 to update commissioners on planned improvements to the hiring process and recruiting strategy and on the HR General Services service delivery model.

Themes three and four – Personnel rules, job classifications and compensation

Throughout 2020, Gallagher Benefits Services has been able to continue their work to review data and develop their recommendations to modernize Ramsey County’s personnel rules, job classifications and compensation. An updated timeline for themes three and four is available on RamseyNet.

Much of the data and feedback necessary for informing the recommendations had already been collected before the COVID-19 emergency began including the employee PDQs, follow-up occupational panels and surveys of comparable employers for personnel rules, benefits policies and compensation data. In January and February, Human Resources and department heads also reviewed and provided comment on an initial draft classification structure prepared by Gallagher.

In order to prioritize the completion of theme four (classification and compensation) as the county continues to respond to COVID-19, the remaining work for theme three (personnel rules) will be split into two phases:

  • Phase one: Gallagher completes the recommendations and deliverables. The county project team reviews the proposed changes to fully understand the recommendations. This work has been ongoing throughout the summer and fall.
  • Phase two: County team revises and implements personnel rules, including training for staff. This work will continue into 2021.

Based on the data and initial feedback provided by HR and department heads prior to the pandemic, Gallagher developed and updated several items to advance work on theme four (classification and compensation) over the spring and summer including:

  • The proposed classification structure.
  • Draft job classification descriptions.
  • A proposal for how employee roles will be allocated into the classification structure.
  • Draft compensation strategy.
  • Proposed salary structures.

The theme four team and HR closely reviewed these documents and worked with Gallagher to further refine all recommendations. This fall, department heads also reviewed Gallagher’s proposal allocating employee roles into the classification structure and provided feedback to advise Gallagher’s final recommendations.

A board workshop will be held in January where Gallagher will present on the classification and compensation study. The workshop will also include further information and a schedule for the final steps of the project as the theme four team continues working with Gallagher to finalize the proposed classification structure, employee allocations, job descriptions and salary structure options.