The Laying of the
The HR Doctor had great fun
and the great privilege to be the keynote speaker at the first
ever All-Ireland Human Resources conference several months
ago. One of the great expressions heard at that conference,
perhaps over a Guinness, was the phrase the laying of the
The phrase refers to the
work of the mason in creating a strong and straight wall or
house by the patient and knowledgeable laying of one brick at
a time, brick after brick after brick.
Although the phrase was not
said necessarily in the context of public administration or
human resources, it is a rich metaphor for our consideration
in the way we manage large projects and in the way we manage
our own careers, and the growth and development of our
It certainly describes the
long and persistent efforts to achieve a peaceful
reconciliation between conflicting peoples in Northern
The work of the mason takes
skill, often developed as an apprentice in a productive
relationship with a mentor or master bricklayer. It also takes
having a plan or blueprint to follow having a vision of what
the final product will look like. Certainly it takes
high-quality materials. Most of all, however, it takes a
particular quality known as patience.
Patience is, metaphorically,
the mortar that enables brick upon brick to be carefully and
professionally installed so that the outcome of all the work
is something to be proud of and something that will last for
many years or decades.
Patience has been declining
as an American virtue. We live in a society dominated by an
attitude reflected in a particularly loud and obnoxious
current television commercial I want it now! The I
want it now! society is one in which people go into great
debt, including high credit card debt, in order to be able to
simply say charge it as we buy some new toy which we
probably dont need to begin with.
It is reflected in the
current subprime mortgage meltdown. It is an attitude
demanding immediate gratification including the gratification
through the abuse of alcohol and illicit or prescription
drugs. It is part of the larger lack of emotional intelligence
and integrity that causes raw emotion to be victorious over
reason when it comes to bullying, violence, sexual harassment
or race discrimination.
It is very difficult
to apply great skill or artistry in these conditions with the
often necessary slow, deliberate attention to detail that
leads to a product or an outcome which exceeds expectations
over the long run.
We certainly live in a
public administration world where short-term thinking is
rampant, especially by elected officials, and increasingly by
legislators at the state level.
These officials seem to
value looking good at the next news conference, next weeks
meeting or at the upcoming election over being in it for the
next generation. It is a matter of patience as well as courage
to adapt to the strategic long-term view, and build something
strong and tall that lasts for a long time to come.
There are many examples of
the victory of impatience in public service. These include
allowing an infrastructure to decay, cutting the funding for
arts and music in schools while whining about the poor quality
of education and the high drop out rate. It includes cutting
indigent health care funding, including mental health funding,
while complaining about the lack of quality health care
treatment. We all stand at risk of seeing the zeal for
tax-cutting replace the passion for effectively managed
programs that contribute to a more civil society.
The icons of our culture,
such as our television programs and video games, alternate
between whining, dysfunctional behavior and great violence.
These are not the products of a focus on the long-term and on
the positive development of subsequent generations.
In an impatient world, the
skills of a master bricklayer or a master administrator may
crash headlong into a mandate to adhere to a schedule, live
within an inadequate budget or produce an unrealistic
In how we raise our
beautiful children, the balance is also working against
patient master craftsmen. In our perceived necessity as
parents to be working to excess, or for an American
Idol episode to be watched instead of time being better
spent in private coaching of a child, we sacrifice long-term
development for short-term gratification.
The HR Doctor has frequently
mentioned a frightening statistic frightening to him, at
least. That is: The average American watches four hours a day
of television. Imagine the kind of world we could shape if we
watched only three hours a day of television and invested that
extra hour in learning a new skill such as music, art, a new
sport or learning a new language.
What a difference it would
make if that hour was spent as a volunteer in one of countless
501(c)(3) charities that need all the help and support they
can receive but are not receiving as their own funding is cut
while demands for service increase.
These trends certainly apply
in the way we spend a great deal of our lives and in how we
interact with people we care about, including our children,
our spouses and our coworkers. It also applies, however, to
the way in which we manage projects and serve the taxpayers at
all levels of government.
The laying of the bricks in
a patient manner harnesses the knowledge and skills of expert
administrators in creating something wonderful. Isnt it time
that we learned from the bricklayers by taking full advantage
of mentoring opportunities, by being a teacher and a mentor to
our children and our colleagues and by bringing about, even in
a very small way in our own individual lives, a restoration of
the virtue of patience?
The HR Doctor http://www.hrdr.net/