Ray Justice, administrator for learning and talent development in the Ohio’s Department of Administrative Services, knows how continuous learning — connected to employees’ passion for their particular area of public service — supports recruitment and retention. He shares tips for leaders to show their own commitment to professional development, provide their team with relevant practical applications and demonstrate the positive results to foster employee engagement and fulfillment.
Trevor Brown 0:12
Welcome to a podcast leadership forum, conversation with leaders who serve the public good. My name is Trevor Brown, and I'm privileged to serve as the dean of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University, where we aspire to fulfill a simple phrase that Senator John Glenn used to describe what we do, inspire citizenship and develop leadership. I also have the honor of serving as the host of this conversation series. So welcome to a thoughtful and reflective conversation about leadership and public service. I'm joined today by Ray Justice, the administrator for learning and talent development in the state of Ohio's Department of Administrative Services. Ray has served in a variety of human resource roles for the state of Ohio for over a decade. And before that, he worked in human resource roles for the Columbus Dispatch, city group, financial services, and York Risk Services Group. He has broad experience in Performance Management, workforce and succession planning and talent development. Ray Welcome to our podcast and thanking you for joining me for a conversation about training and developing employees, managers and leaders for the state's public sector workforce.
Ray Justice 1:22
Thanks, Trevor. Happy to be here today.
Trevor Brown 1:25
So let's, let's start by talking about the challenges facing the state government workforce. What would you you know, as we come out of the pandemic, and and we're, we've been in a tumultuous time, for lots of reasons, what do you identify as sort of the top challenges facing our state's workforce?
Ray Justice 1:44
Yeah, I think I think that the top few that come to mind, Trevor, you know, we have some communication challenges, right, with with the way we were thrust into the pandemic, right? We very quickly had to learn new ways of communicating, we use teams, Ms teams instead of zoom here at the State. So that was that was the first one how do we how do we kind of navigate learning this new technology and being effective, and then some recruitment challenges? We have some high critical recruitment areas that I think most folks listening today would probably echo as challenges as well. Then we talk a little bit to about engagement and fulfillment, how to keep folks how do we keep folks in it? Right, we hear about quiet quitting lately. A lot, right? How do we, how do we kind of move past that and understand why that's happening? And move folks beyond?
Trevor Brown 2:47
Okay, so you said communication, recruitment, retention, and engagement, fulfillment, I just wanted to sort of let's go back through through each of those, and just sort of unpack them a little bit. So on the communication front, you know, you mentioned that switch from from one sort of form of technology, I assume we were meeting in person in the state beforehand, for lots of meetings to now using technology to inter mediate those those conversations. How, how has that transition gone? Are people adjusting acclimatizing to this new way? Or? Or is there still a lot of resistance and sort of newness to it?
Ray Justice 3:27
Yeah, I think I think for the most part, folks are adjusting really, really well, I you know, there's always I don't know, I don't know about you all, but there's always changes to that communication platform. There's always new and exciting and surprising, often things that come about so So sort of navigating those new things. That's really where the challenge lies from a technology standpoint today. I think I think the folks that typically are, you know, laptop PC kind of facing workers in the state. They're pretty used to getting pinged and, you know, having things pop up and around all kinds of different times and places around our work day. But I think some of the ones that are are seeing some more challenges are those that aren't typically on technology. You know, we have a whole host of folks that are like direct care, folks, such as nursing and corrections. We have folks that do like typical labor types of jobs, such as our highway technicians. Those folks very, very rarely have the opportunity to sit down and do things at at a laptop at a at a workstation. So for some of them, I'm imagining those folks are maybe more business as usual our business, you know, BC pre pre K Coronavirus. So, you know, it's kind of a mix, I think I think for the world that I live in the world that I work in, typically, folks are, are very well used to working and collaborating through this online platform. And we're kind of back and forth in and out of the office as well. So some folks have a chance to collaborate in person again, as well.
Trevor Brown 5:30
Just one last follow up on this. And I appreciate the distinction of the it's good to remember that the state's workforce is is variegated, you got different kinds of roles and people performing, you know, inherently in person face to face activities, and others who can be wherever they can be talking about those who now can work remotely. I read somewhere recently that in the push to bring people back to an office environment, the real beneficiaries of that are the managers, that that that managers enjoy having the people under them to be able to see what they're doing and have sort of visible evidence that work is occurring. Whereas for workers, they may find there's a high degree of productivity for being on their own in someplace else where they're not distracted by a boss coming in, or a co worker, what what's your own personal sense? Like? Is it a manager's dream to have his his or her teammates all around him? Or her? Or? Or is it? Is it the case that the state's managers are much more comfortable now with a flexible work environment?
