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Improving Your Manager's
"Decision Vision"

Dear HR Doctor,

The importance of innovation in county programs is greater now than ever before. What are some steps I can take to encourage innovation in managerial decision-making?


"Not Just Same Old"


Dear "Not Just:"

You are correct in judging that public administration needs innovative thought in programs now more than ever before in its history. The public's reluctance to increase government funding combined with the grueling management of case-load driven and mandated programs, such as jails, indigent health care and welfare benefits, make it much less likely, in the future, that doing business "the way we have always done it" will work in the 21st century.

Here are some thoughts from the HR Doctor about how to have a work environment in which employees and managers feel better and less threatened by innovation.

  1. Have an aggressive and well-marketed employee suggestion program (an ESP Program). Rewards in the program should be presented by the elected officials and have strong financial incentives, such as 10 percent of the first year's savings (with a dollar cap) for suggestions which produce tangible, measurable increases in revenue or decreases in cost. Many organizations have a strong suggestion program. NACo would be happy to provide an example on request.
  2. Have a performance excellence award program administered under the county manager or county administrator's discretion. The excellence reward program would provide incentives such as cash or lunch with the administrator for the employee and a family member to those who contribute to agency excellence by spectacular performance on an important project or going "above and beyond the call of duty."
  3. Include innovation as a criteria in employee performance evaluations. That is to say, make known to employees in advance, and especially to managers and supervisors, that they are expected to continuously look for ways to do things better in terms not only of reduced direct costs, but also improved quality and citizen service.
  4. Brag about the positive results. Use a newsletter or a "good news" portion of a county commission meeting agenda. Let the top administrators attend staff meetings in different sections and agencies to recognize accomplishments.
  5. By demonstrating a positive, personal example that the agency wants and honors employee ideas, the top managers are taking a critical giant step toward encouraging ongoing innovation.
  6. Support work force diversity. Here the HR Doctor wants to make it clear that serving a diverse population can best be accomplished with a work force that reasonably reflects the population being served.
  7. Having a work force full of employees of different backgrounds, both genders, some disabled, some not, etc., brings to the table a rich spectrum of ideas which will tend to nurture a spirit of innovation.

As we look at our way of doing business from 40,000 feet, as we look ahead at what might lie over the horizon, we create an opportunity in the county for each of our agencies to ask itself questions like "what can I do now to be in a position to handle this or that emerging change when it comes five or 10 years from now?"

By encouraging an over-the-horizon vantage point, as well as meeting our day-to-day, minute-by-minute responsibilities, counties will be ready for the 21st century.

(The HR Doctor was written by Phil Rosenburg, director of human resources, Broward County, Fla.)


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