The public sector has not been immune. While traditionally enjoying longer tenures and a lower separation rate compared to most other sectors thanks to job stability and strong benefits, recent data showed the highest public sector turnover rate in more than four years, with 24.2% of the public sector workforce separating in 2020 compared to 18.3% in 2017.
Public sector recruiting and search firms are incredibly busy trying to locate talent to fill key management vacancies. The demand for Raftelis’ search and executive recruitment services, already up significantly from 2019, increased by another 51% in 2021.
While the challenges and costs of turnover are a valid cause for concern, there can also be an upside: turnover can be an opportunity to step back and look at things with a new perspective. Some organizations are using turnover at upper management levels as an opportunity to invest in a “reset” and conduct an organizational assessment. In this way, the organization can revisit how work is done and provide insight and a roadmap so new leaders can “hit the ground running.”
An organizational assessment is a comprehensive review of part or all of an organization. While some agencies use the term “audit,” that term can sometimes have negative connotations and can promote fear in staff. An organizational assessment is not intended to find the “bad” but to assist staff in identifying ways to improve. At Raftelis, we have reviewed hundreds of departments, divisions, or whole cities, counties, districts, or utilities across the country and serve as trusted advisors to our clients.
Organizational assessments vary by each client’s needs but typically include a review of the organizational structure, staffing levels for each program or service, operations and workflow, use of technology, policies and procedures, and more. The process often includes a:
Our consultants are former local government employees with experience in all facets of local government operations. Our project teams are assembled with those most knowledgeable about the subject at hand. For example, the team assembled for an assessment of a police department would include a former police official as well as those consultants with law enforcement subject matter expertise from prior work in the field. With over 130 consultants nationwide, Raftelis has the flexibility to assemble the right team for each client.
Washington County, Oregon, is an example of an organization that used turnover as an opportunity. In 2020 the County was in the midst of significant change. Located just west of Portland, it was continuing its rapid growth from a largely rural 1980 population of 245,000 to a more suburban population of over 600,000 in 2019, becoming a significant player in the Metro Portland region. The long-time County Administrator had departed, and a new Chair and members of the Board of County Commissioners had been elected, bringing about significant change to organizational culture and expectations. Many long-time managers departed as well.
In August 2020, the County had hired Tanya Ange, former Deputy City Manager of Boulder, Colorado, as its new County Administrative Officer. The new Board Chair and Commissioners had brought forth several initiatives that would require reconfiguration of staffing in the County Administrator’s Office (CAO). The County had established a new Office of Equity, Inclusion and Community Engagement to advance racial equity and support a more inclusive organization and community. There was a great deal of staff turnover in the CAO and throughout the organization. New technology systems were being implemented. Change was afoot!
At the new Administrator’s request, the Board took the opportunity to step back and review CAO operations holistically by providing funding for an organizational assessment. The purpose of this assessment was to evaluate the CAO’s current structure and reporting relationships, understand its effectiveness, identify opportunities for improvement, and develop recommendations for an organizational structure that would work now and into the future. The County named this endeavor, “Design the Future” and engaged Raftelis to assist.
To accomplish the County’s goals, our project team reviewed background materials and documents, conducted a total of 46 interviews including all staff within the Office as well as department heads, had CAO staff complete detailed position questionnaires about their daily, weekly, monthly, and annual duties, and compared the County against 13 other similar organizations.
The project team used the information and knowledge of County strategic initiatives and future plans to develop several restructuring recommendations that will ensure the CAO can effectively support operating departments and strategic initiatives with the Board of County Commissioners and community. This included creation of a “C-Suite” that brings managers of key agency-wide functions such as Human Resources and Equity & Inclusion closer to the County Administrative Officer, and a revision to the titles and duties of her four Assistant County Administrators to better support operating departments and allow the Administrative Officer to work with the Commission and focus on broad County-wide initiatives. A phased implementation plan was provided to assist the County in moving forward.
Raftelis’ report was reviewed by the Board and County Administrative Officer, and work has already begun on implementation of its recommendations and a restructuring of the Office.
“The challenges facing Washington County are multifaceted and range across several of our systems of service, but they share a common thread: the need for a well-trained, well-resourced and inclusive workforce that can function across disciplines and organizational structures,” said Ange. “Design the Future has put us on a path toward improvement through organizational change and a recommitment to our values.”
As turnover inevitably occurs, think not only about filling the vacancy but consider seizing the opportunity to take a fresh view of operations and set a new tone moving forward. Provide new leadership with the benefit of operational insight and a roadmap to success by undertaking an organizational assessment.
 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Economic News Release, Table 16. Annual total separations rates by industry and region, not seasonally adjusted, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.t16.htm