The Washington Post

The human resources black hole

Human resources (HR) seems like a black box. Once we submit our paperwork for action, sometimes it sits there forever. In several cases, an action has taken several months to a year! What takes so long? Why can’t HR be more transparent? - Federal manager, U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Transparency requires clarity from both sides, and as a result, I’m going to challenge you by asking: Might you be part of the problem?

Next time you have an HR action or you need to work with another management function within your agency, I suggest taking the following approach.

First, don’t just simply complete the paperwork and send it their way. Instead, take a moment to sit down with your HR colleagues and explain why your request is time sensitive and critical to your team’s performance and results.

Next, let your colleagues know that you are willing to invest your time – and that of your team – to help them complete the action as quickly as possible. Try shifting this “us vs. them” mentality, and work to create a sense that you’re one team working to achieve a common goal.

Finally, set some common expectations for regular updates and then put them on your calendar to initiate the follow-up. While you may be focused on completing your one action, your agency’s HR folks will be processing multiple actions simultaneously. Therefore, it would be a good idea for you to contact them regularly to assess progress and ask where you and your team can be helpful.

If you use this approach and find that the situation has not changed, contact the head of the office and explain that you’re willing to work together, but you need better support from their team operating on the front lines.

If others have ideas for working with HR or other agency management functions more effectively, please share your ideas. Post your thoughts in a comment below, or email me at

More from On Leadership:

Summer reading suggestions for fed workers

How to become a great federal leader

Rocking the boat in federal agencies

Be in the know on everything we’re covering here at The Post’s On Leadership section. Follow us on Twitter and “like” our page on Facebook.

Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, explores workplace issues and provides advice for federal managers through analysis, interviews and reader Q&As in his Federal Coach blog for On Leadership.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Video curated for you.