Ray Justice 6:39
You know, I think that's a good question to hear. So I think I think you'll see kind of a little bit of both, I think from from my own personal world, I work I oversee a team of what I'm number seven, on my team. And then, you know, around me, I have a team of, I don't know, maybe seven to 10 other folks to within our office of talent management. And, and for us, we've really benefited from coming back and talking in person. For instance, just last week, I took my leaders that report to me off site for a strategic planning meeting, and we haven't had the opportunity to do that in two plus years now. So it was really exciting to just meet and talk and have some fun and funny, silly conversations interspersed with all the work stuff, right. But I, you know, each agency is sort of doing its own thing, so to speak, in terms of whether or not they're bringing folks back part time, full time, you know, just really, there's a lot of variants out there. So it's, it kind of depends on who you speak to these days.
Trevor Brown 7:50
So let's, let's take the second two areas, you mentioned kind of combine them that's in the midst of the Great resignation, the labor market is, is formerly very, very hot. And now it's kind of confusing, where there are certain areas where people are struggling to find jobs. And then there are other areas where employers can't can't find enough people to fulfill those those jobs. But there's still a lot of dynamism in the market, people can can choose to do lots of different things. Connect for me the challenges of that sort of classic, how do we recruit the best in and retain them with engagement and fulfillment? What are you seeing in the state as right now, in terms of the challenges that exist of keeping people engaged and fulfilled and hence wanting to stay in most most positions?
Ray Justice 8:38
Yeah. So you know, there's, there's a lot of I don't know if you've ever heard this, Trevor, I'm sure this is gonna be a shock. But, you know, as as public servants, a lot of times we get a little bit of a bad rap, right? So we think, you know, they don't, they're, they're lazy, they could maybe get a job elsewhere. Those kinds of things. But I, I would argue that the exact opposite is true. I think the folks that come into the state have a reason for coming here. Right? If it's maybe it's stability, maybe it's something along, you know, personally, but I think a lot of times, you know, especially the newer generations that are coming into the workforce, they're really, they're really emotionally invested in some greater good in some public entity or service or cause, if you will, to, you know, come in and make a difference, right. And it's not for them necessarily, oh, I need I need a guaranteed 30 year window, right? stable employment, right. It's, it's no I see this issue in my community and I want to go fix it. I want to be a part of fixing something in my world. So I think I think being able to tie back to, you know, the impact that folks have have in their world and their job. And sometimes, you know, sometimes as leaders, we have to, we have to kind of pull things out for our folks at times, you know, help them see that impact if it's sort of lost or maybe not as fresh. But I think, you know, one thing that our deputy director has done in recent months is construct our True North document. So we have a very clear vision, a very clear mission, and a few core values. And we call that our True North. And so for us being able to point back to this is this is why this is our purpose. This is our driving force. I think that goes a really long way to helping folks stay motivated. And then in the engagement and fulfillment component, you know, my my role in the States, being able to build learning programs, being able to take people on their developmental journey throughout their State career. I think that can help a little bit too, with engagement and fulfillment, being able to tie back to, you know, this is what I'm doing today. But these are the different rungs on my proverbial career ladder, that here's another ladder, I might be interested over there, or this is another complete career change that I'm interested in exploring, helping people be able to understand what all the state does, is really exciting, as well. And I think that keeps folks I think, in my humble opinion, can you help keep folks around a little bit longer.Trevor Brown:
Well, that's that's such an important point. And I'm so glad to hear you say that, I think that aligns with the way we teach in the Glenn college too. And I'll use that metaphor, I loved your juxtaposition of the importance of mission, that public service mission with that ladder, the Career Development ladder, and I think the effective manager leader is the one that can connect your personal ladder to that mission, right that like here are those rungs you need to climb on that ladder, to help us pursue that grand vision or mission of the agency, the organization, the department, whatever. And that, that we try to counsel students is is effective leadership and management is finding that that connection point, so let's, let's talk about that developmental ladder that that you oversee. So we'll transition to talking about the skills and competencies needed to succeed as a worker, manager leader in the state. I know that the state is sort of moving away from a more sort of restaurant menu of a bunch of different skills, you know, go ahead and pick and choose towards a more competency driven approach. So So tell us about the thinking behind that change? And what what that looks like.Ray Justice:
