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National Association of Counties • Washington, D.C.      Vol. 34, No. 10 • May 20 , 2002

The H.R. Doctor Is In

A Brain, Once Expanded...

Oliver Wendell Holmes was a great philosopher, poet, physician and probably a local government human resources director. How do I know? Simple! He was an ardent fan of human development and of seizing opportunities to learn in order to contribute and grow.

He was once quoted as saying, “…a brain, once expanded, can never return to its original dimensions…” What a wonderful expression of the effect of learning on an employee and organization.

The HR Doctor invites his elected and appointed colleagues to consider that great quote from several dimensions, especially when considering a budget request to increase HR expenditures for organizational learning! From the individual employee standpoint, learning new skills and gaining new knowledge helps the individual understand specific needs as well as broader perspectives about the organization and the community.

There is a magic HR acronym implanted into the brains of every successful HR executive. In fact, if you arrive very early in the morning at opening sessions of HR conferences, you can find people chanting “K-S-As, K-S-As.” The knowledge, skills and abilities of individual employees and the attention paid by the organization to their learning opportunities increases the productivity, morale and retention of key staff members. The best staff members are magnetically attracted to the agency that respects them by offering them the chance to contribute more. Learning is the key to increasing contribution.

For the organization as a whole, success will be found in the KSAs of the staff. How aware are the agents of the sheriff, for example, about the liabilities and opportunities to protect the community with modern methods of law enforcement? What reputation would the county hospital, behavioral health department or out-patient clinics have if the staff members were not provided with ways to keep up with their fast-changing profession?

The beautiful HR daughter, Rachel, in her third year of medical school, will see the body of knowledge in her chosen profession expand five-fold by the time she is in her 30th year of practice! Organizational success demands the best methods to deliver services, with the greatest efficiency and humanity, be applied.

Government has a special responsibility to apply such methods, since we serve, not only everyone in the community, but especially the frail, elderly, young, ill and those in need. It is hard to provide first-class service without class in terms of professional learning, networking and employee development.

Having stated what the HR Doctor hopes is a compelling case for the support of employee development programs, there must also be a strong dose of accountability for prudent use of funds and facilities by those responsible for bringing the programs to life. Some of the key ingredients in a successful learning organization begin with periodic needs assessments. Those in HR can and should lead the effort to keep employees up-to-date of trends in public administration and opportunities for learning.

The assessments are augmented by professional networking to learn about best practices in local government and in the private sector. How to bring those practices and the enhanced technologies which often accompany them into your own organization is the next challenge after the needs assessment and mining the fields for ideas and models.

Bring learning to the organization in innovative ways which make learning fun and valuable — as well as financially responsible. If you can stand the thought of re-reading several past HR Doctor articles (assuming you read them in the first place) you will get some practical insights into how this can be accomplished in any county! See I Never Met a Metaphor I Didn’t Like or Turning A Retreat into A Great Step Forward at

We can teach KSAs. Sadly, it is a great deal harder to instill wisdom in our colleagues and ourselves. Wisdom, according to the HR father-in-law, involves understanding when and how to apply KSAs. Solomon, he reminds me, prayed for wisdom, not knowledge! Despite the value of that lesson, wisdom must be set on a foundation of learning and knowledge. Employee and organizational learning is the ticket to better performance and reduced liabilities. What more could a taxpayer, a voter, an auditor, a newspaper editor, or a child being served by a local government want?

May your KSAs continue to expand!

All the best,
Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor •