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September 20, 2004
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The H.R. Doctor Is In

Birth of a Notion

Today, the HR Doctor got to sit in the back of the room and watch the introductory training take place in Broward County, Fla. for the online automated human resources recruitment and assessment system originally named "STAR" for "Strategic Recruitment and Assessment." I had the fun and honor to be present a few years earlier at the creation.

The idea was simple, but the road to get there was complex. Why should an applicant for a government job have to make repeated trips to a government building, generally at inconvenient times and dates, to apply for work and take various civil service examinations? Why should the organization make applicants crawl over broken glass to be placed on a civil service eligible list? These and other self-diagnostic questions went to the basic notion that public service needs great candidates as much, if not more than, the candidates need a job in any particular government agency.

The related notion was that the human resources recruitment system is a symbol of the entire organization. If the application process is cumbersome, inconvenient, slow and paralyzed in bureaucracy, these are the exact impressions a candidate will carry away from the experience.

The best candidates will imagine themselves working in such an organization and begin thinking of the 400 reasons why their contributions and, indeed, most of their waking hours, would be better spent working somewhere else, doing something else.

Even with great customer service-oriented employees there to meet the candidates, to invite them to have a seat in the sparsely decorated 20-year-old waiting area, and read old copies of city or county ordinances while they wait, the candidates will look at their watches frequently and imagine what else they could be doing that day.

If the candidate is a single parent, perhaps childcare had to be arranged, precious vacation time, or time without pay had to be taken from their current jobs in order to show up to apply, show up again for a written exam, show up again for an oral interview, and show up yet again for various pre-employment paper processes. All of this occurs before the person is even offered employment. Once that happens, in theory, the lucky applicant must start showing up again every day at work.

Mapping out the "touch points" in a recruitment process is the first step to realizing how sad or effective a process may be. The theory is that each time an applicant or an employee has to "touch" the process it is a precious moment which should be marked by efficiency and minimum inconvenience. Rapid response also helps, but is often a casualty of a bureaucratic process.

The STAR System was conceived as a 21st century response to the need for process reform. How, the staff asked, could candidates apply for work "in their underwear, at 2 a.m. from Tokyo?" How could the organization capture the application and qualification information it needed and assess the candidate’s skills, knowledge and abilities with minimum inconvenience and maximum positive result? How could this be done balancing the need for speed with the mandate to do due diligence?

The answer was STAR. Apply conveniently worldwide, online, any time. Receive feedback rapidly, and be notified when a desired position becomes available. Have your knowledge, skills and abilities as a candidate assessed online, and be able to actually interact with a real human being when necessary.

The first step in mixing this notion potion was to document the state of the current process, its strengths and its weaknesses. This was done in Broward County’s case in a very dramatic way by creating a butcher paper chart, approximately 30 feet long as a clear demonstration of the length and complexity of the process. After only one exposure to this diagram of the current process, the need for change became evident to everyone, and a chance for innovation was much easier to support.

Step two was to articulate an exciting, practical vision of what could be instead of what was. In effect, this meant taking the rather dangerous step of actually creating a process concept and being prepared to make commitments that the process would achieve specific results within specific time frames. In other words, a clear and attractive option combined with commitments by trusted staff is the next essential ingredient.

In the case of the STAR System, everyone immediately agreed on the need and how wonderful it would be to have this vision turned into reality. Unfortunately, a substantial change in the way age-old processes were done, in a very large organization, requires money and committed staff.

In a tight local government budget change will occur only if the county or city manager and department directors all agree that this outcome in HR will be positive for them as well. In other words, they have to support precious additional funding going to an HR project rather than something that would appear on the organization chart of their own department. That happened in Broward County with the County Commission approving the nearly $2 million for the long-range development of the program.

Of course, during the process, our friends in Purchasing got involved with request for proposals (RFP) for vendors (another process improvement opportunity?). Milestones, contracts, attorneys, auditors and a host of other helpful government associates immediately began orbiting around the process in the great tradition of how governments do business. Despite that help - actually because of it - the other "i’s" were dotted, and "t’s" crossed to make the process improvement conform to the other processes (which perhaps also could use a bit of improvement!).

In the end, however, great, patient and focused work by wonderful collegues such as HR Director Jim Acton, Mike Chasin, Rebecca Robertson and Annette Agusto, turned the "notion" into reality.

If I were visiting Tokyo doing a training program on the fine points of eating sushi, I could now apply at 2 a.m. in my underwear and, but for having been the HR director in the Broward County organization, I might never have appreciated all the work and creativity that went into the birth of a notion. Persistence and "keeping an eye on the prize" made the difference in this project - as it does in any significant endeavor!

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor


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