National Association of
Counties * Washington, D.C.
Vol. 32, No. 8
* May 1, 2000
Previous story | Table of
Contents | Next
The Border Patrol
There is an article about the border patrol. No, not the federal law
enforcement agency. This border patrol affects many more people. It
patrols the borders of convention and status quo and reduces the spirit of
innovation. This border patrol is not user friendly and needs to be
downsized or eliminated from the thinking and behavior of public
The HR Doctor just returned from attending and speaking
at a conference in the United Kingdom. A lot of the discussion by British
local government chief personnel officers centered on Prime Minister Tony
Blairs best value initiative. This is a national government mandate
that all UK government agencies benchmark their practices and develop ways
to improve service and reduce waste. This might happen through improved
internal efficiency or reorganization but it may also come by outsourcing,
privatizing or simply eliminating services. Sound familiar?
should, because by different names, the UKs best value initiative is
something which has occupied the attention of local government leaders in
the United States for several years. One important difference, however
one which was noticed and commented on throughout the conference was the
fact that this was a national government mandate and local governments had
no choice but to comply.
The unwritten British constitution lacks a
10th Amendment and a truly federal system. We, too, suffer from federal
mandates often unfunded, but clearly not to the same degree that concerned
my British friends and colleagues.
The tremendous irony here is
that to measure best value results, the national government will be
unleashing a horde of auditors, monitors and inspectors. Such people live
in a world of history. That is, they look back at what occurred already
and try to count it, sort it and measure it. What ends up happening is
that in the name of monitoring and compliance, the real outcome can be,
as one British colleague put it, ... killing the spirit of innovation.
This is an important lesson for everyone in local government and
especially for elected or appointed officials.
Certainly there must
be accountability, more so when public funds and government authority is
involved than in most private industry settings. Certainly we must look
for benchmarks and mechanisms to judge how we are doing as an individual
employee and as an agency. Indeed, the HR Doctor has written several
articles supporting the value of evaluation.
The reality in
government, however, is that the risk of a loss of accountability and
wasted effort when programs are unrestrained may be outweighed by an
overzealous insistence that everything be counted and that all efforts at
innovation must be accompanied by reams of reports and certifications.
There must be a balance.
HR professionals are often in the
best position in the organization to see the need for this balance. The
stifling of innovation leads to a withdrawal from engagement by employees.
It produces a tendency to avoid any change to the status quo and to
retreat behind the safety of existing rules and policies. After all, these
have already been audited. In fact, the rules may be safe but they will
not help an agency meet new challenges. To be nimble in a changing world,
every agency must create an environment for employees in which it is safe
to both constructively challenge the status quo, and
Patrolling the borders of current thinking and policies to
keep them safe from any change is a guarantee that these policies and
programs will ultimately fail.
The best auditors are those who
balance a search for accountability with a clear understanding of the
compelling role of innovation. Looked at another way, new programs and
positive change can be regarded as job security for auditors because their
work becomes more interesting and more valued by others. Isnt that a
combination that all employees and elected officials want in their
The HR Doctor wishes you all the best. Feel free to visit
the office at http://www.hrdr.net/.
(If you have questions for the "HR Doctor," e-mail him
Rosenberg is the Human Resources director for Broward County,
Previous story | Table of
Contents | Next