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February 13, 2006
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 The H.R. Doctor Is In

Wall of Wonder
A Guest Article by Elyse Rosenberg, an HR Daughter


HR Daughter Elyse Rosenberg and the HR Dad, Phil Rosenberg celebrated their 90th birthdays, Feb. 11.

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 what?”

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 organization.

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 history.

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 achieved?

The answer to those questions, in my limited experience, tends to be “no.” We don’t 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. I’m not quite U.S. Ambassador to France, but that’s 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 now?

As we enter a new year and, in my father’s 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? It’s cheaper than an iPod!

Happy Birthday, Dad! I look forward to our 91st and, remember, I still better only see 29 candles on my cake!

Elyse Rosenberg
The HR Daughter



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