Yeah, thank you. So I'm kind of have to step back for a second. So the State operates on, we have a pretty comprehensive competency model that's been in place for Oh, eight or nine years now or so. So we have 43 different competencies, which sounds like a lot, but we have a way to kind of pare it down. So we have two competencies that all employees have, for instance, on their performance evaluations, so we have a customer focus. And then embracing diversity and inclusion, every employee across the state has those as their core competencies. And then we have a couple of different ways that we model competency application, depending on folks level and their jobs. So every job title has three competencies, three major competencies that are tied directly to it, those will be tied into their performance evaluations as well. But we also have, for instance, a suite of I think it's 14 to 16 different competencies that we look at specifically for leadership development. And then our cafeteria, our former cafeteria style program, our professional development arm, we're looking at building out programming. For as many of those competencies as makes sense, we have a few that are very mechanical, very, like moving an object, right, I would faint, properly teach someone how to how to move something. But some of those softer skills such as communications, and so forth, we're building out professional development programming, that will be at a couple of different tiered levels for the general population as well.Trevor Brown:
And when you painted the picture before and let's talk about communication, you know, that's, that's an emerging it's an everlasting challenge, kind of an evergreen challenge of management in any organization. But as we have new modalities of communication and new dispersed workforces, what what are the core competencies that you want managers, leaders, workers to have in that in that communication arena?Ray Justice:
Yeah, so so we have a couple of different communication specific competencies, but I would bucket them into one because the skills are applicable whether you're talking internally externally, so so forth. So definitely basic communication, right? treating people with respect, understanding their story, their point of view, which is always unique, right? Every every person that we talked to has a unique position and point of view that they're bringing to the table. The other one that we're leaning into, around that world as well, is coaching. Or we're leaning into coaching for our leadership, development as well. We're actually, I'm in the midst of leading a workgroup, specifically building a coaching program for internal state of Ohio employees as well. So lots of new and exciting things in terms of communication, coaching and interpersonal skills.Trevor Brown:
Yeah, so let's talk about I'm curious on the coaching front, is this sort of peer coaching, where people in the organization are coaching their their more recent members? Or are you building a sort of third party cadre of of coaches? What's the the model the state is pursuing or some mix of both?Ray Justice:
Yeah, we actually do a little bit deeper right now on the, for instance, manager as coach, we've been teaching that for a number of years. But the the program that I'm hoping to stand up in the not too distant future is actually the cadre. So we're, we're building up internal coaches, pairing them up with someone outside their normal sphere of influence, just for a different thought perspective, a different thought partnership, and being able to, to have have the space to think deeply because as we know, as busy as busy professionals, right, it's hard to make that space, and hard to just step back and consider and ponder. So we're hoping to be able to build some of that into our program.Trevor Brown:
Well, educate me and us the listeners here, what you use that you want to start by training managers to perform some of those coaching roles. What do you see as the distinctions between being a manager versus being a coach? You know, there's presumably some overlap, but what are the what are the sort of signature differences between that? And how would I know, oh, that's as a manager, that's a good coach, and they're doing a good job coaching one of their employees?Ray Justice:
Yeah. So from a managerial perspective, we kind of come at it, as you know, we have a very specific sort of model that we teach in our in our leadership, development programming. And it's, it's very, it's a little bit more hands on, I would say, then, like a cadre based coach might be so a managerial type coach, if I'm coaching one of my staff members, I'm going to be checking in on them pretty pretty regularly, I would say, especially thinking of like a new employee, you know, ramping up their skill and ability to perform in a new environment. But with a cadre coach, you know, they are probably going to be someone who's been around a while, who's motivated to participate in a program such as this right, and be able to bring their past skill sets and experiences to the table. One of the things that we that we teach in our in our managerial coaching, and I'm going to be teaching it in the cadre based coaching as well as is the importance of those powerful questions, right, leaning into just asking a question and being comfortable with silence, because it's as Americans, I as maybe just as global adults, we're so uncomfortable with that space, we feel like we need to fill it. But I think there's a lot of power in letting the other party, whether it's a cadre based or a managerial base coach situation, just sit back and digest and reflect. And that's something that I'm passionate about building into my own team. And I hope to be able to build that for for the rest of the state on day two.Trevor Brown:
