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May 09, 2005
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 The H.R. Doctor Is In

HR to the Core

One of the joys in life is eating a juicy and delicious Red Delicious apple. Most of us, while enjoying this tasty morsel, end up discarding the core. We don’t use it in creating our favorite dishes such as apple pie, cobbler or applesauce. Yet without the core to provide the basics for survival of the apple on the tree, there would be no fruit. In case you haven’t guessed, this is an article about the "core" of how we practice our profession as public administrators.

In public agencies as well as in private business, a great way to create the foundation for success is to use an internal communication process to create organizational "core values." The core values define the kind of professional practice staff members commit to and that the organization requires for excellence.

Every Human Resources Department, and indeed the entire organization, can benefit greatly by identifying its set of core values and by committing to live by them. As individuals, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to carefully examine our own core values as well and to reconnect with the principles which are really important in our fleeting lives.

Here are the HR core values created for the City of Miramar, Fla.’s HR Department:

HR Department Core Values

  1. Respect for and caring about clients, colleagues and ourselves.
  2. Open, honest communications.
  3. Strong stewardship of the taxpayers’ money and property.
  4. Continuous improvement and innovation in business practices.
  5. Helping ourselves and others achieve professional learning and personal growth.
  6. Being a champion and positive ambassador for the city and the organization.
  7. Not walking by something wrong.
  8. Seeking out challenges and being accountable for results.
  9. Maintaining high standards of ethical and job-related conduct and decision making.

The core values serve the organization in many ways beyond just an impressive set of concepts. These values form the basis for performance management and goal identification. They can be folded into individual as well as organizational performance evaluations.

For example, one of the core values above involves a continuous process of innovation that can lead directly and smoothly into how a manager will coach, evaluate and help develop subordinates. Questions such as, "This past year, what steps have you taken to improve the way we do business for the stakeholders and for co-workers?"

The core values become a code of conduct and a basis for praise and rewards or corrective action and, if necessary, discipline.

In the military and in paramilitary organizations like Sheriff’s Departments and Police Departments, a regular feature for discipline includes the charge of "conduct unbecoming a member of the organization." Any such charge in an organization with established core values can easily be anchored back to one of those values, such as the one described above involving ethical and job-related treatment, respect and caring.

For the organization as a whole, measurement in terms of client surveys can also be anchored back to the core values. In effect, these values say, "This is how we will be doing business." Client surveys and evaluations can be asked the simple question, "How did we do in relation to our value commitments?" "Are we doing what we say we are going to do?"

Creating a set of core values is not very difficult, but it must be done in a way which makes the act of creation itself a positive experience for the staff. An organization’s core values are not established in a private office by the agency director, the city or county manager or even the elected officials. The best model involves using a focus group, perhaps facilitated by an outside experienced person, so that the staff members themselves end up identifying the characteristics of the ideal agency in which they would like to work.

The many ideas and comments are then synthesized by the facilitator or by the agency head. The final list is then shared back with staff members as a draft for another opportunity to comment, suggest modifications and offer commitments of support.

The final project then can be laid out in a format where every staff member (i.e., the same people who had a key role in the identification of the values to begin with) sign a statement of commitment or sign a poster size version of the core values which can then be framed and displayed prominently as a reminder.

The core of my morning apple is the basis of how the fruit becomes delicious. The core values of an organization define and mark the agency’s appreciation of a progressive and ethical way of doing business.

In the HR Doctor’s experience, occasional attendance at mandatory seminars or lectures on process improvement, quality assurance or performance based-anything will not be anywhere near as successful.

Mission statements, vision statements and core values represent three powerful tools formulated out of the same participatory process described. These three statements of who we are and how we want to be known in our profession is the key to making performance measurements and performance innovation possible.

Next time you eat an apple, save the core and keep it on your desk so that anyone who asks why its there can immediately be directed over to the wall with the poster which answers the question.

Be at the core of positive change ... eat an apple!

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor


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