Changing tack: Restructuring at HPD

Submitted by Dr. David Crass, State Archaeologist (David.Crass@dnr.state.ga.us)

This article was first published in HPD’s Preservation Posts, Issue 9, February 2010. Click here to see the original.

One of the most difficult, but most important, sailing evolutions is called “coming about.” Coming about involves swinging the bow of the boat through the wind to sail in another direction, or “tack.” The evolution starts when the person steering the vessel, the helmsman, shouts, “prepare to come about,” which warns the crew to ready themselves. Crewmen scramble to their places, and a few moments later, the helmsman shouts the command “coming about!” and shoves the rudder hard over. The bow swings sharply through the maneuver and then settles down. This evolution takes only a few moments, after which the boat is now racing in a new direction, or tack.

HPD is going through a similar evolution as this issue of Preservation Posts “goes to press.” We have shoved the helm over, changed tack, and are in that moment when the boat’s bow is starting to settle on to a new course. To understand why this change in course was necessary we have to turn to the division’s history.

HPD was born as the Georgia Historical Commission in 1951. In 1973, the Commission was incorporated into the new Department of Natural Resources. Two trends emerged in the late 1980s that were to continue for the ensuing decades. First, there was a steady increase in projects reviewed under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) as federal agencies increased their permitting and other undertakings in the state. Second, additional duties and responsibilities outside the NHPA were assumed. In 1994, the Historic Preservation Section became the Historic Preservation Division when it was broken out from the Parks, Recreation, and Historic Sites Division.

From the inception of the Historical Commission right through to the present, the general organization of HPD did not change. Essentially it was a team of subject matter experts reporting to the Director, creating a very flat organizational structure.

As a result of this flat organizational structure, the Director was so involved in the daily operations of the Division that it was impossible to manage institutional relationships and identify new opportunities for HPD to make greater contributions to historic preservation in the state. To return to our sailing analogy, the Director was trying to helm the ship and rig the sails at the same time—an impossible task. In addition, there was little opportunity for professional development of staff members.

To meet this challenge we have reorganized our internal structure as well as many of our business functions. Our new organization is more hierarchical, with three Sections: Historic Resources, Archaeology, and Operations. Responsibility for day-to-day office functions now rests in the hands of our Section Chiefs. Richard Cloues is our Historic Resources Chief, Candy Henderson is our Operations and Outreach Chief (which includes outreach, grants, and the Georgia African American Heritage Preservation Network), and we currently have a vacant Archaeology Section Chief position. (For more on this position including application information, click here.)

HPD’s new organizational structure provides two major benefits. First, it offers staff options for assuming additional responsibilities and furthering their careers. Just as important, by instituting an executive team it gives the Director the opportunity to focus on the big picture: managing relationships, finding new opportunities, and generally, steering the ship.

Already the new structure is yielding benefits. HPD is becoming more nimble because daily resource management decisions are made more quickly. At the same time, larger policy issues are addressed more efficiently because the Director, supported by the executive team, can focus on gathering the necessary information to make critical decisions.

The organizational changes that have taken place are only the beginning, however. We are also making changes in our business functions, addressing staff development issues, forging new relationships, and reinvigorating old ones. Look for more on the new HPD in upcoming issues of Preservation Posts.