I know what you’re thinking: why would anyone leave the lucrative private sector – with opportunities to climb the corporate ladder, receive insane bonuses and maybe even private jet perks – to take up a position in the government ?
And yet, that’s exactly what I did in 2016 when I joined the public sector workforce as the City of Memphis’ Human Resources Manager.
Like many people, I had heard all the stereotypes and misconceptions about government workers – civil servants are lazy, slow to change, narrow-minded, etc. Do you see the blackboard. Even in my daughter’s favorite movie “Zootopia” they portray a government agency employee as a lazy person.
But I had a very different and personal perception of local government.
My grandfather served three terms as a city councilor in Gary, Indiana. It allowed me to see firsthand the impact a good public servant could have on a community. And that is what inspired and motivated me to take the step towards public service.
I still see that same level of commitment to service in those I work with. I see people who lack resources working with what they have. I see people devoted to an organization even though they are criticized, rejected and misjudged by outsiders.
All of this fueled my transformational mission to facilitate change and unlock potential.
As the “Great Resignation” continues, we see people questioning themselves. They’re trying to figure out what’s most professionally satisfying and how to balance their personal commitments. This is true for both public and private sector employees.
People are no longer just changing jobs, they are leaving the industries they have been engaged in for years in search of something completely different. In 2021, according to SHRM, a record 47.8 million Americans quit their jobs. Nearly 4 million people quit smoking every month, surpassing the monthly average of 3.5 million in 2019.
After doing my own soul-searching, I realized that I’m inspired — now more than ever — to stay the course as Memphis’ Human Resources Director because there is so much great work to do. Former US Chief Technology Officer Todd Park said, “I believe that as public servants we have a common goal: to provide Americans with the service they deserve and expect.”
My work not only directly affects the quality of life of our employees, but also has a major impact on the quality of life of the more than 600,000 citizens we serve. Because of the pursuit of this positive impact, my team and I are motivated to solve complex HR problems. We are inspired to innovate in our approaches to talent management and recruitment, to invest in and use cloud-based technology, to eliminate paper and to ensure that we use data to make the best decisions for our community.
Every day, we strive to think differently, focusing on partnering with other agencies and engaging on multiple levels, including social media, to improve talent recruitment. We also challenge ourselves by being fully transparent about our compensation, as well as using data to inform how we are making improvements. We update our website often to ensure that we tell our city’s story in a compelling way: a story that helps others see the value of working for city government and hopefully motivates them to join us in our quest to improve the lives of our citizens.
A glimmer of hope
The life of a civil servant is hard. There are days when things are difficult. Days when because people doubt your work, employees post negative comments on social media, budget limits, etc. Yet there is always an inner fire that drives us forward.
You see a silver lining in the form of a smile from someone getting a promotion, a candidate’s laughter after receiving a job offer, or a compliment from a manager for solving their problem. And you realize that all the planning and hard work and everything is worth it. Then you look back six years and you see a transformed organization, with a new culture, and you smile because you know you really made a difference.
I would like to challenge other public sector workers to renew their commitment to their municipalities, knowing that they have the potential to have a great impact on their communities.
I believe that the public sector can be the pioneer instead of the laggard. As the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan said, “We call ourselves public servants, but I’ll tell you this: We, as public servants, must set an example for the rest of the nation. It is absolutely true.
Why am I staying? Because I desire and aspire to serve my community and others at the highest level. I am blessed to do this work without shame or pride, knowing that I get up every day to help someone else. I am a public servant to improve the lives of others.
What’s better than that?