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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

County’s workplace plan moves forward

Initiative launched under McCauley goes on minus employee survey

By Jake Thomas, Columbian political reporter
Published: August 31, 2017, 6:00am

Although Mark McCauley was ousted as county manager in May, an initiative launched during his tenure intended to improve the county’s workplace culture and morale will continue to be implemented. However, the county has stalled plans to survey employees to see if it’s working.

At a Wednesday morning work session, the county council received an update on Clark County’s implementation of Servant Leadership, a bottom-up management philosophy that holds that if bosses put their workers first, the workers will be more engaged and customers will be better served.

During the work session, interim County Manager Jim Rumpeltes said the leadership framework has been adopted by large companies, such as Nordstrom, Starbucks, Southwest Airlines and others. He said Clark County’s embrace of the leadership style grew out of a 2014 cultural assessment survey of county employees that gauged their attitudes of their workplace.

“On the good side, they said that Clark County employees were engaged, satisfied, committed to their jobs and pulled together to get work done,” said Rumpeltes. But on the other hand, Rumpeltes said the survey revealed that employees viewed the county as being unfair and untrustworthy and that harassment was too common. “Trust was strained and morale was low,” he added.

In response, he said, the county adopted the Servant Leadership model and hired Chris Meade, an executive coach and founder of Leadership Alive Inc., to train county bosses. So far, 158 senior leaders, including elected officials, underwent in-depth introductory training in Servant Leadership last year, according to county spokeswoman Holley Gilbert.

Another 112 managers and lead workers also underwent training this year.

McCauley, who was suddenly ousted as county manager by the council in May, oversaw the implementation of Servant Leadership and had high hopes that it would improve employee morale. Earlier this year, he said the county was preparing to conduct another cultural assessment survey over the spring, which he said would reveal the effectiveness of Servant Leadership.

Speaking after the meeting, Clark County Human Resources Department Director Kathleen Otto said the survey is on hold. She explained that the change in county leadership could affect employee responses and that it made more sense to conduct the survey under more permanent leadership.

Speaking during the meeting, Rumpeltes said the county will continue to implement Servant Leadership but will now be conducting the training in-house.

During the session, the council heard from county employees and managers who said that embracing the leadership framework has helped create environments where workers can provide feedback and workplace issues are better addressed.

“By implementing this practice it helps create an environment of trust and accountability,” said Clark County Finance Director Mark Gassaway.

Although the council was overall supportive of Servant Leadership, council Chair Marc Boldt asked how it would play out when an elected official or employee find themselves torn between following state law and concerns from citizens.

Councilor Julie Olson asked, “How do we know that what we are doing here is making a difference to the people that pay our salaries?”

Columbian political reporter