As the HR
Doctor was writing this article, the sports world was in the midst
of a sea of championship events. The World Cup was being played. The
National Basketball Association Championship series and hockeys
Stanley Cup competition were underway and Americans were waiting to
find out if there would be another Triple Crown winner as the
Belmont Stakes horse race approached.
successful teams in these events all share some common
characteristics, that are sometimes lost to the teams of people who
should be making government extraordinary in every county in
sports have clear rules and enforcement mechanisms that are applied,
for the most part, consistently and equitably. Yes, there are the
judging difficulties of more subjectively measured sports, such as
ice skating and diving. However, for the most part, the rules
involve three strikes and youre out rather than three strikes if
over 58 and left handed verses four strikes on alternate
It is true that
sports, like every other component of society, has undergone a slow
and often painful puberty when it comes to the application of rules
to women or persons of color. Nonetheless, a touchdown remains six
points and all the teams know it. A basketball goal from 30 away
remains three points. Imagine what would happen if the rules of a
sporting contest were not clear or if some players chose to operate
from a different rulebook?
will not result in championship performance, whether in sport or in
local government. Confusion about rules results in an attorney
feeding frenzy. It does not serve the public well.
provide training for staff members, who are expected to carry out
the organizations policies and reach the goals, is administrative
malpractice. Just ask the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which,
in a recent age discrimination complaint, held that a failure to
provide training to managers amounted to reckless indifference.
Hardly a county or city attorney in America would be particularly
pleased hearing words like that from an appellate court.
This was an
unlawful employment discrimination case but it could have been a
citizen complaint at a county commission budget hearing, or it could
have been a newspaper editorial chiding the organization for some
problem behavior or performance failure.
The HR Doctor
once arranged for county managers to spend a day on an aircraft
carrier, the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt. The Roosevelt is gigantic
and complex. Its work is dangerous and is performed 24 hours per
day, 7 days per week under extraordinarily difficult conditions of
weather or combat. The average age of members of the 5,000-person
crew is about 19. Employees are being transferred in and out
leaders, you may be in an organization with 1,000 or more employees
or fewer. It does not matter. The average age in a county government
in America is certainly not 19. In many counties, the average age of
an employee is in the 40s. There may be decades of experience on the
resume of individual experts, including advanced degrees,
certifications and years of practical experience. The offices,
generally, are not open 24 hours per day and combat is rare at
least physical combat.
proportion of county employees performs indoor work with no heavy
lifting. Given these very significant differences in conditions and
demands, why is it that aircraft carrier crews perform with amazing
success, while county governments, with all the apparent advantages
described above, often appear to lurch along, stumbling with
apparent internal staff and leadership conflicts? Shouldnt it be
the other way around?
question was explored on the Roosevelt, the answer quickly became
clear. The key element is a strongly felt common bond of mission
focus and commitment to the goal.
the clerk to the medical technician to the ship stores personnel
and the air crews understand the mission and accept responsibility
for their work towards its overall success. In county government, we
sometimes are not sure what our mission is. Different groups
perceive a conflicting mission and behave in ways which hurt or
retard the overall effort.
If you dont
believe me, just visit your nearest county during budget hearings.
There is often a sense that the sporting event underway is world
wrestling rather than an honest event. A recommendation by the
county administrator may be undermined by a department head or a
union or some other group, which has difficulty spelling the word
In many smaller
counties especially, there is a particular problem in the
relationship between the elected governing body and an elected
department head such as the sheriff or the district attorney. The
relationship is not only one of conflict and lack of teamwork but it
can evolve into personal animosity, stonewalling and political,
legal or other attacks. The organization suffers, staff members
suffer and the taxpayers suffer the loss of productivity and the
loss of opportunity.
enough, the dueling administrators suffer in the end as well. No one
wins, and there is no sport here. A NACo focus group of county
leaders recently identified this problem of lack of internal
cooperation as a critical weakness in the county form of government.
This problem is also an infection inside school districts, cities
and special districts. It is, of course, unlikely that the best
answer is going to be the elimination of elected offices and the
creation of the office of county commandant.
enough, by force of individual personalities, one official often
ends up wearing a striped shirt and blowing a whistle to help move
meetings along and resolve internal disputes. In many places, this
role can fall to the head of human resources.
If there is one
particularly important factor in curing this blight, it is visionary
leadership. A leader reminds us of who we are, said Walt Disney.
A leader is a dealer in hope, said Napoleon. Even the humble HR
Doctor has a quote: A leader creates an environment for common
action and purpose.
workshops, focus groups, or regional meetings, addressing this
leadership-gap issue would help. I believe they would. However, all
the meetings and all the promises made on Capitol Hill or in state
capitals dont matter if they are not carried through back home.
The winners of
the real government championships will be those who play best when
they are enabling the team to reach overall goals and to be
successful. If team government and its missions and goals are not
clear and supported in your county, this would be a great time to
change that situation.
The HR Doctors
hopes you score many goals!