Strategic Human Capital Management: And the Winner of the Public Management Fad of the Year for 2001 Is the Human Capital Crisis! (Management Fad of the Year-2001)

By Hyde, A. C. | The Public Manager, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Strategic Human Capital Management: And the Winner of the Public Management Fad of the Year for 2001 Is the Human Capital Crisis! (Management Fad of the Year-2001)


Hyde, A. C., The Public Manager


Readers will remember that last year The Public Manager (TPM) inaugurated its first ever Management Fad of the Year award for the purpose of "recognizing the management change effort, concept, challenge, or issue that most dominated public management circles for that year." Following the example of Time magazine that designates the man or woman who has captured the most headlines or had the most impact, it is now time for TPM to bestow our Management Fad of the Year for 2001.

Hopefully, readers will also remember that our title for this award is, as we noted last year: "deliberate, hopefully provocative, and not intended as derogatory." It is worth repeating the caveat we offered with this award:

Handicapping the 2001 Contest

Looking back over the 1990s, one can see a number of "dominant" management concepts--from reinvention and reengineering to total quality management and downsizing--that once commanded the public management headlines. None of these has been relegated to the trash heap. While some have been recycled, modularized, or even redefined, they have become part of our basic management tool kit and our vocabulary.

Unlike the 2000 contest (in the last heady days of Silicon Valley before the dot.crash) where e-government was the overwhelming favorite, this year there were serious contenders. Both BSC (balanced score card) and KM (knowledge management) started out strong in terms of capturing management headlines. But the recession, more organizational layoffs, and the post-September 11 war on terrorism led to many organizations questioning the value of scorecards when growth is absent. As for KM--unfortunately a number of highly regarded knowledge management programs were eliminated as part of organizational cost cutting. That other perennial management favorite--performance results management--was sidelined for six months waiting for the political smoke to clear on the new administration's plans and who would control the Congress.

Our 2001 winner--the human capital crisis--had some difficulties, as will be discussed, but it clearly was the year's most significant management theme. Capping it off in January of this year, the General Accounting Office (GAO) added strategic human capital management to its high-risk issue list for government. In its pronouncement, GAO noted that:

Let's be clear on one important point--while we are adding the human capital area to our government-wide high-risk list, government employees are not the problem. The problem is a lack of strategic planning along with outdated policies and practices in the human capital area. For too long, many have viewed federal employees as a cost to be cut rather than as an asset to be appreciated. This view is shortsighted, out-of-date, and must change (www.gao.gov).

While progress has been made, much more needs to be done. Our series shows that human capital shortfalls are eroding the capacity of some agencies--and threatening the ability of others--to economically, efficiently, and effectively perform their missions.

Driving Forces

Of course, GAO's action was hardly unexpected. David Walker, the comptroller general, has been at the forefront of the campaign to make strategic human capital management a top federal management issue. He has given countless speeches, provided testimony, and offered articles and reports on the urgency and significance of the human capital crisis. Since September 2000, when he was featured in a cover article entitled "The Human Touch," Government Executive has devoted more feature articles to this topic than any other government issue. Staff writer Steve Barr of the Washington .Post should also be credited with highlighting the topic beginning with his May 2000 series of articles about "the federal employment crises" or "the talent gap" and continuing with numerous articles throughout 2001 in the Post's Federal Diary column. …

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