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Workforce diversity: the challenge to financial managers.

The American workforce has undergone unprecedented changes in recent years. Diversity due to age, sex, race, language, values, attitudes, beliefs, etc., is more distinctive now than at any time in the history of the office work setting. In a few years, at the turn of the century, the changes that will have taken place will be even more revealing.

In the fiscal arena of the public sector, this increasing diversity is as prevalent as anywhere. Because of the enhanced importance of financial management and the growing trend for employees of diverse backgrounds to join the public sector, this arena has developed some interesting personnel dynamics. Many employees now coming into these fiscal departments, which previously were dominated by a traditional employee profile, are from very different backgrounds. The staffs of fiscal departments of public sector entities in the 90s do not look like those of two or three decades ago nor will they in the future.

What does all of this mean to the fiscal manager of 1992 and beyond who is confronted by issues of workforce diversity? Does the manager, who joined his or her local government one, two or three decades ago and has been a supervisor for many years, really know who the people are who make up the organization today? What are the connections between issues of diversity and America's new economy? And, what are some of the strategies being used to address these challenges by finance officers in the public sector? These dramatic sociological and economic changes and their effect on the workplace are the focus of this article.

Case in Point: City of Los Angeles

The United States undeniably is in the midst of a sweeping economic and sociological transformation. Witness daily reports of the "right-shaping" of major industry giants such as General Motors, IBM and Macy's, coupled with projections that the year 2000 workforce will be 60 percent women and 50 percent minority. What do these trends portend for the public sector and, in particular, the finance officer?

For a clearer perspective, a specific case illustrates the management challenges posed by the changing nature of the workplace. Drawing from one city's profile, Los Angeles, both sociological and economic issues have come sharply into focus in the past year. The composition of the workforce of the city and the staff in its Treasury Department shows a strong profile of diverse, demographic information that reflects the trend in many public-sector entities.

At the departmental level, ethnic and gender diversity among the Los Angeles city workforce is readily apparent, as seen in Exhibit 1. Not so apparent from the chart is the diversity of language and values. For example, a survey of the 50 employees in the Treasury Department revealed that no less than eight languages are spoken by employees from 12 ethnic backgrounds, ranging in age from 29 to 72.

Out of this multicultural environment, subtle management insights have arisen. Foremost is the immediate perception that the challenge of diversity presents the opportunity to maximize the benefits of its presence. For example, when a non-English speaking taxpayer/customer approaches a cashier's counter or calls on the telephone, there is usually someone in the department who is able to help in that individual's native language. This commonality of language and values builds trust and establishes rapport between the public and the department, and thus greatly enhances the Treasury Department's high-quality service objective.

On the other hand, surprises or disappointments also occur. As an example, in an attempt to bridge some of the hierarchy and bureaucratic tendencies, employees of the Treasury Department were called together to suggest that a first-name basis be used by all, including when addressing the Treasurer. Many in the group were pleased, especially those older than the Treasurer, but others were less comfortable, as their upbringing, tradition and values called for a more formal relationship between the head of an organization and those who report to him. Thus, in this instance, the boss' effort to create a more relaxed environment may very well have produced the opposite result.

Challenges arise as well where groups of employees tend to use a language other than English on a regular basis throughout the day when communicating socially, as well as for business matters. Other employees may have legitimate concerns that they are being excluded from pertinent communication. This situation can be handled as an opportunity for managers and supervisors to learn key words and phrases of different languages, enhancing acceptance, communication and teamwork. It also may reveal the need to make the second-language users aware of their co-workers' concerns and sensitivity so that an appropriate balance can be found.

The Management Challenge

To cope with such issues in the Treasury Department, a new Treasurer saw the need to develop new strategies and ways to manage more effectively. In an era of limited resources, it became clear that better management of one of the key resources-people-could yield dramatic results. An assessment of this key resource made it imperative for the Treasurer to move proactively to meet the new challenges and reap the advantages of a diverse workforce.

The approach adopted was both structural--concerned with the make-up of the organization, its functions, mission, goals and objectives--and strategic, with a focus on the issues, problems and solutions. A new era of management was envisioned in which the managerial style would be collegial-managers would act as facilitators, willing to share information and expertise, rather than as final authorities giving top-down direction. In short, managers were to be leaders in a shared decision-making process. Bringing this about called for a fresh look at the cultural and organizational structure of the Treasurer's Office.

Creating a Learning Environment

One of the first strategies undertaken to demonstrate the new approach to leadership was to refine the mission statement of the department. This proved to be an invaluable undertaking: The process of developing the statement showed staff the new ways in which they would be working, and the outcome, shown in Exhibit 2, provided a clearly defined mission to which all employees could relate because they fully participated in its development.

The Treasurer's overriding goal of improving the image of the department and of building a first-rate organization, having expertise in financial management and driven by a "customer-service" philosophy, would require an unprecedented investment in human resources. The decision to offer a major comprehensive training program followed a needs assessment of 10 major areas of organizational effectiveness. This study discerned that most employees felt that there was low morale, a lack of planning and goal setting, and a need for improved communication. It revealed a need for recognition, better methods of evaluation and diversity training.

A training program was designed by an external consulting group to address areas perceived as needed by the managers and supervisors. Among the desired outcomes was the development of managers and supervisors who would be

* self-starting and self-reliant problem

identifiers and solvers,

* effective delegators able to equitably and

productively distribute work assignments,

* leaders who could improve accuracy

while meeting deadlines and

* task-oriented professionals who are

service sensitive.

The overall goal of the training program was to develop an organization adept at managing change while maximizing the capabilities of its diverse staff.

