What If the Los Angeles Zoo Were Run by Personnel Experts?
It bothers me when the City’s leading HRM authorities—the Mayor, the City Council and the Personnel Department—defend appraisal practices that civilized cities have long since replaced. How could any rational person say it’s OK to lump 50,000 civil service workers together, ignore their incredibly diverse duties and responsibilities, and use a one-size-fits-all trait list to rate them all?
There’s no way I’ll ever accept the gross mismanagement of human resources, and the waste of tax dollars, at City Hall. But lately, when that reality starts gnawing at me, I try to focus on the City Zoo. I get a measure of solace by reminding myself that City government could be even more screwed up if those three HRM authorities were running the Zoo.
Whenever I start thinking about the zoo, I’m forced to recall that it maintains and displays a substantial collection of animals. It’s my understanding that all those animals are divided into five distinct groups: birds, reptiles, invertebrates, amphibians and mammals. For housing, care and feeding, animals in all these groups are further identified by their species. Thus, the zoo displays over 20 bird species, more than 30 species of mammal, and smaller numbers of amphibian, invertebrate and reptile species.
To appreciate the diversity of zoo animals, we may first consider 1 amphibian, 4 reptile and 6 invertebrate species (frog, lizard, alligator, snake, tortoise, cockroach, millipede, scorpion, spider, tarantula, Walkingstick). Now, no one at the zoo would lump these eleven species together and treat them all alike. But based on their record, that’s probably what the City Hall experts would prefer.
And consider the following Bird species that might be lumped: condors, eagles, flamingos, hawks, jays, macaws, owls, pelicans, swans and vultures. Would zoo personnel provide the same nesting material for ducks and eagles? Would robins and vultures get the same food? Would owls and swans be kept in the same cage? Only if the mayor, the chairman and the manager were in charge.
And think of the fun those personnel experts could have lumping mammals. They’d quickly dismiss distinctions between carnivores, marine mammals, marsupials, pachyderms, primates, rodents and hooved animals. From armadillos to zebras, all the mammal species in all these larger classifications would be considered simply as “animals.”
Now, normal people may have difficulty believing the mayor, the chairman and the manager would really lump all these separate entities. But, believe it or not, that’s what those “experts” are doing right now with City employees! All told, the City’s 50,000 employees may represent as many as 1,500 job classes. Yet, since 1959, they’ve all been rated on a single, invalid trait list—or a variation of that list!
By itself, the police department maintains a civilian workforce of over 3,700 employees, and they represent around 120 separate job classes. The mayor, the chairman and the manager have strongly defended the lumping of firearms examiners, clerks, police psychologists, delivery drivers, fingerprint identification experts, mechanics, polygraph examiners and gardener caretakers.
If our HRM “experts” think lumping employees is OK, why would they hesitate to lump zoo animals?