It’s Time to Audit HRM in City Departments

In 1972, Alfred J. Marrow, a widely-recognized consultant, wrote: “The present level of productivity in American organizations … is estimated … as only 50% of the potential available from existing human skills, initiative, and energy.” Later, the City’s top personnel authority, Muriel M. Morse, agreed with Marrow and said the 50% estimate would probably apply to certain City departments.

City Service has changed since the 1970s, but questions are still being raised about the quality of human resource management in individual departments. I’m convinced that an outside HRM audit is needed — that it would more than pay for itself just by checking out factors such as the ones referred to in this column.

DEPARTMENT STAFFING. In the City organization, each department is managed by a Chief Administrative Officer. Virtually every CAO has at least one Assistant. Some CAOs have two, three, five even more Assistants (sometimes called Deputies). An outside audit may find that some Assistants aren’t needed. Such an audit may also find that, in some departments, entrance-level employees are outnumbered by Seniors, Principals, and Chiefs. It is possible that some promotional-level employees are actually given assignments that could be done at a lower level.

WORKPLACE ENVIRONMENT. Normally, each City department has a mission, a reason for being. Effective departments ask employees to participate actively in the department’s mission. Effective departments also let employees know what they are required/expected to do. The workplace environment should be both supportive and challenging. It should help employee give their best to the people of Los Angeles. An outside audit may find that some department managers expect less from employees than the employees are prepared to give them.

PERSONNEL TOOLS. City departments control the last two tests in the employment process. They conduct the certification interview and the working test, probation. An outside HRM audit would find that virtually all departments use a working test that’s invalid — a test that doesn’t measure the probationer’s performance against established performance standards — a test that doesn’t keep poor performers off the City payroll. Moreover, outside auditors would also find that most budgetary departments conduct annual employee evaluations that are utterly meaningless.

FIRST-LEVEL SUPERVISORS. According to one author, first-level supervisors are Very Important Persons — VIPs. They are the department representative working-level employees see every day. In the author’s view, supervisors are the key to productivity. But an outside audit of City departments would probably find that City supervisors are typically not regarded as VIPs; they’re forced to conduct tests and appraisals they know are phony. Moreover, they’re frequently not trained to handle what some authorities say is the most difficult job in the organization.

In Los Angeles, well over half the City’s annual budget goes for employees. In Fiscal year 2012-13, the City will spend over $4,000,000,000 for a mismanaged workforce. That’s why an outside audit is needed, and that’s why I ask those of you who agree with me to contact the Mayor’s Office. You could call him at (213) 978-0600, or send him an Email at mayor@lacity.org.

You can send your questions and comments to samuelmsperling@yahoo.com.