New Orleans Chapter Guided Mayoral Transition Team

By Kathy Gurchiek Aug 4, 2011

The role a New Orleans chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) played in helping a newly elected city administration recruit, hire and onboard approximately 250 appointees in less than 12 weeks earned that chapter a
2010 Pinnacle Award.

It was the third consecutive Pinnacle Award that the Human Resources Management Association of Greater New Orleans (HRMA-New Orleans) has won in the annual competition.

The chapter is one of two SHRM state councils and seven U.S. chapters chosen as 2010 winners in the national competition that SHRM and ADP sponsor annually. SHRM announced the latest winners during its Leadership Conference in November 2010.

The project came about when Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu’s transition team contacted HRMA-New Orleans shortly after the 2010 election to seek guidance on HR hiring practices and advice on whether the team should employ professional HR expertise for that role.

HRMA had no role in Landrieu’s campaign or any other, according to the chapter. However, it has gained a reputation for being active in the community as a result of the chapter’s two previous Pinnacle wins, said chapter President Ron Zornes, SPHR.

Those projects—mentoring entrepreneurs on HR policies and practices, and helping young talent connect to jobs in New Orleans—involved city leaders from business and nonprofits, including a woman who later was a part of Landrieu’s transition team.

Enthusiasm for and pride in the city was high, and the chapter’s board embraced the idea of assisting the team, Zornes said. New Orleans had won the Super Bowl about a week earlier, and the city was on the cusp of rebirth as Hurricane Katrina-related recovery money started to come in for major reconstruction projects, which opened up jobs.

“We felt the city really had a desire to truly identify the best people for positions that would influence some of those decisions [to see that] the money was spent correctly and … to continue to move [the city] forward,” he said.

The chapter wanted to make sure, though, that its involvement “was not seen as political, but instead in support of good government” and that its participation would heighten the respect among community leaders for HR, it noted in its Pinnacle application.

It succeeded, said Zornes, because of the overwhelming support Landrieu enjoyed at the election booth.

“The mayor won the election in a 10-candidate race with over two-thirds of the vote, and he won across all demographic areas and major geographic areas of the city.”

Supplying HR Guidance

The transition team was made up of “respected and accomplished city leaders in business, government, academia and nonprofits,” but there was no one from HR, the chapter wrote in its Pinnacle application.

The team had received more than 1,500 applications for appointed positions with the city government. Its overriding goal was to fill as many of the positions as possible in the three months before Landrieu took office in order to minimize interruption in city leadership and city services, Zornes said.

But it was not just a matter of identifying talent quickly, he added.

“They wanted to identify the right people with the right qualifications and motivations to help the city continue to move forward,” Zornes said. The Landrieu team turned to the chapter for guidance on issues such as:

  • Legal and regulatory requirements when posting employment advertisements.
  • What should and should not be included on an employment application.
  • Background screening.
  • Appropriate and inappropriate questions to ask when interviewing a job candidate.
  • Whether to provide severance for appointed city employees who would not be asked to continue serving.

The chapter recommended that the transition team:

  • Secure volunteer HR professionals to provide short-term guidance on structural issues and help it think through employment standards and processes.
  • Hire two HR professionals to recruit, select and onboard employees up through the May 3, 2010, mayoral inauguration.

Two chapter board members and a former board member met with the team in February 2010, spending about 15 hours over three weeks answering—in person and through e-mail—the team’s HR-related questions. They shared HR tools such as sample job applications from SHRM’s website.

The chapter provided a list of HR professionals in the chapter who would be available for short-term contract work. Two were hired to screen resumes, interview candidates, and hire and onboard new city employees.

Given the scope of what the team needed for hiring and onboarding, “we couldn’t do it with part-time HR professionals,” Zornes explained.

He advises other chapters that want to be involved similarly in their communities “to start small and prove yourself and really work your way up.” He emphasized that the Landrieu team approached the chapter for this initiative.

“We already demonstrated our interest in being involved in the community,” he said. “This is a great example of advancing our profession … and appreciation for the HR function and the HR profession in the business community.”

“These are the types of activities that the Society wants to see more of our local members get involved with,” said Pamela Green, SPHR, SHRM’s chief U.S. membership officer.

“When we pool our collective human resources together at the local level, we can make the kind of lasting impact on our communities that resemble the change and improvement we want and so desperately need. We’re proud of the work happening in New Orleans, which is an example of the kinds of activities repeatedly found in local communities across the U.S. thanks to members and volunteer leaders like these.”

Sept. 9, 2011, is the deadline for entering the 2011 Pinnacle Awards competition; the
application can be found here. The top 20 finalists will be notified by Oct. 1, 2011, and winners will be announced at the Awards Dinner on Nov. 18 during the 2011 SHRM Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.

Click here to listen to the webinar about this chapter's program.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for
HR News.

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