Auditor's office makes employee performance management strategic

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The Harris County Auditor's Office was looking to replace its paper-based appraisal process with a web-based system, with an eye on efficiency and being more strategic about the way it managed employee performance, development, career progression and rewards.

The move to the web-based system has enabled the County Auditor's Office to:

  • conduct project evaluations at the end of every engagement to better understand outcomes and employee performance;
  • improve the quality and timeliness of appraisal information; and
  • better support the office's strategic plan by creating an accurate picture of the organization's competencies, their gaps and future needs.

Organization profile

Harris County, which is within the Houston, Texas metropolitan area, has a population of nearly 3.7 million and is the third most populous county in the United States. The Harris County Auditor's Office has general oversight of the books and records of the county, district, and state officers authorized or required by law to receive or collect money or other property that is intended for the use of the County or that belongs to the County. The Auditor is statutorily required to see to the strict enforcement of the law governing County finances and is responsible for substantially all the County's accounting control functions. The Auditor also serves as the Internal Auditor for Harris County, the Harris County Hospital District, the Port of Houston Authority, and the Community Supervision and Corrections Department.

Challenge

Like many public sector organizations, the Harris County Auditor's Office was relying on a paper-based system for annually reviewing employee performance, rating competencies, setting goals and assigning development plans. The Office, which is led by Barbara J. Schott, is focused on working smart and making all accounting processes simpler.

The paper-based process was inflexible as it applied a one size fits all approach to every department within the office. As part of an overall focus on adopting leading-edge practices, the County Auditor decided to automate the employee performance review process and search for an on-line solution. In addition to appraisals, the County Auditor wanted to be better able to assess the skill sets within each department and within the office overall, and look at skills the Office would require in three to five years.

"We had a number of issues that made us decide to modernize our systems. Our goal was to focus on strategic issues such as our strategic plan and free up everyone from administrative tasks," said Buddy Hammann, manager of human resources with the Harris County Auditor's Office. "We were focused on moving from reactive to proactive mode with our HR processes."

Solution

Over a three month period, Hammann, researched available options, completed a comparison of the features and benefits of each solution and presented his findings to senior management. In assessing solutions, he quickly identified a few key must-have features. These included the ability to incorporate the Office's own competency list and the flexibility to create employee evaluation forms for any position within the Office.

"We needed to do more than just move our appraisals online and automate the process," explained Hammann. "It is about identifying the skills required to be ready for tomorrow's systems and needs."

Following his review, Hammann in conjunction with the County Auditor, and Chief Assistant Auditors selected an employee performance and talent management system from Halogen Software. As a government office, security is paramount, so the County Auditor's Office opted to have the system deployed on-premises.

After purchasing the software, Hammann started on the implementation plan, which included consultation with all of the stakeholders as well as the management team. "Early on, I recognized that for this system to be accepted, people needed to know and understand what was going on," said Hammann. "Working with stakeholders and management, we were able to determine and define the competencies for management and non-management personnel. From there, we were able to incorporate feedback, get everyone on the same page, and be ready for the go-live."

Benefits

Since rolling out the new system, the Harris County Auditor's Office has been able to streamline the appraisal process, improve the quality and timeliness of appraisal information and better prepare the organization for the future.

Overall, both managers and employees of the County Auditor's Office have been able to streamline their roles in the appraisal process. Managers now have the information they need at their fingertips, and employees are able to track their accomplishments throughout the year using performance journals. "We have had a lot of feedback from across the office, and it has all been positive. A big plus is that we're not playing 'library' anymore digging up old information," said Hammann.

In addition to annual reviews, the internal audit group is using the solution to execute reviews at the completion of projects. The versatility of the Halogen solution has enabled Harris County to configure the workflow for this process to meet this team's specific needs. Now, at the end of each project or engagement there is an assessment of all employees on the team, which not only enables the County Auditor's Office to review employee performance, but overall performance of the audit group and if it has met the goals set out for the project.

"We have developed a process to address the project-based nature of the internal audit group. The end result has been that we have more timely and accurate feedback and much more insight into the lessons learned from each engagement," stated Hammann.

The new system has provided the County Auditor's Office with management reporting capabilities that provide a whole new level of insight into employee performance, development plans and the organization's longer term needs. "We've been able to assess each employee's competencies and see where everyone fell in relative terms. This would have been painful using the paper-based system," said Hammann.

Building on the new strategic focus on employee performance and talent management, Harris County Auditor's Office recently purchased a succession planning solution from Halogen Software to complement the appraisal system. "We have all this information from the appraisal process now, and want to be able to take this one step further by assessing our talent pool. The goal is to be able to quantify an individual's performance and then have a defined development track with very clear objectives that an employee can follow."

The Harris County Auditor's Office is focused on ensuring they have the skills, employees and teams in place to ensure they are ready to achieve their strategic plan. "Succession planning moves us from reactive to proactive mode," explained Hannaman. "We'll have a handle not only on individual skills, but be able to assess how well teams are performing today and get ready for the future."