ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. - Leadership at the U.S. Army Sustainment Command has implemented several ways for employees to have their voices heard, some directly to the highest levels.

As part of this effort, Michael Hutchison, deputy to the commander, ASC, has implemented a schedule of forums where employees can meet with him to talk about their concerns and suggestions.

"I want people to have access to me, to tell me what's on their mind," said Hutchison.

The monthly forums began in August 2017, and are scheduled to continue through June 2018.

As the senior civilian at ASC, Hutchison said he thinks it is important for him to know how employees are doing.

"I find I do not have much of a chance to get out of the office," he said. "And, I want people to have access to me."

Recent attendees said they think the forums are good for providing information and increasing morale.

"When I initially heard about the forum, I thought 'What a great idea from the leadership side to engage with the workforce,'" said Tony Mayuri-Robles, supply systems analyst, Distribution Management Center, ASC, one of the December forum attendees. "A very smart and definite step in the right direction to improving the organizational climate we currently hold here in the headquarters element."

Hutchison said he has found the forums quite useful.

"They give me an idea on where I can focus efforts," he said. "Sometimes I'll get feedback in a session that prompts me to go back to those already working initiatives to see where they are with their projects. The forums can serve as a reminder to me to follow up with my staff on things they're already working through."

Attendees said they presented questions and concerns about professional development opportunities, hiring practices, communications, leadership priorities and others.

Hutchison said he welcomes openness and productive conversation.

"I want a dialogue," said Hutchison. "I don't want it to be an argumentative session."

Hutchison said one of the most important things he has learned from the forums is that communication does not always flow evenly. As a result, Hutchison said he is committed to improving communication across the entire command, which has operations worldwide.

"In some areas the workforce is well informed; they know what's going on," he said. "In other areas, they're still in the dark."

The responsibility for communication is with the leadership of each part of the command, said Hutchison, adding that he has instructed managers to hold similar forums with their employees.

Attendance can range between five to 20 people sessions lasting an hour.

Some attendees said they wished the session lasted longer.

"Mr. H has a wealth of knowledge and many resources, so when a question is asked in a general manner, he articulates as best as he can," said Mayuri-Robles. "But it eats up time with him trying to be complete with his answers."

Attendees also said while they appreciated the opportunity to learn about leadership priorities, they would like to see more status updates.

"There should be something measurable that can be derived from these meetings to ensure that the 'suggestion box' isn't just emptied in to the garbage every month," said Matthew Tucker, logistics management specialist, Army Prepositioned Stocks, ASC.

"The workforce expressed their concerns or questions and Mr. H heard us, but where does it go from here?" said Mayuri-Robles. "A follow-up or something where we can see progress, even if it's minimal, would be worth its weight in gold to the workforce."

Responding to these concerns, Hutchison said the forums are just the first in a larger process.

"After we complete all the forums we will look at the feedback and decide our next direction. It could be more forums, it could be a town hall, it could take on many forms," he said. "We want to be actively conducting two-way communication with all our employees."

Hutchison said he designed the forums to be in two parts, one for supervisors and the other for non-supervisory employees.

"I want people to tell me what's on their mind and not worry about what another supervisor is going to hear and take back to their bosses," said Hutchison, adding he thinks it is important for supervisors to also have the opportunity to be heard.

The forums are usually held in the commander's conference room in Building 390, where attendees sit with Hutchison as the facilitator.

Employees were asked in an August 2017 email to attend only one forum so others could also have the opportunity. They then signed up to attend via the headquarters' training tracking system.

The forums were implemented as a part of ASC's Strategic Human Capital Plan, which was created in 2016 to focus on making a difference for the workforce and to establish "ASC as an employer of choice," according to the plan documents.

"It is important for employees to feel engaged and a part of the team," said Peggy Holvoet, program specialist, G-1 (Human Resources), ASC, who is one of the team leads in charge of implementing the plan.

"It's a proven fact that employees who are engaged are more productive," said Holvoet. "More productive output helps ASC accomplish its mission. By improving communication, engagement and productivity, ASC will better accomplish the ultimate goal of supporting the warfighter."

Holvoet said the SHCP implementation team has accomplished several initiatives. These include new employee orientation resources and programs, a new leadership pledge, and new surveys for new, current, and exiting employees.

Holvoet also said one of the biggest challenges the SHCP team is working to address involves hiring and promotion practices, an issue Hutchison said is commonly brought up in forum meetings.

"We need to develop a plan that allows for all employees to be competitive for the next higher level to encourage and support career progression," said Holvoet.

ASC employees can send the SHCP team suggestions through the supervisory chain or via an anonymous submission link located on the ASC homepage under the "Command Focus" heading.

Employees can also contact a member of the Employee Advisory Council to make suggestions about changing or adding to the SHCP. Angela Bassier, ombudsman, G-1 (Human Resources), ASC, is the lead facilitator for the council.

The SHCP documents are accessible to employees on the ASC homepage and SharePoint sites.

Those wanting to send questions or suggestion to Maj. Gen. Duane Gamble, commanding general, ASC, can do so via the "Ask the commander" link under his picture on the ASC homepage.

The dates and times scheduled for upcoming forums as of this article's publication included:

- Non-Supervisory: Feb. 13 at 11 a.m.
- Supervisory: March 15, 1 p.m.
- Non-Supervisory: April 12, 1 p.m.
- Supervisory: May 10, 1:00 p.m.
- Non-Supervisory: June 12, 11 a.m.

ASC is the operational arm of the U.S. Army Material Command located at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. As the senior logistics command, AMC develops and provides material and services for the entire Army. ASC is responsible for the integration of AMC assets in the field.

As one of the largest two-star commands in the Army, ASC operates seven Army Field Support Brigades, more than 70 Logistics Readiness Centers and five Army Prepositioned Stock sites worldwide. ASC personnel include more than 600 Soldiers, approximately 7,000 Department of the Army civilians and 30,000 contractors.