Don’t confuse politicians with government employees


    Like many people these days, I have a lot to say about our government. Most of the time, I’m critical or believe the folks we have elected have agendas that are not always in our best interests.

    However, there are a lot of other people who work for the government who are not elected and are quite professional and do a pretty good job. They often get little notice. So I’d like to take a few minutes and share a few recent experiences.

    One of these individuals is a guy named Dave Campbell. He is a vocational rehabilitation consultant for the Michigan Workers’ Compensation Agency. Campbell is one of those people who, due to budget cuts, is getting stretched more and more. However, I’ve seen him in action both internal to his job and with activities outside his job description. Most recently, I’ve seen Campbell using his knowledge of state government to facilitate the efforts of the nonprofit group Workability in Michigan. This is an organization involved with helping employers keep injured or ill employees on the job or getting them back to work ASAP. He was instrumental in getting Gov. Rick Snyder and his leadership team involved with WIM to change the landscape for Michigan employers and employees.

    Another recent experience was an event called Spring Into Action, which was facilitated as a joint effort by Michigan Works and local business leaders. I’ve attended two of their programs. They bring in speakers and provide workshops that help get local people involved and show positive strategies of getting people back to work and educating people about what is changing in the work place. This is more than just mouthing the words as most politicians do.

    There were a lot of business owners and HR people at the events — some for networking but most for education. I believe it was an eye-opener for many folks. Kent and Ottawa counties are making a difference and are likely to continue doing so. However, as the various speakers made their presentations, it became obvious that these owners and HR staff will likely be facing a much different employment environment going forward. Taking advantage of this educational opportunity has only been possible because some government employees were willing to work with people in the private sector to make it happen.

    This brings me to the last example of an initiative involving a government employee: Michigan HR Day. It is the brainchild of Jeremy Stephens, the state personnel director. Three years ago, Stephens decided it would have value to bring together people across the state who are involved with issues concerning employees, as we were certainly feeling the downturn of employment in Michigan. The obvious people were those on the front lines: the HR professionals in all organizations.

    HR Day is a one-day event about education and networking, so its agenda is pretty clear: get people talking and get them connected. The offshoots will create all sorts of energy and perhaps make another shift in the Michigan employment picture.

    The event takes place in Lansing. The first year there were 400 participants. In year two, there were 800, and this year more than 1,000. It is pretty clear the event is meeting a need. And best of all it costs only $35. When was the last time you went to a full-day conference that included a welcome coffee, lunch and an afternoon snack for that kind of money? It even gave CEU credits for those in need of various certifications.

    The real value, of course, was the power of the education associated with the event. It was one of the best-run conferences I’ve been to in a while. It had a broad mix of presenters from across the state, and the topics were very relevant. The part I liked best was that it showed the participants the strategic side of human resources. There was limited discussion about the day-to-day documentation and the how-to for compliance purposes. It spoke to making HR into a leadership position and not about administration. It was about making a real contribution to the organization with its most critical asset — its people.

    The one shortcoming of the event, in my opinion, was the lack of participation by organization presidents and CEOs and perhaps other critical organization leaders. If more would attend, they might see how better to utilize this group of professionals and how they could better maximize the talent they have in their organizations to solve today’s issues and prepare for tomorrow. I will certainly plan on attending next year’s event and I expect the number of participants will grow again.

    Now let me get back to my main point. This event would not have happened had it not been for the leadership of state employee Jeremy Stephens. There are others like him and Dave Campbell in other government agencies. I’ve met them. So maybe we have to be a little careful when we paint all government employees with the same brush. They may actually being doing what is expected and maybe a little more.

    Ardon Schambers is president of P3HR Consulting & Services LLC in Grand Rapids.

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