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National Association of Counties * Washington, DC           Vol. 31, No. 3 * February 15, 1999

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Human Resources 'Back To The Future'

The "ancient" view of human resources in a government agency was that its principal function was to act as a warehouse for employee records. The principal skill required to be an employee of human resources was the ability to alphabetize. This static, reactive view has long since passed in the large majority of public agencies.

To those few agencies where that old model still prevails, the HR Doctor would urge the elected and appointed officials to consider what they miss by not supporting a modern and proactive approach.

No one can be a successful manager, especially in government anymore, without also being a skilled human resources professional. Liabilities stemming from inappropriate behavior such as sexual harassment, workplace violence, conflicts of interest, failure to perform, and many, many more occupy increasing portions of the time of public works directors, social service administrators, airport managers, parks and recreation directors, fire chiefs and many other people. Even if these professionals commit time and energy from increasingly busy schedules to become very knowledgeable about HR practices, they and we, need a friend in the HR business.

The HR Doctor knows firsthand the interesting irony that the higher up in the organization managers’ positions are, the more they need consultants and advisors who will tell them the truth, tell it to them in a timely way, honor their need for personal support and function as a sounding board for their ideas.

This relationship requires trust. Professionals in a modern HR organization can provide that service where it may otherwise be very hard to gain within the chain of command of one single agency. This is not the work of the "file clerk" version of HR. This is the work of the sensitive and caring administrator who is "on station" and "on time" literally at anytime of the day or night to help a manager "stop, interrupt and correct" liabilities.

Take this resource away or fail to support or respect it, and any short-term gain in cost savings will, without a doubt, be swamped by longer term losses.

However, the HR Doctor has noted an interesting and most positive change in proactive HR business practices. It is a very ironic change because it takes us "back to the future" in several ways. This business practice is marked by the fact that HR professionals are "on the road" making "house calls" more than ever before. The need for direct client service, not necessarily in some office in the county courthouse or city hall, but rather right at the fire department or the library, is an increasing indicator of change in the human resources world. The change is boosted not only by client needs, but technology.

The HR Doctor answers many questions from readers and colleagues in other governmental agencies. These are done by "virtual house calls" through e-mail, by fax, or by phone, either done at home in the evening or on weekends. Our ability to communicate because of personal computers, cell phones, and the like expands our ability to serve clients and frees us from being traditional in our work locations and our work hours. Problems at workplaces in government agencies occur late at night in fire stations or sheriff’s offices, as well as during conventional and more convenient office hours.

The irony is that, with HR professionals serving clients more directly, many of the staff members who remain in the office during the work day may be more involved in filing and maintaining records than in direct problem intervention and solution work. The irony, of course, is that this is what the prior version of the HR office looked like. For all HR professionals – and that includes everyone reading this column who is a government manager – the HR Doctor’s advice is to use some of the coming weekend time to rent the video "Back to the Future" and to consider how effective your agency’s human resources staff is in delivering on-site, on-time client help.

On that note, the HR Doctor’s fax number is 954/796-9495.


Best Wishes,
The HR Doctor
e-mail at

(If you have questions for the "HR Doctor," e-mail him at Rosenberg is the Human Resources director for Broward County, Fla.)

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