February 17, 2021

Interim Human Resources Director for Equity and Workforce Development Chris Lenn

Multnomah County equity and human resource leaders briefed the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday on critical steps they’ve taken to construct a more equitable workplace.

Chief Diversity and Equity Officer Benjamin Duncan, Chief Human Resources Officer/Interim Department of County Management Director Travis Graves, Interim Human Resources Director for Equity and Workforce Development Chris Lenn and others from Central Human Resources highlighted Central HR’s work over the last year and the division’s plans to do more. 

Their remarks were the first in a series of Workforce Equity Strategic Plan (WESP) presentations underlining Countywide progress toward creating a workplace that Chair Deborah Kafoury said “models equity, racial justice, and inclusion.”

According to Lenn, Central HR’s work over the last year has centered around designing a set of “Central Commitments” to sufficiently meet office equity goals. 

“As we looked at the work of the WESP, we saw the clear direction for departments to implement minimum standards, but we also couldn’t help but notice the opportunity we had in our central offices to contribute resources, processes or tools that would help departments to meet the minimum standards,” he said.

WESP Minimum Standards for 2020 and Central HR Commitments:

  • Performance reviews at the departmental, division and program levels will be tracked through the new Workday system.

  • All managers will have the ability to receive professional feedback from those they supervise as well as from the managers they report to, thanks to a new Workday configuration coming year-end 2021.

  • Departments now conduct stay interviews (or use other methods) with a portion of their staff, focusing on frontline positions. They also have access to resources posted on Central HR’s resource page on Commons.

  • Interview panels intentionally reflect the diversity of the County workforce and the community, and employees are continually identified and trained to participate in interview panels. Central HR’s interview panel training can be found on Workday, and panel representation can be tracked on Workday.

  • Every department will have a set of questions that can be used during hiring processes to help assess job candidates’ competency in working with diverse employees and communities. Central HR will integrate existing departmental interview question databases and share information about best practices on Commons.

  • As of 2020, all new employees are assigned a peer support or mentor to contribute to professional growth, and assist with orientation and onboarding, through Workday.

  • Central HR is providing a centralized New Manager Orientation for all departments. The orientation will include a clear understanding of organizational resources and also the support that’s available to new managers and their teams. New managers will also learn about their responsibility to be supportive and properly take either preventative or disciplinary action when needed.

Lenn and others from Central HR emphasized the importance of investing in a more extensive equity-informed orientation for managers, which will transform the ecosystem of the County’s working environment. This sentiment was echoed by Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson.

“Your experience at Multnomah County is so dependent on who your manager is, and there are differences within divisions and departments based on who your manager is. That role is so important,” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said.

The new centralized training for managers, piloted in January 2021, takes the roughly 100 new managers the County trains every year through a comprehensive two-part orientation.

The first part consists of a two-day virtual orientation offered six times a year where new managers cover topics including values and expectations: leading for equity and inclusion, serving as a coach and facilitator, and working in a complex organization.

“Managers arrive in their roles with technical expertise and a desire to guide the work and care for employees who do the work. And they bring their lived experience, grounded in their lived identities,” said Kelley Tralle, who is part of the County’s Organizational Learning Team. 

“They step into an extremely complex work environment,” Tralle said of managers, “so we recognize the need for a leadership development framework that lays out the expectations of this complex environment.”

The second part is what Trisa Kelly from the Leadership Development Team calls “cohort learning,” and it includes five follow-up sessions scheduled every other month after orientation.

“Every other month they’re learning more and sharing more, what they’ve observed thus far, any questions they have so that they can continue the conversation about how they are adapting to our culture here at Multnomah County,” Kelly said.

But because it is nearly impossible for any organization to create a “one size fits all” playbook, the biggest goal for the new program is developing immediate and ongoing connections. 

The Board of Commissioners thanked Central HR for their tremendous strides toward workplace equity during 2020, despite an unprecedented global pandemic. 

“I really appreciate the challenging landscape you have had to navigate. It started out as a journey over terrain, there were ups and downs, you encounter obstacles. And then COVID threw a mountain in your path that you had to traverse, and I just want to say I appreciate your mountaineering skills. You’ve really brought those to bear,” Commissioner Meieran said. 

“This past year has been a year like no other and it seems to be continuing into our current year and in addition to the dual-pandemics of COVID and institutional racism with criminal justice reforms you’ve been seeing in the County and across the country,” Chair Kafoury said. 

“Our WESP work is instrumental in our continued reckoning with and dismantling of the systemic racism that is woven into our organization and into our community. This work will push us forward in our transformation into a local government that is fully equipped to ensure every community member has an opportunity to thrive.”