TALENT IN THE
WILLIAM J. ROTHWELL, PH.D., SPHR, CPLP FELLOW
AILEEN G. ZABALLERO, M.S., CPLP
JONG GYU PARK, MBA
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Publication date: 07/01/2014
TALENT IN THE
WILLIAM J. ROTHWELL, PH.D., SPHR, CPLP FELLOW
AILEEN G. ZABALLERO, M.S., CPLP
JONG GYU PARK, MBA
James Alexander has more than 25 years of experience in the field of organization development and human capital management in both the private and public sectors. He currently serves as a consultant with the Department of Agriculture in the Food Safety Inspection Service. Alexander earned his master’s degree in planning and administration from Antioch University and is also a graduate of Georgetown University’s Organization Development program.
Christos Anagiotos is a dual Ph.D. candidate in Adult Education—Comparative and International Education at Penn State, where he studies with the support of the Onassis Foundation. Before studying at the University of Connecticut as a Fulbright scholar, he worked for the Ministry of Education of his home country, Cyprus. Anagiotos’ research interests include transfer of learning, workplace learning, online education, and the construction of national identity.
Thomas Agrondizza, M.S., is a Ph.D. candidate in Learning, Design, and Technology at Penn State with an M.S. in Instructional Design, Development, and Evaluation from Syracuse University. He was an instructional designer, creating training courses for organizations such as the U.S. House of Representatives, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Federal Aviation Administration and has taught instructional systems development online.
Catherine Haynes, M.S., U.S. Army Ret., is a dual Ph.D. candidate in Workforce Education and Development—Comparative and International Education at Penn State. A Fulbright scholar whose research interests include Caribbean cultural knowledge in the tourism industry, Haynes was a diversity framework coordinator for human resources at Penn State. She has developed and delivered training programs for both military and civilian personnel.
Maria Spencer, MBA, is a Ph.D. candidate in Workforce Education and Development at Penn State. Her research focuses on the challenges of implementing change in historically successful organizations. She has led more than 200 companies and entrepreneurs in a variety of industries in workforce development, business, capital development, and energy efficiency initiatives. Spencer is also a consultant with Penn State’s Small Business Development Center.
Jennifer Myers, M.S., BSOE, is a Ph.D. candidate in Workforce Education and Development at Penn State. She was a federal agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and is a graduate of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. Her research involves employee engagement, training, and career planning initiatives in the healthcare and academic advising fields.
Sarah Stager is a dual Ph.D. candidate in Learning, Design, and Technology—Comparative and International Education at Penn State, with a B.S. in sociology from Saint Vincent College, an M.A. in social science from Edinboro University, and an Ed.M. from Penn State. She has taught classes on technology integration in higher education, and her research interests include social interactions using mobile devices, cultural influences in decision-making, and ethical paradigms of best practice.
According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM; 2012a), the federal government has a civilian workforce of 2.76 million employees. However, budgetary constraints coupled with an increased demand to attract and retain talent have imposed complex challenges. A surge in the number of senior federal employees becoming eligible for retirement is causing national leaders to take heed of these challenges; meanwhile, the “technical skills required in today’s workplace continue to necessitate advanced employee training efforts” (Condrey et al., 2012:1). Government human capital leaders are seeking solutions to improve the federal human resource (HR) systems that will optimize talent. However, several issues pertaining to the existing system must be addressed:
• Recruiting and selecting
• Developing and training
• Deploying and placing
• Transferring knowledge.
The aforementioned HR functions have changed as today’s global markets compete in the “war for talent” (KPMG International, 2012:2). HR departments in both the private and public sectors have shifted from playing predominantly administrative roles to achieving strategic missions and objectives where resources are often scarce. Federal agencies in particular are attempting to adopt new HR practices to succeed during this complex period. The alignment of talent management to business objectives will require systematic and strategic initiatives.
In the early 1920s, personnel management was strictly focused on the administrative function of employee recordkeeping. During this period, the government’s influence on employee relations was nonexistent. Employee abuses, including unsafe working conditions and child labor, were very common. However, during World War II the need to motivate employees to be more productive became important. Furthermore, classifications of workers and occupational categories that altered the recruitment and selection process were developed (Kavanagh et al., 2012).
The civil rights movement in the 1960s was the impetus for many new federal labor regulations. During this period, the government became responsible for policing discriminatory employment practices. Personnel departments were encumbered with legislative regulations that demanded data collection to substantiate that there were no unfair or discriminatory practices. The combination of optimizing employee productivity and the desire to avoid punitive damages for noncompliance resulted in the expansion of personnel management into today’s HR departments (Kavanagh et al., 2012).
As the European and Asian economies grew and increased global competition, the 1980s became the era of cost-effectiveness. The realization that the cost of labor had a significant impact on budgets drove the need for employee programs and services. This approach to the workforce defines people as assets, also referred to as human capital, whose value can be measured and whose future value can increase through investment. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the government’s human capital is its greatest asset:
To attain the highest level of performance and accountability, federal agencies depend on three enablers: people, process, and technology. The most important of these is people. (GAO, 2000:1)
However, the likelihood of future staffing problems due to a high percentage of eligible retirees became apparent in 2000, when the phrase “human capital crisis” began to surface. Federal reports and congressional testimonies by experts on the topic of managing in government indicated that
• The reputation of government as an employer has diminished
• People who work for the government often leave for better working conditions and higher salaries.
• A large number of people who have made careers in government will soon retire. (Friel, 2003)
These reports further suggested that the federal government was inept in attracting and retaining the “best and brightest” talent, thereby impacting the government’s ability to perform its duties. For example, in 2003, when corporate malfeasances and accounting scandals were at a record high, increasing the workload of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), SEC was unable to immediately fill new positions despite receiving the largest budgetary increase in the history of the agency. This staffing challenge impaired SEC’s ability to fulfill its mission. According to a GAO report, SEC recognized the need to develop new strategies that include staff allocation and human capital planning processes. The strategic plan would be “vital to SEC’s ability to develop performance-oriented, outcome-based performance measures” (2003c).
The federal government’s strained ability to serve the public and meet its expectations now required drastic improvement in the management of its human capital. Responsible for safeguarding merit principles and employee rights, the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) was created to assist agencies in managing their workforce (MSPB, 2002). According to GAO, the federal government must position itself to address challenges and transform its internal strategic workforce planning.
Strategic workforce planning addresses two critical needs: (1) aligning an organization’s human capital program with its current and emerging mission and programmatic goals and (2) developing long-term strategies for acquiring, developing, and retaining staff to achieve programmatic goals. (GAO, 2003b:2)
Aligning the management of each agency’s workforce (recruitment, training, deploying, engaging, and retaining employees) with its strategic goal has become critical. Furthermore, government agencies have increased their emphasis on performance and results-driven outcomes, thereby impacting talent management strategies. Agencies are focusing more on the talent management process by identifying the most critical projects and matching the skills needed to meet desired goals.
As competition for the “best and brightest” talent continues to be a challenge in all sectors, including the private and nonprofit sector, managing talent becomes more critical. Therefore, recruitment and selection, training and development, compensation and reward, work design, performance appraisal, and labor management must continuously reform and adapt to the changing nature of public service (Gould-Williams, 2004; Hays and Sowa, 2006; Liou and Korosec, 2009; Snavely and Desai, 2010).
As a result, the federal government focused on reinvention, introducing several important concepts to the management of employees. Several strategies focused on increasing efficiency, reducing costs, and managing performance. Moreover, the demand for greater accountability from public officials drove several initiatives. In response to higher expectations, the Federal Workforce Flexibility Act of 2004 was signed, providing “even greater emphasis on employee development and training to promote strategic alignment with agencies’ missions” (OPM, 2005a:1). OPM and each federal agency will coordinate their efforts to align HR initiatives with agency strategic goals and performance objectives, as well as to develop comprehensive management succession programs.
Human capital management addresses business needs “through the system integration of recruiting, learning, performance, and succession planning” (Ward, 2009:212). It emphasizes the analysis of data to inform the operational decisions to manage people and increase their value. Human capital managers ensure that the workforce remains productive and motivated; this requires collaborative efforts between operational strategies and the agency’s goals and missions (Erskine, 2012). According to GAO, “strategic human capital management should be the centerpiece of any serious change management initiative and efforts to transform the cultures of government agencies” (2003:3). More specifically, government must focus on creating a flexible and adaptable work environment that is able to move quickly and minimize bureaucratic barriers.
Furthermore, the imperative that each agency’s talent management must align with its individual organizational objectives encourages government organizations to explore theories, models, and practices that focus on talent and employee performance. This book describes and discusses the best practices of both fundamental and emerging talent management initiatives and the activities of the federal government’s HR department, OPM. As a guide for students, academicians, researchers, practitioners, and consultants in both the public and private sectors, it aims to inform the reader about how the public sector is attempting to optimize a globally competitive workforce.
Today’s leaders are challenged to devise methods to gain the greatest productivity from the fewest people. This is particularly true in the public sector, where a higher-than-average percentage of workers are retirement-eligible (compared with employees in the private and nonprofit sectors) and where dramatic downsizings and layoffs have recently occurred. In 2011, it was reported that
Layoffs among state and local government workers are the most obvious source of new unemployment. Large cuts have started in regions as diverse as Jefferson County, Ala., Detroit, and Pennsylvania. These downsizings have affected police, teachers, and administrative personnel. In Detroit, the number of public employee layoffs could rise into the hundreds. And government job cuts may have only just started. Budgets in large states including California and New York are still not balanced, and state deficits are running in the billions of dollars. Austerity plans being proposed in Washington will probably cost jobs among federal government employees as well. (McIntyre, 2011)
Most government executives agree that the government’s workforce is an important pillar of national strength. These executives also agree that talent is the most important element of a modern workforce and, just as leading private-sector organizations do, the federal government should find ways to develop talent in its workforce. Yet, based on the predictions of many analysts, government budgets will be cut for years to come at the same time that public demand for federal government services will increase dramatically (Zeman et al., 2011).
Attracting the best people to work for the federal government is just the beginning of ensuring that the federal workforce is the best it can be. Government officials must select productive people who can achieve results. In addition to choosing the right people from a pool of applicants, the federal government must develop and train the best people for their unique roles in its HR structure.
The U.S. government employs hundreds of thousands of people, so recruiting and selecting the right people for the right jobs is an important key to ensuring that its workforce will attain optimum performance. Furthermore, developing and training strategies that support strategic human capital management are critical. And putting the right people in the right positions—both in the United States (placement) and abroad (deployment)—is equally important, given the number of people employed by the federal government and the high cost of repositioning them. This requires various steps that identify the right people for each job and provide opportunities for engagement that connect them to their respective agencies. Doing so may increase job satisfaction and ensure that they are in the right environment to reach their individual potential. Employee engagement increases employee retention. Building appropriate motivation among individuals and establishing a positive work environment further encourages productivity and minimizes employee turnover. Even so, retaining the best employees is not always possible (e.g., when they are retiring). In these cases, transferring knowledge from more-experienced to less-experienced employees is vital.
It can readily be seen against this backdrop that government employers will be especially challenged to attract, recruit, and select the best people; develop and train them; deploy them; engage and retain them; and encourage experienced people to transfer what they know to less-experienced employees. Conversely, several agencies have been recognized for major improvements or successes in optimizing talent.
In writing this book, we set out to examine various agencies that had integrated new talent management processes, practices, and systems. We define talent management as a systematic effort to recruit, develop, retain, deploy, engage, and transfer the knowledge of the “best” workers (Rothwell, 2011). In this context, best means those who can be objectively measured as most productive or promotable—not necessarily those workers whom managers like the best. These processes, practices, and systems are referred to as best practices and may provide a model for other agencies with similar functions or missions.
It is important to consider that each agency has its own unique and diverse complexities. Hence, each leading agency’s best practice may not be effective for another agency or organization. Consequently, it is essential to understand the similarities and differences between organizations. In addition, it is also important to consider potential causal links between the successes of the leading organizations and the best-practice techniques of managing talent.
OPM, the federal government’s chief HR agency and personnel policy manager of the federal workforce, has been charged to “recruit, retain, and honor a world-class workforce to serve the American people by directing HR and employee management, administering retirement, healthcare and insurance programs, overseeing merit-based and inclusive hiring into the civil service, and providing a secure employment process” (OPM, 2013b:1).
