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National Association of Counties * Washington, D.C.      Vol. 33, No. 14 * July 30, 2001

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The HR Doctor Turns 100

This article marks a major milestone for the HR Doctor — the 100th published article! Turning 100 should give anyone pause to reflect on the past as well as look to the future.

Looking back at the HR Doctor articles from “40,000 feet” I find a variety of subjects — a reflection of local government’s diversity and contribution to a civil society. The articles dealt with childcare, children at work, aging, death, violence, religion, exceeding customer expectations, discipline, workplace equity, learning and mentoring, innovation, health, attitudes and very much more. There has also been a discussion of the importance of milestones and anniversaries as times to thank, recognize and appreciate our families and our workplace colleagues.

It is great fun to be able to share insights and experiences with other colleagues. For that opportunity I must thank NACo Executive Director Larry Naake and County News Editor Beverly Schlotterbeck. They have encouraged and “enabled” the HR Doctor articles to exist in the first place and to continue a hundred times over. Super secretaries and colleagues for years Carole Burke and Paulette Jules translated many tapes and notes into coherent words. The beautiful HR wife Charlotte, chief proofreader and collaborator has always been a source of love, support and proper punctuation. Finally, it is particularly wonderful to discuss issues, gain ideas and share insights with incredible HR daughters Elyse and Rachel!

It is especially rewarding to receive e-mails from those who read the HR Doctor articles — all nine of you (excluding members of my immediate family and Kamala, the HR Dog) — expressing thanks, approval or constructive criticism. It is great to know there is widespread interest in the incredible profession of human resources. In a world of increasing liabilities as well as opportunities to build a better, more productive, more innovative workplace, I continue to be honored to be a voice for positive change in public administration.

There is no sign whatsoever that local government’s role in the shaping of 21st century American society will diminish or be relegated to minor footnote status. The need for advocacy by and for local governments will be greater in the future than it has ever been. Governments will be heavily challenged to be available 24/7 and to exceed citizen expectation with pleasant service delivery surprises and to be proactive in anticipating and controlling for unpleasant, unwanted surprises.

In the past century, an agricultural economy was replaced by an industrial one. Animal power was replaced by machine power, society changed and government took on new roles such as economic intervenor.

In the past several decades, the economy has again changed. This time the change has been from an industrial, mass production economy to one highlighted by the service sector. Most jobs are mental rather than manual and we are now technologically dependent as never before. Workers’ skills and expectations have changed. Sovereign immunity’s decline has made employers more likely than ever to be challenged by employees, job applicants and bystanders. These changes represent a mandate to have proactive, knowledgeable managers and supervisors. The changes have also given rise to human resources as a profession and as a strategic partner in the success of every executive and every organization.

Looking forward is also great fun. Winston Churchill was once asked to comment on how he would be remembered in history. He responded by saying that history would be kind to him — for he shall write it! In a more modest way, the HR Doctor also hopes and plans to keep writing and commenting about the future of our profession.

The next generation will continue to see evolutionary and revolutionary changes. The economy will become more technological than ever before and much more global. The same will be true of public administration. Skilled workers, such as technology “enablers” and registered nurses, will expect the workplace to accommodate their personal goals and needs as much — perhaps more — than they will be expected to make adjustments to meet employer needs. Those who resist telecommuting, internet-based service delivery, customer self-service and process simplification are the administrative equivalent of a person standing on a railroad track watching a freight train approaching at high speed and not moving. As Bob Dylan said, “get out of the way if you can’t lend a hand.”

Already the federal government’s role is undergoing unprecedented challenge of a kind not previously seen. The role of the “nation-state” is changing and diminishing in ways we can’t yet appreciate. The Internet resists any government attempt at regulation and taxation. Economies and knowledge are global. The future of the environment also requires global, not only national, responses. The same is true of medical care, energy and education. Just ask the HR daughters about their wonderful experiences in the international baccalaureate program where exams were graded in India, Switzerland and elsewhere, as well as in their local schools.

Historically, government has always adapted to change with new innovations such as civil service systems, public health and safety regulations. Government also emerged as a patron of technological innovation through contracts and grants. The role of the federal government grew and relationships with local governments were often strained and redefined. In fact, local governments have tended to become increasingly dependent on Capitol Hill for revenue, policy direction and dispute resolution.

In all of these scenarios several constants will remain vital. Local governments will become even more central to improving the lives of citizens . The federal government will come to rely more than ever on local agencies, because the federal sector on its own will simply lack the resources, citizen support and practical capability to make the changes it seeks. Ironically, this means our federal buddies will need local governments as much or more than we need them in many areas. This may seem hard to believe — especially for an employee of the Department of Labor. However, let’s agree to meet for coffee in about twenty years and see if, in fact, these predictions haven’t become reality. By the way, the coffee shop where we meet will most likely be in a local community, not in Washington D.C.!

Another constant will be that effective, innovative and proactive HR management will become even more important and valued than it now is. There will be no question as to whether the organization’s “HR Leader” will or won’t be sitting at, and contributing to, the same strategic meeting with the County Manager which is now routinely attended by the Finance Director, Budget Director, Legal advisor and Deputy County manager. I’ll even buy the coffee on this one when we meet next time!

I can’t wait to write the next HR Doctor articles. I hope you will be inclined to read them. Some of you may, in fact, be reclined to read them since some of you may find that they also represent an important medical advance in the fight against insomnia!

The HR Doctor sincerely thanks you for your support on his anniversary!


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