National Association of
Counties * Washington, D.C.
Vol. 32, No.
10 * May 29, 2000
Previous story | Table of
Contents | Next
Graveyard of Lost Words
Public administration, like its private business cousin, is subject to
fads and fancies. It often takes only one presentation at the general
session of some conference to introduce a phrase that cities or counties
pick up on and wish to import to the local jurisdiction.
conference presentation may be made by a well-credentialed guru of
management magic and may often be accompanied by a book a book with some
title such as What Color are the Seven Habits of Effective One-Minute
Well, fast forward six months or so and the next thing
we know is that one particular fad has spread like an epidemic to the
point where some administrators think about calling the Center for Disease
Control for assistance.
Unfortunately, the fads come and go on a
rather regular schedule similar to that found in the local mass transit
system. They leave behind a graveyard of lost words. Confused managers can
be seen roaming aimlessly through offices clutching their legal pads,
wondering which approach they should be taking and which words to use.
What happened to total quality management, zero base
budgeting, management by objectives and management by walking around?
These words and approaches were once seized upon by elected officials and
appointed managers, but what has happened to them? They have moved from
the board chambers and conference rooms to the lecture halls of history
classes. They joined words such as millennium, empower, and
wordsmith, which are thankfully consigned to a retirement home for
However, all of the fads contain some binding ties
in terms of underlying values to which every manager and elected officials
should pay serious attention. One of these is the importance of
A government official who uses only a microscope and
not a telescope is going to miss very important information and will risk
policy failure. The importance of stepping back and viewing a problem or
an opportunity from a high altitude is essential. Note that the HR Doctor
deliberately avoided the phrase view from 40,000 feet. (The importance
of perspective has been reviewed in more detail in the HR Doctors July
1997 column headlined: Decision Vision.)
A second common lesson
is to allow people throughout the organization to feel free to make
constructive suggestions and to bring innovative ideas forward.
This is not the practice of many managers who crave personal
attention and recognition, even if it means stepping over the bodies of
co-workers. An open organization in which information is shared by
managers is the spawning ground for continued improvement and self
examination. A manager (and for that matter a county government), who is
not afraid to take a critical but constructive look at his/her own
practices and to invite ideas for improvement, will serve the public
interest far better than a closed, information-hoarding person or agency.
The irony here should not go unnoticed when it comes to the
sharing of information, casting information on the waters brings positive
The same thing is true of another valued concept
underlying the fads. Recognition, praise and the simple act of saying
thank you makes for a better workforce and a more productive
organization. It is also a prime ingredient in creating a compelling place
to work or, from the standpoint of an applicant in a tight labor market, a
compelling place to want to apply.
Note that none of these
fundamental principles relates to any particular computer application of
the moment, piece of equipment, or facility. Yet, all of them are the
building blocks upon which a strong agency can apply new technologies and
tools mixed well with positive attitudes of customer service, respect, and
equity. Those are words that will not, we hope, ever leave the vocabulary
of a modern manager. Perhaps this will be the subject of a future
conference presentation even by the HR Doctor.
Best wishes and
dont forget to visit 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