Client: Sonoma County Superior Court

The Challenge: The court operated under a rigid position classification plan that only allowed promotion of legal process staff after a lengthy reclassification and testing process.  In addition, the general competencies required of court staff and the criteria for advancement between levels in the legal process series were unclear to both supervisors and staff.  Finally, the court lacked a designated lead worker classification and criteria for selecting them.  Instead the court gave staff a lead worker premium based primarily on seniority, often without assigning them significant lead duties and without regard to their team leadership skills.

Our Approach

We helped the court develop a flexible staffing plan so that staff could move between classifications based on defined criteria but without written examinations and reclassification of positions. We analyzed classification specifications and evaluation instruments from other California Superior courts with flexible staffing systems and interviewed their Human Resources staff.  The results were compared with the model job classifications from the California Administrative Office of the Courts.  We conducted focus groups with supervisors, managers and selected staff to identify job requirements and necessary competencies of entry, journey and senior level staff and lead workers, redrafted the court’s job descriptions and created evaluation instruments.

The Results

  • A flexible staffing plan that benefited the court by:
    • improving performance, job satisfaction and staff retention by offering employees improved opportunities for training and advancement;
    • facilitating cross training and flexible use of staff, thereby encouraging a team approach, enhancing productivity and reducing crises in the absence of key employees;
    • enhancing communication and developing a common understanding between supervisors and staff about needed staff capabilities;
    • encouraging more considered hiring of entry level staff by supervisors because staff are likely, in time, to be promoted to higher levels; and
    • allowing new hires to be brought in at lower levels of the flexible class without concern that a budgeted position will be lost.
  • Job classifications that clearly lay out the knowledge, skills and abilities needed and the distinctions between job levels.
  • An evaluation instrument that also encourages supervisors and employees to detail an employee’s competencies and reach agreement on areas of needed improvement.
  • A lead worker job classification with specified duties and required skills in leading and motivating employees.

Consultants: Kate Harrison and Phyllis Smith

For more information about this project, please click here to request the Executive Summary.

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