Paul Hansen

Paul Hansen

For years we have been hearing accounts of a toxic culture and poor morale among some Teton County employees. Concerns have focused on the departments supervised by the Board of County Commissioners, county administrator and human resources director rather than the seven departments run by independently elected officials: sheriff, assessor, clerk, attorney, court clerk, coroner and treasurer.

In 2019 the Board of County Commissioners responded to this situation by asking for an organizational survey to assess the workplace and its employees. They contracted with Custom Insight, a company that has helped thousands of organizations worldwide during the past 20 years.

In November 2019 Custom Insight surveyed 231 of the county’s 280 employees. The results of the survey were submitted that December — over a year ago. Overall they indicate a troubled organization.

The survey grades activities and attitudes on a 1 to 100 scale, much like grades in school. A score over 66 is good. Lower scores indicate problems. Teton County did not get a passing grade in any area. In a number of areas the grades were in single digits. Here is a look at the findings.

Motivating and relating: Do managers motivate their employees to give their best? Are managers building strong relationships and developing a cohesive team? Teton County received its best grade, a 58, “Doing OK, but some room for improvement.”

Managing execution: Are managers clearly defining expectations, holding employees accountable and focused on delivering results? Teton County got a 50, “potential problem area.”

Strategic alignment: Do employees understand where the organization is headed and how they contribute to the organization’s success? Teton County’s grade was 31, “problem area.”

Culture of engagement: Does your organization have a culture that motivates, empowers, challenges and respects employees? Teton County’s grade was 22, “serious problem area.”

Digging deeper into the “serious problem area” finds these scores.

Trust: There is an atmosphere of trust at Teton County, score 13.

Teamwork: It really feels like everybody is on the same team at Teton County, score 12.

Respect for management: The leaders of Teton County really know what they are doing, score 4.

Values: The actions of our elected officials support Teton County’s mission and values, score 3.

The last survey question may be the most illustrative one: Our elected officials will take action based on the results of this survey, score 3.

Apparently the staff was correct. The Teton County Board of County Commissioners and staff leadership have had this survey for over a year. So far the issues the survey identified have not been addressed. These poor results should have engaged immediate attention and action from county commissioners and county staff leaders on behalf of us all. These are our employees. We pay them. We all have a stake in their wellbeing and performance.

There is a great deal of science and expertise in the area of organization management and governance. As stated in the first line of the Custom Insight report: “High performance organizations achieve success by having a clearly defined strategy, strong managers and leaders, and employees who are motivated to perform at their best.” Clearly this is not the case with Teton County.

I know that it can be difficult to lead. For 12 years I led a nonprofit with twice the number of constituents as we have here in Teton County. There are always disgruntled people. But what was documented in this survey goes far beyond the usual grumblings of a few malcontents. Everyone benefits when Teton County is a good place to work. Today it appears it is not. The results of this survey documented that employee morale is indeed terrible.

Being in leadership requires a commitment to working well with others. Next week I will look at how this situation impacts county stakeholders.

Paul W. Hansen’s Common Ground column appears about twice per month. Columns are solely the opinion of their authors. He would be glad to hear from readers as he prepares a follow-up to this column. Contact him at columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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