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National Association of Counties * Washington, D.C.      Vol. 34, No. 2 * January 28, 2002

The H.R. Doctor Is In

Behold ... the Age of H.R.

The “Age of HR” is coming to an agency near you! Public sector human resources is in the midst of a revolution no less important and full of opportunity than when civil service began to replace the spoils system four generations ago.

There is no choice about participating in this revolution. Its effects are inevitable. The choices facing administrators are to embrace the trends coming our way and make the most of them, or resist and cling to the processes and approaches of a fading model.

The other option is to consider the advantages of early retirement. The retirement option will be very attractive to many since it is often thought of as a means of escape from the discomfort which can accompany change.

In many places, when the agency called Personnel or HR is mentioned, eyes glaze over with thoughts of a paper-intensive, plodding organization, which may not understand the needs and interests of the client-agencies.

However unjustly, HR is often accused of pouring epoxy into the wheels of government. The layer upon layer of entitlements, process restrictions, and bureaucracy which can be found in many agencies, especially large ones, retards the government’s ability to react to changing circumstances and to be nimble in a world where movement at the speed of a banana slug is not going to help meet service expectations and urgent situations.

Past HR Doctor articles have focused on the need for change in the civil service paradigm and the need for the simple gift of exceptional customer service. Getting to nimble and exceeding expectation is what the Age of HR is all about.

One consulting firm estimates that the number of HR transactions will increase by 224 percent over the next five years. That increase in pace reflects the complexity of doing modern public service business.

Will the number of staff members, or the budgets of HR operations increase by anything like 224 percent? “Unlikely” is the short and polite answer.

The real answer is to participate in the HR revolution. In fact, the business of being an HR revolutionary is not monopolized by the HR staff! All managers and supervisors are HR professionals. All elected officials have a stake in the success of the HR functions. Imagine trying to operate an efficient and successful sheriff’s office, mental health agency, public works or parks department, finance operations — any public agency today — if the human resources components are failing! The liabilities are simply too many and too serious.

Fortunately, the HR revolution features ample opportunity to improve processes, harness technologies and change attitudes to an extent which will benefit an entire organization! What does the uniform of an HR revolutionary look like?

It features a proactive advocacy for ethics and service. The HR revolutionary also takes a daily dose of innovation and develops a positive vision of the future to articulate and share with others. This is a vision of what could be rather than what is or what was. Add a strong mixture of the philosophy of “Don’t walk by something wrong” and stir in the ingredients of recognition and appreciation of the efforts of others.

The revolutionary helps develop the next generation of colleagues, engages in active community service and involvements and believes that “…fun is the most important discipline of all.”

The world of HR change reflects the greater mobility of the workforce, its growing technological power, the competition faced by agencies to attract and retain the best and the brightest, and changing demographics. The latter will feature an aging workforce, the departure of the current generation of administrators, and concern about workforce skills and work habits.

HR has a critical role in representing the agency in meeting every one of these challenges. That role can be successful and the revolution can be won if Seven HR Essentials are fostered. They begin with reducing the risks of acute HR liabilities, such as workplace violence, sexual harassment and race and gender discrimination. Second, recruitment and retention success must be increased by applying tools such as the Internet, creating a career center, using imaging technologies and even outsourcing certain services.

A third step in the new HR is really a very ancient one — serve the client at the client’s convenience in a timely manner. This can be facilitated if we understand that not all HR issues conveniently arise between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

HR in a public agency must have a 24/7 capability to respond to problems and opportunities. Automation can help, but so can human availability, such as in an “HR ER” (see the HR Doctor’s article of the same name at

Managerial skills, knowledge and confidence must be enhanced through on-going learning opportunities, succession planning, staff development and networking. This applies to the HR staff members themselves. In short, learning must be an honored organizational imperative. It should not be the first casualty in a short sighted budget battle.

HR processes, forms, timetables and methods can be improved and enhanced. Decentralizing to a client’s work site with an outstationed HR officer, online forms and imaged records, a classification management plan, and “rapid reward” recognition authority for managers are some of the tools available in this part of the revolution.

The sixth essential is to enhance the variety and availability of benefits. This is necessary as life stages change and recruitment success in an increasingly diverse applicant pool is recognized. The HR revolutionary will be well positioned to meet the need to deal with the super-star, free agent applicant.

Finally, and perhaps most critical to a successful revolution, besides the vision of an efficient, innovative and human HR operation, is the integration of HR into top management decision-making.

The head of HR will occupy a place at the table of the top management cabinet, every bit as important as the chairs already occupied by legal and financial advisors. This is not a role to be well played out if the HR function is warehoused in the basement of the finance department or in a general services organization. Increasingly, the organizations that use the HR storage model will be less well served than those that allow, encourage, and, yes, demand HR service excellence.

Are we as public administrators up to the challenge of a successful revolution? The optimistic HR Doctor says “absolutely!” Just as the great World War II poster on the theme of the contribution of American women to the war effort reminded us … “We Can Do It!” We can do it by a combination of creating a vision, providing the leadership and — something hard for any of us to do often whether as parents or as administrators — get out of the way and let great staff members excel!

The HR Doctor hopes your revolution will be a great success, with zero casualties.
Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor •