The management of the federal workforce—effectively using talent, providing training, creating opportunities for promotions—can have a profound effect on employee performance and job satisfaction.
Based on an analysis of federal survey data by Deloitte and my organization, the Partnership for Public Service, agencies are failing on a number fronts when it comes to managing employees throughout their careers.
According to the research, fewer than 40 percent of current federal employees government-wide believe their agencies are recruiting people with the right skills; only about half believe their talents are being used well in the workplace; and less than a third are satisfied with the opportunities to get a better job in their organization.
In addition, fewer than half of federal employees are satisfied with their training opportunities and only about 40 percent had positive views regarding the recognition they receive. All of these results are about 15 to 20 points lower than what is found in the private sector.
Agencies and their leaders clearly need to do a better job, starting with recruitment and going through the entire panoply of talent management responsibilities. Most importantly, you need to take charge of these issues, and not view it as the responsibility of the HR office alone.
While managers may be hard-pressed to find the time needed to address everything at once, it is important to examine your agency employee survey data, talk to employees and determine what areas your staff believes are the greatest weaknesses. Then set some priorities for action.
Whether you are a senior leader or a hiring manager, you need to first reach out to HR to learn more about the recruitment processes and responsibilities. Many leaders are often too hands off, which is a big mistake since talent acquisition should be a top priority. Federal leaders need to partner with HR to craft job announcements, selection criteria and interview approaches to ensure that the best candidates are applying and getting through the process.
Recruiting young talent has become a major issue for the federal workforce. Contrary to what might be expected, data show that the percentage of the federal workforce under age 30 dropped from 9 percent in 2010 to less than 7 percent in 2014, a steady reduction of more than 45,000 employees. Those under 25 dropped from an already low 2 percent to an alarming 0.9 percent during the same period. In contrast, in the entire U.S. workforce, nearly 24 percent are under age 30.
However, the good news is that the government has taken steps to improve talent management for younger employees with the development of the Pathways Programs. This effort is designed to help agencies recruit and develop future leaders, and is tailored to those at the beginning of their careers. If you are looking to bring in young talent, make sure your agency is using the Pathways Programs, which include internships, the Recent Graduates Program and the Presidential Management Fellows Program, to maximum effect.
Many people who join public service are motivated by a desire to make a difference, which is why it is especially important to align federal employees’ talents with an agency’s mission. If you find that your employees are feeling that their best talents are not being tapped, you might want to begin a series of one-on-one conversations to hear more about their goals, aspirations and hidden skills.
Perhaps you cannot meet with everyone. Then you might adopt strategies like those at the State Department and Environmental Protection Agency, where they are using online tools to solicit employees’ interests and strengths, and then using the tool to match them to new or emerging opportunities. Whatever your approach, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s a shared job – between you and your employees – to make the right mission match.
If training and development prove to be a concern, you need to gain a share of your agency’s limited training resources to support employee goals. Even if budgets are shrinking, you can serve as a teacher, mentor or coach. Whether you take a one-on-one approach with employees, schedule formal on-the-job training opportunities or simply organize an informal brown bag, you can offer a lot as a leader.
Time is often more precious than money in today’s fast-paced working world, but it’s all the more valued by your employees. Make the commitment once a week, once a month or once a quarter to support their professional development. Just be sure to solicit their interests ahead of time, and to tap into others’ expertise.
The federal government’s challenge is daunting—hire the best people, often with highly specialized skills, and keep them engaged and committed. An effective talent management strategy enables employees to be high-performing and have high levels of job and workplace satisfaction and commitment. It’s not easy, but as a leader, it’s critical to pay attention to and be proactive regarding each aspect of the employee experience.
If you have thoughts on these issues, please share them by leaving a comment below or by emailing me at email@example.com.
Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership, is a vice president at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. He also heads the Partnership’s Center for Government Leadership.