MERCED -- Employees aren't surveyed often about how they like working for their company, but the Merced County Office of Education is in the midst of doing just that in the hope of improving communication and enhancing leadership skills.
Steve Gomes, Merced County superintendent of schools, said processing survey results and making changes is a little bit like building the airplane while you're flying it.
"When you ask people their opinion, you've have got to be prepared for the answer," Gomes said. "It may not be what would you would like to have heard, including blemishes, faults and shortcomings.
"A survey is like taking a temperature; it's only an indication. Now you have to do the examination, ask questions and get more information."
About 1,500 people work for the county schools office, all but 400 full-time. Some 800 people responded to the fall survey, and 350 workers made comments.
Gomes thinks the ongoing survey is extremely valuable and it gives MCOE leadership a chance to see the organization through the lens of the employees.
"I believe in collaborative goal-setting. The overwhelming theme was communication and collaboration. Organizations work better when everyone has some input into the direction the organization is going, if there are better ways of doing things," Gomes said. "One of the outgrowths of this is we have established a leadership training program."
Employees of the MCOE's six divisions rang in about communication, morale, trust and accountability, as well as if they enjoy working in their departments and if it is going in the right direction.
The survey showed between 73 percent and 96.9 percent of the employees said their department is going in the right direction; between 95.3 percent and 100 percent of the workers in the six divisions enjoy their work. The divisions are business services, career and alternative education, early education, human resources, and migrant and special education.
Gomes said employee feedback shows workers wanted to know what other departments were doing and indicated there wasn't enough opportunity to talk to colleagues in other areas.
"I believe we have an organization with lots of great people," said Misty Key, assistant superintendent for business services. "Our leadership development program will bring out the best in people who were already great. There is lots of positive encouragement, and it is spreading. People want to do better, develop their skills."
Gomes said the leadership training covers five themes: modeling the way, inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, enabling others to act and encouraging the heart.
"It's a very complex thing to do, talk about attitude," Gomes said. "My personal philosophy is I think people care about their job; they're engaged in their job. When you have an environment like that, you begin to grow exponentially."
Christopher Gonzalez, an MCOE custodian and president of the 400-member Chapter 541 of the California School Employees Association, said leadership is a two-way street. He applauds Gomes for an effort in turning things around.
"It's better to work together than to work against each other," Gonzalez said. "We need freshening up in leadership."
Trust works two ways, Gomes said. The organization trusts in employees to get things done, and the employees trust in the organization to support them. In improving communication, suggestions have included a monthly newsletter, more e-mails among workers and face-to-face interaction.
"Our employees like to have social activities so they can visit other departments. Some employees felt they weren't appreciated for the work they do. Now we know the direction we can go to improve the work environment," he said.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.