Getting creative: Local 17 supervisor uses visual mapping to engage employees in the decision-making process

This article original appeared in the PTE Local 17 Insight Magazine. We have been given approval from L17 to use this article.

Keith Siebler stands next to one of the posters he envisioned for use in his trainings and discussion with King County employees.

When Local 17 member Keith Siebler started working at the Auburn Public Health in King County nearly five years ago, he encountered a few conflict situations between employees. And while it’s not unusual for supervisors to manage conflict, Siebler wanted to come up with a creative and productive way to address some longstanding issues.

As a Public Health Administrative Support Supervisor (PHASS), Siebler supervises Administrative Support staff and is in charge of day-to-day operations at the Auburn clinic. But prior to his work at King County, he worked in the private sector where he had seen visual mapping in action.

Visual mapping is the process of utilizing visual information, usually in the form of pictures or graphics, to help people absorb and synthesize a large amount of information quickly. In the corporate sector, it is often used by project managers who have to get all members of their team on the same page in order to successfully complete a project.

Or if you’ve ever watched a video by economist and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, you can see the power of using visuals. (His ‘Why Right-to-Work is Wrong for Workers’ video is highlighted on the Local 17 webpage: http://www.pte17.org).

Siebler’s first visual map allowed his employees the opportunity to examine their role in the client experience and productivity at the Auburn clinic. He noticed that because of the graphic, employees had better interactions with the information in the moment, and later revisited the graphic and the conversations that had emerged from the original discussion.

“Visual mapping is a great way for managers and supervisors to reach employees with clear and transparent communication as well as to increase employee participation in the process – it’s a win, win!” said Siebler.

Several Local 17 members – including Keith Siebler – played an active role in King County Executive Dow Constantine’s first employee listening session in December.

To create a visual map, Siebler first starts with the main topic in the center of a paper, and then adds all of the subtopics he can think of – a process called ‘mind mapping.’ He then works with a graphic facilitator to make the mind map more visually stimulating.

Science has shown that people absorb data better when it’s accompanied by visuals. In fact, eighty percent of the population learns through primarily visual means. And with a visual map, not only do people better absorb the learning material, but they feel a stronger sense of connection to the process and the solution.

“Because the visual map is often created with group input, by the time it is completed, the audience looking on already owns it,” said Siebler. “They own it because they helped create it.”

According to Siebler, every map is different, which is why they work so well.

“There’s only one visual map of any unique body of information in existence, so it’s unpredictable and engaging,” he said. “And because you’ve never seen anything like it, you stop to look it over.”

Recently, Siebler and several other Local 17 members – including Local 17 President Lois Watt, Vice-President Hossein Barahimi, Steve Ford, and Jennell Hicks – were invited to King County Executive Dow Constantine’s first “employee listening session” in December. These sessions were created to hear from employees about the issues they are facing in their workplaces, and to learn what the County can do to help its employees thrive.

When Siebler introduced his visual map on getting employees engaged in the LEAN process, Constantine was impressed by the power of visual information.

As a manager, Siebler talked about his passion for employee engagement, reducing absenteeism, reducing Human Resources complaints and grievances, and developing staff for career advancement.

“Keith understands how employee engagement benefits not only the County, but the individual employees,” said Local 17 Union Representative Ceci Mena.

She continued: “He is passionate about making King County a place where employees feel supported, safe and engaged. All the work he has done has not been at the request of management but because he recognizes the changes that need to be made and wants to be proactive.”

As his Local 17 Union Representative, Denise Cobden shares a similar sentiment.

“Not only has Keith shown that he is a leader in his job at Seattle-King County Public Health, he has also been involved as a leader representing members for Local 17,” said Cobden.

“From serving on bargaining committees, helping negotiate contracts, to attending grievance meetings on behalf of our members, Keith is a well-respected member of the King County community by management and our membership alike.”

For Siebler, working for King County has been a really good fit. He applauds the progressive efforts of the County in taking the lead on issues from preventative health care for children, to clean energy and new technology.

“I am excited to be part of organization that is focused on the future,” said Siebler. “It takes bold leadership to address all of the challenges we face as an organization and I enjoy being a part of it.”