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Are Your People On Top?

County News is happy to present, in conjunction with the National Association of County Human Resource Administrators, the first in a new series of columns that will address county personnel issues. The column, “The HR Doctor Is In,” will appear in every other issue of County News and deal with issues affecting the people side of county government.

Dear HR Doctor,

I’ve heard about many of the challenges to county government when it comes to human resource management — preventing sexual harassment, race gender discrimination, threat of violence, ADA, FLSA, FMLA, and on and on! How can I tell, as an elected county official, whether the personnel staff in my county is ready to meet these challenges?


Hopeful County Official


Dear Hopeful County Official,

Thanks for asking. I can’t think of an area of public administration that has changed so much — and will continue to change so much — in its role as a contributor to effective county government than personnel, or human resource (HR), management.

Modern elected and appointed officials will demand that careful and continuous attention be paid to controlling the liabilities and seizing the opportunities in HR. This is just as true for small and rural or suburban counties as it is in the largest urban areas.

No program area, including police, fire, public works, parks or human services will succeed without a strong and effective HR program. How can you develop one?

First and most simply — but most importantly — recognize the need and provide the resources!

But don’t just fund a reactive staff group which is only involved in alphabetizing personnel files! The modern county HR function is staffed with people who are strategic partners along with all of the elected and appointed officials in setting county policies.

HR usually reports directly to the chief administrator, where it is best able to help the organization. HR should know about the “state of the organization” in the sense of keeping the classification and pay system up to date, paying attention to women’s pay equity, equal employment opportunity, affirmative action, and how it manages its recruitment and selection process.

Your HR division should have workplace violence prevention policies in place and be leading the organization in appreciating the role of employee training and development in preparing for the future.

Is there a strong Employee Assistance Program in place? Are grievances and disciplinary actions analyzed to look for patterns and places where supervisors and managers can be coached for better performances? Are programs in place to develop the “next generation” of county employees and leaders?

In other words, does HR play a lead role in innovation programs such as internships, school/county partnerships, charity work such as United Way Support? Does HR represent you and the county well in the community?

A modern HR office does all this and more. It exists to “look over the horizon” for the county to prepare the policies needed for its future. At the same time it must be grounded in its fundamental, day-to-day mission — to help every agency and every employee improve and succeed — to be a proactive partner and advisor to every department and division in the county.

NACo’s HR affiliate, the National Association of County Human Resource Administrators (NACHRA), is a fine source of help for your county’s HR staff! Attending NACHRA meetings is a good way to start. It is a worthwhile investment to keep up with what’s going on in the profession.

Finally, HR staff needs to keep in mind that it does not exist as an end unto itself. It exists to make meaningful contributions to the county’s success. That means a constant process of encouraging innovation. The HR office which focuses only on the past — only on continuing to do things the way they were done 15 or 20 years ago — is a dinosaur!

Yet there are many difficulties in getting there — the subject of future “HR Doctor” Columns!

HR’s future as a key component in county government is very bright. Every manager must become an HR professional — with help from the county’s HR department. In the 21st century county, that strategic coaching and developmental role will be clearly recognized!

Best Wishes,

NACo’s HR Doctor

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