The State Worker

The State Worker: Who should Jerry Brown tap for human resources director?

Jon Ortiz
Jon Ortiz

With the sudden exodus of California’s top state personnel executive, we now pivot to the obvious question: Who will Gov. Jerry Brown tap next?

The answer will tell us how much he cares about retooling how the state recruits, trains and retains employees. His last pick to lead the charge, Julie Chapman. abruptly took her pension last week after nearly two years running the Department of Human Resources.

Her departure was announced just ahead of a report that blasted CalHR’s leadership for lacking “the holistic skill set” to pull off Brown’s orders to reform state government’s ancient and out-of-touch personnel practices.

“This is a wake-up moment for the governor,” said Billie Blair, an organizational psychologist who has worked with the CEOs of many Fortune 1000 companies.

Blair, head of Change Strategists Inc. in Southern California, says Brown can avoid another flop by following a few rules:

• Get the right experience. Over the last decade, labor relations types have dominated the state’s top personnel office. The department focused on bargaining. Brown wants someone to turn CalHR into a gold standard of efficiency and best personnel practices. That will require a skill set that may not be swimming in the department’s talent pool.

“If the governor just promotes the next person in line,” Blair said, “he’s setting that person and himself up for failure.”

• Go outside. Luring someone from the private sector or even from local or federal agencies will be tough. The job is responsible for the employment of 215,000 state workers and hundreds of thousands of people seeking state work. It pays about $150,000 per year. The city manager of Galt earns more.

If qualified candidates reject the job over money, “the governor could do this by contract,” Blair said, with an appointee leaning on a consultant. It would be controversial, Blair said, “but the governor has to ask himself, how serious is he about getting this done?”

• Publicly embrace your change agent. CalHR has turned over four directors in five years. The next one will face big-time push-back to overhauling the personnel system. Unions, management and employees will resist.

“Change always comes with a certain amount of chaos,” said Blair, “and whoever is hired will want public assurances they won’t be undercut.”

Of course, Brown is responsible for CalHR’s current leadership turmoil. Now he has a chance to get it right and send a message that he’s serious about changing government’s culture. The choice will say as much about Brown, himself a lifetime creature of government, as the person he selects.

In a Wednesday email, Brown spokesman Jim Evans said, “The administration is looking for the best person possible for the job and when we fill the position, we’ll let you know.”

We’ll be watching.

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