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HR Tech 2010 and Nebraska: Can Government HR Work Ever Be Considered Sexy?

I'm at the HR Technology Conference in Chicago this week, which is one of my favorite conferences for the following reasons:

-The name implies that technology can actually be used for good in HR, and  Nebraska

-While technology is always front and center, most of the conversations are talent-related - technology is just the delivery mechanism to make it faster, better and cheaper (or 2 of those 3 things, if you believe in the project triangle).

I decided to challenge myself a bit on day one (Wed) and go to a session that I wouldn't ordinarily pick.  Here was the winner:  "State of Nebraska Takes the Trail to Talent Management".  

Awesome.  Stay with me here...

The premise:  Cornerstone On-Demand was the selected vendor to bring a Talent Management suite to the State of Nebraska (vital stats: 20,000 employees, 80 agencies, 3 unions).  Presenting was a rep from Cornerstone, along with the two person team running the implementation show in Nebraska. 

A younger Capitalist would have scoffed at the premise.  It's the government, he would have said.  The older capitalist is wiser.  The older capitalist understands that if you're trying to drive change, there's not a much tougher place than in a state government.  80 agencies?  Good luck with driving commonality there.

Unfortunately, the conversation mainly centered around the implementation of the system, which was solid by the Nebraska team.  Here's what we didn't learn enough about - the state of Nebraska has 150 people in its personnel department (they still call it that, save the emails to me, it's fine - they'll change it when they're ready).  

That means they have 150 FTE's in HR.  In a change management project of this size, one of two things is going to happen.  The HR pros are either weak or strong related to driving the change in question:

-If they're weak, they'll play the victim when challenged by the business leaders in their client group related to why their agency has to comply with standardized Talent Management processes. It's not me - it's them...

-if they're strong, when challenged, they won't play the victim.  They'll engage in a conversation related to what the change will bring to the specific agency from a business outcome perspective and keep working the conversation until they get some form of buy-in.

I left the session feeling good about state government in Nebraska.  They've got enough vision to launch an on-demand Talent Management system, reduce costs, and streamline process. 

But actual business results related to Talent Management?  That only happens if there are some absolute ROCKSTARS at the Director of HR level leading the relationships with the folks running the 80 agencies.

We didn't hear much about the HR Rockstars who were expected to drive the change once the tool (read: Cornerstone) was in place.  

I hope Nebraska has HR Rockstars to drive the change made possible by the shiny new system.  Nebraska deserves it.

And so does your state.  Even if they call it personnel.


D Franklin

Hey Kris, you used Nebraska and Sexy in the same sentence, love it! Yeah, there are some great things that have happened at the state level. Now local government--they are coneheads. Raising home, business, wheel, retail, food, hospitality taxes because they have 'spiking' with the police and fire unions retirement, thus putting the city in a non-recoverable debt. To further show their conehead mentality...have now implemented a commuter tax (any one who drives into Omaha more than 31 days must pay a commuter tax) without all the details figured out....
Go Big Red....


Oh boy, I'm a local government HR Director (Ohio, not Nebraska)...I'm part of a team of progressive, thoughtful, and hardworking senior management. We have a financially conservative leadership team, reasonable contracts with Police and Fire, and have not had to layoff at all. Just like business, it depends on what government entity you work for - they can't all be lumped together. We only survive on property taxes, no income taxes here. Our property taxes are high but the level of service we provide is high as well. The public only has to take to the voting polls to decide what services they want, very much like business with products that the public doesn't buy...they'll stop making those products and we will stop providing services if the public doesn't want them. I understand that working for the government at any level has a stigma attached to it...I just hope people aren't SO biased that it hurts my future career choices and those of my colleagues.

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