It's funny, as you were talking, I was reminded of, sort of teachers I've had, or my own parents where when I wasn't perhaps paying attention and not being very coachable. They might say, put your listening ears on, you know, like, pay attention, listen up. And what I like about this is it's sort of the reverse, right? Because coaches and managers have a tendency to just talk, talk talk and if we just actually created the space for people to first listen, but then for us to listen, maybe it's us that needs to put our listening ears on instead of directing people to pay attention. So I I'm intrigued with that. That's the way the State's going and that's exciting. That's, there's as you say, there's There's so much information and noise in a good way that can come out of silence. And we all need to practice that.Ray Justice:
I call that practicing the pause, I teach an executive leadership coaching course. And if they don't walk away with anything else, I want them to walk away with that phrase in their mind, practice the pause, ask a question and take a drink, take a break to, to be able to give space.Trevor Brown:
Now, that's great, well, actually, let's use that as the transition, the sort of third part of this conversation. So you you teach. What I want to this is this is sort of deep cut here from one teacher to another, wanted to talk about sort of education and training and the way that you and the state are thinking about, we've talked about the areas and the kind of competencies, but now it's the how best to do that. So what what do you think are the best ways for workers and managers to engage in continual learning? What's the what's the best way to inculcate that in in a, in a workforce like the states?Ray Justice:
We always encourage our folks to talk about what they expect their folks to bring back from training. It's so easy to say, my team needs training on customer service, right? But but really, at the end of the day, what why, what does that look like? What's what's below that state of need of customer service training, for example, that leads me down that path. So kind of kind of sussing out what the underlying motivation or need or or goal is in seeking this learning out. So that's, that's probably one major component that we work through. When we consult with agency customers and my team, we get down to the bottom level, and really try to understand where they're coming from in and make sure what we're providing really hits to the heart of what their goal is. Another thing that comes to mind, Trevor is, is, you know, setting the example setting the expectation of, you know, this is important in my own professional development as a leader, here's what I'd like you to focus on. And here's what I'd like you to consider focusing on for your own development. You know, I've set that out for my own team as well, I just went through some development, professional development myself over the last month or so, trying to get into more of the Agile design components of learning and talent development. And I really want to take that and improve our programming, improve our processes in order to, you know, hit the goal more of the time, not that we're not hitting it now. But I think we can, you know, use that that methodology to hit it more accurately down the road.Trevor Brown:
So are there different modalities, and in our world, we think of course, based instruction, whether virtual or in person versus even in an educational setting like ours, we're, we're leaning deep into application based learning, whether it's an internship that has a curricular component to it, or project based work in a classroom, what's your sense about which of those sort of classic, you know, didactic learning where you're you're receiving information and you're doing some sort of hypothetical exercises versus you're, you're on the job and you're being coached and guided? Which of those is the better method at different stages of workers development, after climbing that those the rungs of that ladder?Ray Justice:
Yeah. So what we what we notice in our old, I'll go back to sort of that cafeteria style, choose it, choose it and put on your tray kind of learning, we noticed that a lot of that curriculum was very entry level based. It was it was at like a novice level. And it wasn't going too far beyond that. And we realize that we needed to give more so beyond that entry level, sort of choose this, that and the other. Were, like I mentioned starting to tie some of those pieces into our competency model, making sure that we're developing those skills, but throughout that developmental journey, we're building on those practical application kind of components as well. So instead of just talking at someone, whether it's, you know, through a screen or in a classroom, what have you, we're building in those activities, to be able to experience things in a safe environment. And then once they go into more of a proficiency or an expert level, they'll have more independent courseware to complete. And a few projects here and there even as far as as something like a capstone ish, or like component to prove that, you know, they made it through all these things, they applied it, they understand how to apply it in their world. And this is this is the culmination of that. We see that a lot in our leadership development as well. So we have, especially our executive level leadership course where it's very, it's almost like a facilitated discussion in a lot of the the courses, we pose questions, they teach back, they put something together in their small groups and breakouts, and teach it back to the larger group. And then that that does culminate into a more traditional Capstone like Project, where they present it back in in their final course, and apply all the principles back in one setting.Trevor Brown:
