Wall of Wonder
A Guest Article by
Elyse Rosenberg, an HR Daughter
In 2006, both
my father and I celebrated birthdays that marked new decades
in our lives. We commemorated this event by inviting family
and friends to a joint 90th birthday party (Dad turned 60 and
I turned, well, the remainder). As my birthday approached, I
found myself examining where I was in my life and asking now
HR Daughter Elyse Rosenberg and the HR Dad, Phil
Rosenberg celebrated their 90th birthdays, Feb.
I shared these thoughts with a friend and
fellow public servant. She responded by e-mailing me a list of
accomplishments and traits that she keeps about herself to
look at in her dark moments. It was a very impressive list. It
reminded me that we all, in our own lives as well as in our
organizations, take too little time to look a long ways back
and admire the path that we have trod.
One of my greatest opportunities working in
county government has been undergoing training as a
facilitator. Broward County has a group of several dozen
trained facilitators who can be called to assist any county
agency with strategic visioning and planning, process
analysis, problem resolution and other activities.
One of the tools we use is called a Wall of
Wonder. It encourages participants to build a giant timeline
charting the seminal events in the history of the organization
and then invites the group to step back and wonder at all
they have accomplished. It is a great way to help put the
forward-looking activity of goal-setting into perspective, as
well as to teach newer staff members about the history of the
I recently changed jobs in my county and have
joined our Environmental Protection Department. This group
began its organizational life as a separate board and, since
joining the county, has undergone many reorganizations and
name changes. Having just reached five years of service, I sit
in awe of those who started working here the year I was born
or before. This is a reality that is difficult for some people
in my generation, who tend to job-hop.
I took over my current position from a
30-plus-year veteran of the agency and, while I had the luxury
of almost a month to transition beside him, I am overwhelmed
by the amount of institutional memory he took with him.
Despite his willingness to share, I only managed to absorb a
tiny fraction of what he knows.
For my own edification, I hope to guide my
agency through the process of building a Wall of Wonder so
that I can better understand what gave rise to the department
as it exists today. Why not include something like that in an
orientation package? As scintillating as it is to read the
administrative code and other enabling legislation, new hires
can also benefit from getting a historical perspective on
their new employers in the form of a visual
As a facilitator, I have seen many visioning,
planning and goal-setting processes on both a macro and micro
level. These processes are important but are plagued by at
least two faults.
First, we develop new goals before we have
achieved, or perhaps even begun work, on the previous goals.
It seems that government employees often barely have time to
develop a work plan to achieve a set of goals when we are
presented with another set of goals.
This phenomenon can result in a watering down
of staff enthusiasm about the process and can result in
confusion about what the real direction may be.
Secondly, the vision is often lost in the
day-to-day implementation. These goals are all noble and
extremely well-intended, but long-range visions need to be
digested into tactical bites which can be translated into
budget requests and measurement tools. We report multiple
performance measures and targets, but all of these are
short-term tactical measures that we structure and word in a
way so that we can always achieve them.
In many ways, our goal-setting ends up
reactive rather than strategic. Do we ever report a measure in
terms of a multi-year achievement plan (i.e. percentage of the
five-year goal achieved this quarter)? Do we ever look at
strategic initiatives from 20 years ago to see if they were
The answer to those questions, in my limited
experience, tends to be no. We dont circle back to the
original strategic goals of many years ago because we know
they probably were not achieved. That is not always a bad
thing. My answer at age 10 to where will you be in 20 years?
was not anything like where I currently am. Im not quite U.S.
Ambassador to France, but thats okay.
It is still worthwhile for me to examine the
20-year journey I took since then and why I am not, in fact,
currently living in a fabulous Paris compound. What factors
changed in my environment? In what ways did I change? What are
the results of those changes and am I unhappy with where I am
As we enter a new year and, in my fathers and
my case, a new decade, perhaps one of our resolutions should
be to be more mindful of history when planning our future. I
encourage long-term public servants to record their
experiences to pass on to those of us who will inherit your
mantle. I look forward to encouraging my dad to do the same
maybe a memoir as one of my birthday presents? Its cheaper
than an iPod!
Happy Birthday, Dad! I look forward to our
91st and, remember, I still better only see 29 candles on my
The HR Daughter