Mismanaging a Four-Billion Dollar Workforce

When it comes to managing employees, City leaders have a lot to learn. They don’t know what they don’t know, and much of what they do “know” is no longer relevant. They’re reluctant to embrace new ideas about human resource management. So they just keep doing what they’ve been doing — mismanaging a workforce which, this fiscal year, will cost City taxpayers over $4,000,000,000.

One way to explain the problem is to state a HRM principle and check out the City’s response to it. For example, in their book, The 10% Principle, the authors write, “The greatest potential for reducing costs and improving quality of service of any organization is in the minds of ordinary people. But only a few organizations have tapped this valuable resource. The vast majority waste it.”

Although this view is widely shared by HRM authorities, City leaders don’t see employees as a valuable resource — a valuable resource that’s available to them. Sadly, leaders don’t make effective use of the abilities, initiative, and energy employees bring to the job. Nor do they help employees grow new skills/abilities.

Another HRM principle is explained in a book by co-authors Leslie W. Rue and Loyd L. Byers: “Supervisors are the managers best suited to influence productivity. They are, in fact, the key link to productivity.”

City leaders seem not to agree with that view. And leaders almost never talk about employee productivity. The fact is, City supervisors are generally not regarded as part of the management team. They are not well-trained. And they are frequently expected to work under impossible conditions — to make retention-or-removal recommendations based on a rating process known to be phony.

A third issue on which the views of City leaders are muddled was discussed by Jack Welsh in a speech to the SHRM Conference in New Orleans on June 30, 2009.

“HR can/should play a game-changing role in the organization,” Welch said. “It can be/should be the engine that drives the hiring, appraisal, and developmental processes in the organization….” he continued.

But City leaders — the Mayor and the Council — have taken City Service in exactly the opposite direction. While effective organizations all over America moved to implement employee-centered policies, City leaders degraded the Board of Civil Service Commissioners and marginalized the Personnel Department. By their example, they made it clear that department heads would no longer be expected to follow civil service rules, or to comply with civil service provisions of the City Charter. Incredibly, that leaves 34 City departments effectively unaccountable — free to mismanage employee performance, and free to waste tax dollars.

The mismanagement of human resources and the waste of City revenues cannot be allowed to continue. But one thing seems certain: the problems which plague City government will not be resolved by the “leaders” who created the problems in the first place.

Wake up, Angelenos! Elections are coming! You can make a difference!

Send your questions and comments to samuelmsperling@yahoo.com.