Again, there's there's a lot of synchronicity between the way sort of formal education is evolving. And the way you all are thinking about education and training and in the workspace, get a sense of the preference of, of workers for one modality over another, I can imagine this isn't a setup to say that one is better than the other if I was super busy. And I've got trying to juggle work life commitments, maybe that sort of traditional courseware approach, like that fits what I need, because of where I am in my life versus at other times, I may be like, I'm about to start this new phase of my career. And I really want to build my confidence to see how would I translate some of that knowledge and apply it in the workplace? I'm just curious, are you getting a sense of is it different people, it's different fit? Or is there a one one way or the other that you're seeing is preferential?Ray Justice:
Yeah, that's a great question. So we kind of see that, at the moment, less is more in terms of time spent viewing or watching or listening. So we try to make the most of that time that we have folks engaged in a classroom experience or classroom virtual or in person kind of experience. So lots of those activities, lots of experiences, roleplay scenarios, case study kind of things. But for the for the majority of folks, you know, they want something quick, they want it when they need it, how they need it, those kinds of things. So we're leaning into more micro based learnings. So less than less than 10 minutes snippets, yep, even if we have a longer term or a larger piece, let's say we have a two hour course, we break that out into chapters where they can come back and do the rest of it later. And they don't have to, you know, do everything in that one two hour chunk. But for, I'll go back to our executives as another example. So they really, they're pulled in so many different directions, right. And so it's, it's easy for them to say, you know, I don't have time I don't, I just can't do it. But we find we're finding with our executive level programming, that they're really hungry for it, we have great engagement, great feedback. And those really are more traditional. In class, we do it virtually right now. But it's a two hour block every other week for about five or six weeks. And we have great feedback, it's probably one of our best our best assessed pieces of courseware, or sets of courseware right now. And just the discussion, the learning the connection that they make throughout the their time in that virtual room right now I think has been really valuable for them.Trevor Brown:
To raise, I pull this to a close, I want to sort of step way, way back, you and I are in the same business. We're in the business of helping public sector professionals be the best they can be through through education and training. But as we come out of a fiscal crisis, it's it's often education and training is often like the first thing to go when when when resources are tight. Executives often think Well, that's something we can do without how do we keep that personal development, that professional growth, that commitment to learning? How do we keep that top of mind and create a deep commitment to a culture of continuous learning throughout the state?Ray Justice:
Yeah. That's a really big question. Nothing like ending with a challenge. Right. So So I think I think it's really important to have it baked into The culture and across the state enterprise, right, we have upwards of 50,000 employees across many, many different agencies, each with their own, even within agencies, some have their own micro cultures, you know, depending on location and region and all that. So I think it's important as leaders to to demonstrate, as I think I mentioned this earlier, our own commitment to continual learning and development and advancing our own skills. I don't I don't think as as, as leaders, no matter, positionally or not right, I think if we commit to making that a priority, that will embed itself on our culture. I think I think one of the other things that comes to mind to something that I'm working with my leadership on right now is is the story that leadership measure, or excuse me, learning measurement takes, right so what what kind of story do we want to tell with where we've been and where we're headed in our learning journey? What benefits have our learning experiences shown? How have they manifested themselves? How have we implemented those learnings to make our workplaces better to improve our processes, our policies? And then, you know, taking that further, how has that impacted our customers our constituencies, right? It's not just about learning to make myself feel good and get more money or get a better position. It's, especially in public service, I think it's I think it's really key to demonstrate, you know, I did this thing over here. So it will have this impact in the long term. So So building, building that into the culture and showing the impact that it has, I think will be great selling point, I hope will be a great selling point to continue down the path of learning and development.Trevor Brown:
Well, Ray, you're a great salesman, to me, you may be preaching to the choir, but I'm buying I've really enjoyed our conversation and I want to thank you on behalf of the citizens of the state of Ohio and Glenn college for for your commitment to helping prepare this next generation of public servants and making sure that they're they're doing their their job to advance the mission of their agencies. And ultimately, as you said, that one core competency of, of customer service and being customer facing as well as serving diversity, equity inclusion. So thank you for your great service and thank you for the conversation.Ray Justice:
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.