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May 10, 2004
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The H.R. Doctor Is In

The "HR’chitects"

We grow and develop as individuals based upon structure in our lives. Initially, the structure comes in utero from our mothers. It comes from our parents in the initial few years of our lives and gradually expands to take in other dimensions. We start school. We develop friendships. We begin a career. We end up with families of our own.

All of these elements replace what would otherwise be chaos, uncertainty and an inability to function. As individuals, we would not survive. Our society would not survive.

Inside a bureaucracy, structure is all around. You can’t buy paperclips without following the rules of the Purchasing Department. Certainly, if you work in a Sheriff’s Department or Fire-rescue department, there are structures that govern day-to-day existence. Call them rules, regulations, chain of command, policies - there are many names, but they all refer to the same thing - the process of substituting some form of productive and shared protocols for randomness in order to produce something of value. Structure is, therefore, essential to our individual well being and to the health of society.

On the other hand, too much structure kills creativity and makes exploring new or controversial subjects very difficult and uncomfortable for an individual. Arguably, it is creativity and innovation that have the greatest positive effect on an organization and on an individual.

In other words, there is a tension between adhering to structure mindlessly at one end of the spectrum and creative disregard for convention on the other end. Neither extreme is helpful, nor is it healthy.

An overly structured organization is not a happy place to spend a career. Rules that disregard the reality of what is going on in the real world will doom an organization to high turnover and low productivity. The rules in a successful organization must not only allow, but must encourage, innovation and the willingness to experiment, even at the risk of some failure.

One of the absolutely great points about a life in Human Resources is that HR is in a position - or should be - to be a gatekeeper in this tension between innovation and structure. HR can be a center of policy development and rule enforcement, especially in a civil service system or in a system bound and limited by language in collective bargaining agreements.

However, HR also sees the human reality of the need for flexibility in an organization. HR patrols the border between rigid rules and the need for family flexibility. It sees the need to balance organizational efficiency and personal flexibility. It sees the health troubles, discipline issues, great behavior and poor behavior that goes on every day when multiple human beings find themselves in the same organizations, at the same time, in the same place.

It is one thing to follow the rules when it comes to our purchasing request to buy new paperclips. It is another thing to deal with an employee who has been diagnosed with a fatal illness, to constructively and effectively address the behavior of a bully at work, or to recognize employees who have done amazing work.

HR becomes the centerpiece that can help guide a chief administrative officer or city manager in making the most effective and balanced policy decisions possible. The more complicated the world of public administration becomes, the more a "gatekeeper" is needed.

HR is the architect of structure as well as the balance-beam champion. This is a recipe for great contribution to an organization’s success Ñ if the staff members individually can keep from going crazy in the process!

The message for top elected and appointed leaders is that the most important decisions you may ever make will be HR decisions: in the selection of advisors and agency executives, in the development of balanced policies, and in responding to changing needs. Demand that the organization have a proactive and energized HR function, professionally staffed, housed, funded and accountable for the results it produces. Use HR to enhance your success and the organization’s. Build a building using an architect! Build an organizational structure with the blueprints developed by the "HR’chitects."

All the best,
Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor


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