To achieve the above, OPM established five key strategic goals for 2014 and strategies to attain them (OPM, 2013b:8). We examined all five goals and their corresponding strategies for this book. Table 1.1 lists the goals and their designated strategies; the third column of the table identifies the chapter in which each strategy is discussed. We offer a short synopsis of each chapter to give readers a sense of what they should expect to read in this book.
|Hire the Best||Implement improvements to the federal hiring process||Chapter 2|
|Promote diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce||Chapter 5|
|Reduce skills gaps in targeted mission-critical occupations and competency areas across the government||Chapter 3|
|Encourage increased manager involvement in the federal hiring process||Chapter 2|
|Assist veterans to find a place in the federal workforce||Chapter 4|
|Respect the Workforce||Improve training opportunities for federal employees||Chapter 3|
|Ensure that available benefits align with best practices and employee needs||Chapter 4|
|Improve federal employee engagement and satisfaction with health, wellness, and work-life flexibilities||Chapter 5|
|Improve federal labor-management relations across government||Chapter 5|
|Create the 21st-century flexible workplace to enhance employee engagement and improve satisfaction||Chapter 5|
|Expect the Best||Help agencies become high-performing organizations with use of HR tools||Chapter 3|
|Recognize, select, and sustain individuals who provide strong leadership and direction for agencies||Chapter 6|
|Provide leadership and direction to governmentwide HR programs||Chapter 3 and Chapter 6|
|Hold agencies to account for improvements in strategic HR management||Chapter 1|
|OPM will lead by example to implement HR reforms and to reinvigorate our approach to individual and organizational performance management||Chapter 3 and Chapter 5|
|Honor Service||Develop a 21st-century customer-focused retirement processing system that adjudicates claims in timely and accurate manner||Chapter 5|
|Improve OPM service to federal agency benefit officers||Chapter 4|
TABLE 1.1. FY 2014 Discretionary Budget Goals, Strategies, and Chapters of Discussion
Adapted from OPM, 2013b:8, 2014 Discretionary Budget by Goal and Strategy.
Across all agencies and regardless of the nature of the work, the federal government has been able to attract a workforce that has valued stability, tenure, and loyalty. When it comes to promotions, many agencies still reward time served over talent, merit, or productivity, making the system of promotions very predictable and—in the case of some agencies—detracting from employees’ motivation to work harder to get a promotion. Where this is the case, the most talented staff may be lost to opportunities found outside the federal system, where performance is more directly considered in making advancement decisions. Realizing this vulnerability, the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board and Congress directed OPM to change the hiring process and infuse merit-based principles into the recruitment and selection process.
Additionally, federal hiring freezes and the growing federal dependency on contractors have made succession planning a major challenge for officials, who realize that a large percentage of their workforce will soon retire and that a large share of the talent the federal government relies on is employed by private contractors and nongovernmental organizations.
With this realization, OPM began the process of changing the recruitment and selection process of the federal government, updating its toolbox to include social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter—a move which has helped agencies more easily communicate with a large number of job seekers. In addition, social media allow agencies to have continuing conversations with potential federal employees, who can share news, ideas, and opinions.
Chapter 2 also details the Wounded Warrior Project introduced by the U.S. House of Representatives and the online recruiting resources increasingly used by agencies to seek specific groups of recruits (such as veterans), efforts integral to the reinvention of federal recruiting.
Federal agencies have internal needs for training and developing their employees that must be met to maintain a level of service acceptable to U.S. citizens. For two decades, the federal government has been reforming its training programs to enable its employees to meet the challenges of their jobs—and, at the same time, preparing them to assume leading positions in the government when current leaders retire. Different agencies use different methods to implement training and development, including mentoring, coaching, executive development planning, and succession planning. Additionally, as electronic learning has grown to overtake many traditional blackboard or pen-and-pencil methods, the government has remained current with implementation of electronic learning management systems, hosting courses for numerous organizations and ensuring that federal employees have the necessary and up-to-date skills to perform their duties.
Chapter 3 examines many of the training and development practices and policies the federal government uses and provides concrete examples of each. The chapter also investigates the ways instructional design, including needs assessments and levels of evaluation, is being implemented in the federal government.
In many federal agencies, too often the right people do not get the right job, and as a result the agencies are less able to achieve their missions. In those cases, placement and deployment procedures can help overcome this barrier to high performance. Both the terms deployment and placement refer to movement of staff to new positions. OPM is the primary agency for deployment and placement of personnel.
Placement refers to placing employees in those positions in the federal government that are most appropriate for each employee based on his or her abilities. The two main methods of placement used by OPM are internal transfer and new employment. The goal is to get the right person in the right job regardless of whether an employee is new to federal employment.
