Listening to employees to build a learning organization

Access to learning and advancement opportunities was a major theme in the 2016 Employee Survey so King County Executive Dow Constantine invited some employees to his latest Listening Session to hear about the challenges and successes employees face in growing their knowledge and careers at King County.

“I want employees to be able to learn new skills so we can not only get better at what we do and serve our customers better, but you can also take advantage of opportunities to advance,” Executive Constantine told the group. “I want to hear from you about what’s working well and what we can do better.”

Executive Constantine began by asking participants, who are members of the County’s Equal Employment Opportunity & Affirmative Action (EEO/AA) Committee, about the barriers to advancement and development opportunities they see in their departments and what King County can do to make these opportunities accessible to all employees.

The experiences shared varied greatly across the County. Access to training opportunities was better in departments with more stable funding sources. Frontline customer service employees find it harder to attend classroom trainings because their work needs to be backfilled.

But resourcing is not the only barrier. The group spoke about the critical role that supervisors play in employee development – and how supporting employees is rewarding for both the employee and the supervisor.

Employees with supervisors who work with them on professional development plans and who prioritize employee development are more likely to get approval to attend classroom or online trainings, especially when those courses are needed for their advancement goals rather than just their current jobs. And supportive supervisors tend to look for stretch opportunities that can help their employees learn “on the job” skills that they need to take the next career step.

One participant said that he’s seen employees whose passion for their work was rekindled when their supervisor showed an interest in their development and career goals, and worked with them on a plan and pathway to achieve those goals. These are outcomes that supervisors should take great pride in.

The group made several recommendations to improve the access to development opportunities, including a policy that allows for a certain number of training hours per employee, coverage for front desk staff to attend trainings, clear guidelines about how E-learning classes are to be accessed and utilized by employees, ensuring that all training is culturally responsive, incentives for supervisors to encourage the development of their employees, provision for more stretch assignments as opposed to Special Duty Opportunities, clear career pathways across job classifications, and professional development plans for all employees.

Thank you to the employees who attended the March 22 Listening Session: Cynthia Chiu, DPD, Public Defense Investigator; Velma Valdez, DOT, Mechanical Designer V; Lorrie Alfonsi, DOT, Transportation Planner III; Breen Lorenz, DES, Nurse Case Manager; Elena Edwards, DOT, HR Associate (Special Duty); Dean Olson, DOT, Functional Analyst; and Jose Luis Reyna, DOT, Acting Facilities Chief.