The approach, to create a learning environment, involved three major phases: 1) One-on-one meetings with all

employees, from security guards to top

managers, in order to gather concerns

and input and to provide information

on changes in process. 2) Small-group meetings once or twice a

month, spanning work teams and

supervisory levels, where all ideas and

opinions could be expressed without

fear of criticism or reprisals. 3) A 150-hour, three-level, comprehensive

management and supervision training

program, custom-designed and facilitated

by an external trainer/consultant.

One-on-one Sessions. To gain a greater understanding of the varied backgrounds of the staff members with respect to age, gender, ethnicity, educational level, tenure, etc., the Treasurer set aside time to meet with each employee formally on three occasions over a 12-month period. Thirty-minute time slots were allocated for each of the approximately 50 employees. Allocating two full weeks to such an endeavor was deemed extraordinary but necessary to accomplish a key goal: creating a new image for the department, starting with developing a positive working environment, raising morale and enhancing productivity.

In actuality, these sessions ranged from 10 to 15 minutes in some cases to one or two hours in others. The average time spent with each employee was approximately 45 minutes per session. The time consumed was mainly a product of the level of active participation by each employee in an open dialogue. Generally, there was a high level of enthusiasm, once the apprehension level had receded. Employee involvement varied from no questions, few comments and statements of significant satisfaction with the job, to numerous questions, extensive discussion and a variety of suggestions and criticisms of past and current practices.

The purposes of these sessions was to provide and receive a balanced level of input and to gain as much useful management information as possible. Another aim was to establish a comfort level to ensure that the open door policy and other participatory management practices could be effective.

Small Group Meetings. The regular staff meetings, led by employees familiar with the subject matter, give employees of all ranks a chance to participate more fully and to have their views seriously considered. This setting provided individuals an opportunity to go beyond merely following directions. Rather, the opportunity to lead the discussions, sometimes without the presence of a supervisor, has created greater potential for decision making among those who know the job details best and who do the day-to-day work. A major outcome of these sessions, a significant benefit for management, is that they have enabled employees who previously seldom communicated with each other to do so on a level playing field, in a nonintimidating environment.

Management and Supervisory Training Program. The management and supervisory training model, schematically illustrated in Exhibit 3, provides flexible but structured training, using free-standing modules that allow for open-entry and open-exit scheduling. With content relevant to everyday work situations, it aims for high skill transference and low intrusion on existing work schedules.

Three levels of training are offered. The beginning level consists of coursework addressing issues of personal and professional development. Coursework focusing on work teams is presented in the advanced level. At the mentor level, a cadre of in-house trainers assisted by external trainers extends the cycle of training across all divisions and all levels. A Mentor Manual, a yearly planner with monthly topical worksheets, will sustain the training after the formal sessions are completed.

Training is designed for half-day sessions on a bi-monthly schedule. A typical session may consist of:

* ice-breaker, or connection time, that

allows people to bond;

* a theme or focus area lecturette;

* questions and answers;

* an activity using a checklist, assessment

or case study that involves participants

in small-group discussion and a feedback

process (participant evaluations indicate

this is their favorite part, as they are able

to contribute their opinions and listen to

their peers, while respecting differences

and learning how to talk through

issues;)

* a wrap-up, reviewing what had been

learned and perhaps a thought for the

day.

Another format is the brown-bag session assignment. This is an extended learning opportunity in which three to four participants get together at lunch or on a break and analyze a case study, a scenario or a professional magazine article. Reading and thinking about it individually beforehand, they then come together for a discussion of the assignment, where they share their observations.

Interim Results

After one year, a number of positive results can be reported with respect to managing workforce diversity. The top management of the Treasury Department has a much improved understanding of staff and what is necessary to facilitate their best work performance and the productivity of the department. Supervisory personnel have adapted their behavior and management styles to be compatible with supporting the overall mission, goals and objectives of the organization, including maximizing the benefits of diversity. Employees of other departments who deal regularly with Treasury Department employees have experienced improved communications and shorter response time with respect to services (banking) provided by the department.

Employees, having been given the opportunity to and indeed been encouraged to, have begun contributing valuable input in the larger organization, based on their knowledge of the details of their particular job functions. The comfort level of all employees has been materially enhanced, through the creation of a work environment that encourages participation by all based upon the unique contributions each is able to make. Any everyday example of the changed environment is seen now in the common practice of many employees frequently greeting co-workers in the language of the other.

Although many employees do not yet participate at the desired level in the various programs, such as the brown-bag luncheons and suggestion programs, the assessment is that the learning environment approach has resulted in enhancing involvement by at least 50 percent. Attendance at the annual Christmas party was nearly 100 percent vs. approximately 50 percent in the past. Tardiness has been reduced, and absenteeism has declined. This provides evidence that efforts to empower each employee with respect to his/her job content and output are beginning to pay dividends: Not only morale, but productivity as well has been boosted. And, most importantly, the image of the department is on the rise.

Conclusion

The all-out efforts that have been made to create a learning environment and ensure the greatest level of individual employee performance and departmental productivity have resulted in many positive benefits after only one year. The full potential of proactively managing and leveraging workforce diversity will not be realized until another two years of training and education have been in effect. But the commitment to establishing new ways of managing and leading has been made. The City of Los Angeles Treasury Department will continue to embrace the challenges of taking full advantage of workforce diversity and meet them by sustaining a vibrant learning environment for its multicultural setting.

J. Paul Brownridge assumed the duties of treasurer, City of Los Angeles, in March 1991. A former member of the GFOA Executive Board, he has previously held positions as treasurer for the City and County of Denver, Colorado, the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan and was director of revenue for the City of Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Mary E. Nolan is an educator, lecturer and writer who assists leaders in education, nonprofit organizations, and state and city governmental agencies to set up and operate their ow educational programs.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Government Finance Officers Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Brownridge, J. Paul; Nolan, Mary E.
Publication:Government Finance Review
Date:Jun 1, 1992
Words:2428
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