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National Association of Counties * Washington, D.C.           Vol. 32, No. 2 * February 7, 2000

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‘Customized Mass Production’

In my grandfather’s lifetime, about half of the American workforce was involved in agriculture. That percentage is down to about three percent today. During most of my father’s lifetime, the economy shifted to a mass production industrial base, where it remained. According to one study, during the lifetimes of my daughters, only about three percent of the workforce will be involved in the manufacture of the goods and services used by the rest of us.

The economy has shifted again to service industries and to information industries. We are in a world of E-commerce, Internet use and an era where binary code, not English or Spanish or Chinese, is the most frequent form of communication.

These changes have arrived seemingly overnight and they challenge everyone in Public Administration to look for ways to harness these technologies for the public’s good. This will include public access to government files and information, online bill paying and question and answer exchanges with public officials, online job application and testing, employee training and a great deal more.

The HR Doctor sees another trend ahead. That is, the adopting of the industry approach called Customized or Individualized Mass Production to meet government needs.

This is a technique to meet specific customer needs while maintaining the efficiencies of existing mass production capabilities. We can now custom design our computers by calling any number of manufacturers who will "build the computer for you." The custom-built model, however, is not made in the small workshop of skilled artisan, it is made on an assembly line where workers have the capability to add or subtract components based on customer needs.

The "have it your way" model maintains a foundation of consistency, adherence to standards and efficiency while meeting and often exceeding, customer expectations. That combination is also a great goal for government services as well as for high-tech manufacturing.

For human resources, the approach can be demonstrated by having an HR staff member "out stationed" at a major client facility with an assignment to make HR work for the managers. The individual customers see HR onsite, readily available, and producing responsive answers to their questions. The HR staff has new and exciting challenges and the satisfaction of delivering services tailored to meet the needs of the user agency.

The convenience of online application and testing is obvious to candidates who can apply from any where on the planet at the time of their choosing, while giving the agency greater access to a larger applicant pool.

Employee information access online for benefits, payroll questions, retirement benefit calculations and organizational training programs opens new avenues to convenience, family involvement, and strengthening the employment relationship.

Many government services have traditionally involved citizens driving to some governmental office, parking and waiting in line to pay a bill, receive a license or an auto tag, or get information about a requirement or service. Citizens of the 21st Century County are in for a treat by being able to do these often annoying chores from their own homes in a way more convenient than ever.

Add to the mix the importance of telecommuting for a growing segment of employees, and the opening up of government services through increased contact hours and records availability and the result can be the same for government services as it is for successful high-tech manufacturers. Customer needs and expectations are met or exceeded, while at the same time, the standards, efficiencies and record keeping of government of agencies is maintained. Not a bad trade-off – citizens benefit, government employees benefit and the organization better fulfills its basic mission: to serve the public with high efficiency and high ethics.

This look ahead at the future of government service delivery must be tempered, however, with a very strong built-in avoidance of the technological temptation of turning us all into "robot bureaucrats" or telephone answering machines.

The HR Doctor wrote about this risk an article published Sept. 13, 1999, titled "Don’t take the human out of communication." How well we maintain our position on the "balance beam" between technology and humanity will be the real mark of success in a 21st Century County.

Best wishes and visit the "HR Doctor" at

Phil Rosenberg,
The HR Doctor

(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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