Deployment refers to the filling of overseas positions for both uniformed and civilian personnel of the federal government. A government agency can deploy the right person for an open, new, or existing position in different ways: civilian deployment, re-employment of military personnel (e.g., the Wounded Warrior Project) or veteran registration. OPM and agencies’ chief human capital officers have the main responsibilities in deployment.
As agencies continue to restructure and downsize as a response to federal budget cuts, some employees must transition to new jobs. OPM provides career transition assistance to employees through career transition assistance plans for surplus and displaced employees. Federal government employees may request reassignment from one agency to another or geographically relocate, in which case these internal placement programs may also be of assistance. Whether the situation involves a career transition, employment reassignment, or a new hire, both potential and current employees are thoroughly assessed to ensure the best job placement.
Employee engagement is a heightened connection between employees and their work that can extend to a connection to the organization and people in the organization. Research indicates that employee engagement is closely related to employee satisfaction and, as a result, to employee retention. Additionally, engaged employees are more likely to perform better in their jobs. Agencies that recognize the necessity of an engaged workforce, without which turnover skyrockets, productivity plummets, and grievances mount, have introduced and continually develop practices that create and sustain an engaging work environment.
To engage employees, agencies have developed robust systems to plan work, set expectations, monitor employee performance, determine what training and development employees require, assess employee performance, and reward outstanding performance. For example, OPM’s knowledge management strategy is based on engaging people, process, and technology.
Chapter 5 also describes a number of challenges federal agencies face in the process of implementing engagement programs, such as the multigenerational federal workforce and budget cuts, particularly those following the 2008 recession.
Employee retention is an employer’s effort to keep desirable employees, which leads to a continuing employment relationship. Retention itself has not been difficult for the federal government; job security, benefits, and a promotion system that favors seniority have all contributed to the graying workforce and the entrenchment of staff in middle management roles. Retention of top talent, however, has not necessarily been well executed by the federal system, which is still struggling to integrate merit- and competency-based standards across its talent management system.
In the early 1980s, there was public outcry over the fact that 72 percent of federal workers had management titles—a rate nearly three times that of private industry (Light, 2000). The public attention given to this “bloat” contributed to hiring freezes in the 1990s that only reinforced the aging of the federal workforce. The unnatural stability that has characterized the federal workforce since then has consequences now, as the pendulum prepares to swing toward a massive wave of retirements at the same time that renewed calls are made to get more out of government with fewer resources.
OPM has adopted best practices suggested by researchers, as well as practices used in industry, with the intent of modernizing its retention practices to attract and retain top performers. OPM’s new focus manifests itself in various efforts to implement merit-based reward and promotion policies and succession-planning initiatives. Although federal agencies have historically operated independently, OPM is now implementing workforce planning and development policies that include centralized guidelines and standards. This change is intended to help manage both the upcoming exodus of retirement-eligible federal workers and the opportunity to champion better alignment between federal workforce strategy and agency performance goals.
Chapter 6 also covers a number of OPM’s best practices that different agencies have adopted in an attempt to improve federal employee retention, such as alignment of workforce planning and agency strategic goals. The chapter also discusses the implementation of merit-based professional development and reward programs that improve supervisory selection and training and alleviate interpersonal and compensation issues. Additionally, successful programs are presented, such as work-life balance programs designed to modernize the federal government’s HR management policies.
As the Baby Boomer generation transitions into retirement, organizations must plan for the retention of the experience possessed by this large and knowledgeable cohort of workers. Knowledge transfer primarily is a management process meant to safeguard organizational knowledge by transferring experience and lessons learned from more-experienced to less-experienced employees. Despite challenges to and complexities inherent in establishing and maintaining this process in federal organizations, the federal government is moving to ensure that this transfer is completed through various mechanisms before older workers retire, thereby safeguarding this valuable knowledge.
Chapter 7 presents a number of innovative programs intended to facilitate and enhance knowledge transfer, as well as examples of agencies using such programs. For example, mentoring programs are a popular and, in most cases, successful strategy used in federal agencies to ensure transfer. Additionally, implementation of “communities of practice” programs is particularly successful in the business world, but is still in its infancy in the federal government. A number of other programs not currently implemented by federal agencies could be adopted to ensure successful transfer.
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