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National Association of Counties * Washington, D.C.      Vol. 33, No. 16 * September 3, 2001

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Future Workforce Will Force Major HR Change

The whole world surrounding government services is changing. As a society, we have become accustomed to 24/7 banking, grocery shopping and pharmaceutical services. Yet many governments continue to deliver services as if horses and buggies still crowd their parking lots. Recently, the HR Doctor saw a sign in a government office, which read, “For your convenience, our hours are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.”

Clearly, if the agency were really working for my convenience, rather than its own, the hours would be 24/7.

Why shouldn’t the citizen/customer be able to pay a bill online? Or get an auto tag renewed? Or reserve a park campsite, apply for a county job, view public records, get a building permit, etc., etc. — all online. The technology is there and sooner rather than later, the demand will force continual access to public services.

Is it likely that the next generation of public servants will be up to the task of delivering Public Service, version 2.0? The answer is a resounding no if we don’t pay attention to major human resource issues.

In the future, the pool of applicants who want to work for counties, cities, schools or public hospitals will be larger but, in general, will lack solid work experience and solid work habits. Employers will have a greater responsibility to provide education and deliver clear and consistent expectations to employees.

However, there will also be a small group of “super-applicants.” These technologically enabled, highly-skilled and highly-mobile people have many employment options. We will need them more than they will need us.

Public agencies will not do well if they approach Public Service, version 2.0 with HR practices, version 1.0. rule-bound, inflexible practices in HR will fail to attract the great stars we need to actively seek out. Such super-applicants will not wait six months for the government civil service eligible lists to be set up, names certified to appointing authorities and notices mailed back and forth. This is not a nimble, 21st century business practice. It is a fossilized, approach — the relic of another era.

The new and effective version 2.0 model will be customer focused and outcome-oriented rather than process-oriented. HR professionals will measure their success by how well they have met the client’s needs. A 9 to 4 HR office in a 24/7 world will be bypassed by both the frustrated clients as well as by the most skilled applicants.

The new model is marked by leadership courage — the courage to consider service delivery options. Local governments in the United Kingdom, for example, regularly contract with media marketing firms to design and place ads and run the branding campaigns necessary for maximum recruitment success.

The HR Doctor is very familiar with a public agency in the United States that which takes the same approach to attract hard to find health care professionals. The courage to do things differently and to take risks in service delivery, to join with other agencies for joint recruitment projects, to contract out testing or other traditional in-house HR functions, will be a key defining trait for the next generation of successful HR leaders.

The HR Doctor also predicts that even top level HR leadership could be provided by professional service contracts with individuals or with companies. The “range riding” contract city or county manager concept could work just as well in the HR leader’s office as it could be in meeting needs for seasoned, stable executive leadership in the county manager’s office. As more experienced, mobile retired executives pursue “piece-work” contracts or accept assignments to serve their hometown communities, this flexible approach to professional leadership will grow more popular.

Public Service, version 2.0 means fewer entitlements and more opportunities for individual opportunities. The changes are powered by the demographic, technological and attitudinal evolution — or perhaps, revolution — going on in public service. “Beta” or test versions of 2.0 are already “on sale” in an organization near you. As county leaders, you may want to get to the store and shop early!

The HR Doctor wishes you enjoyable HR “shopping.”



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