Don’t Let Talent Go to Waste: Split-Time It


The way we hire and utilize specific talent is funny to me. It reminds me of a Mitch Hedberg joke.

“When you’re in Hollywood and you’re a comedian, everybody wants you to do things besides comedy. They say, OK, you’re a stand-up comedian — can you act? Can you write? Write us a script?… It’s as though if I were a cook and I worked my ass off to become a good cook, they said, All right, you’re a cook — can you farm?” – MITCH HEDBERG: OK, YOU’RE A STAND-UP COMEDIAN

I often see organizations hire exceptional talent and it seems like the first thing they do is put them on special projects or assign them duties that have little to do with their passion and skills. This is especially the case in the technology world where I spent most of my time in government.

There are many reasons this is counterproductive and here are a few:

  • Morale: Nobody likes to be hired for one thing and then live their job in the “other duties as assigned” category of the job description.
  • Professional Development: When you hire for skills you are usually looking for the best you can get. Therefore, the more time a person spends utilizing those skills the better they will get at them.
  • Value: Many of the other duties assigned are less skilled work than what they were hired for. Therefore, you are paying more than you should for that skill level.
  • Jack of all Trades Mentality: I fall right into this and I am sure many of you reading this do as well. Being spread so thin that you start to move towards the middle on a bunch of skills is good for a manager or admin, but not good for someone who enjoys being really good at something. We are a society in general that pushes people towards the middle because the way organizations hire and utilize talent forces it.
  • Skill Shortages: There are only so many skilled workers to go around and once an organization has one on staff they do whatever it takes to keep them. This is the case even when their skill may not require a full time position. They give them other things to do to pass the time. Therefore, leading to low morale and less resources available for others that need it.
  • Bloat: Skilled individuals are usually highly motivated and sitting around drives them crazy. Therefore, they will create work. Unfortunately, that work created has to be sustained and supported.
  • Quality: Skilled workers can be extremely expensive so organizations often have to settle for what they can afford. Sometimes this is sending someone to a 2 day class on a skill and adding it to their responsibilities. Therefore, organizations with less needs and less resources can end up suffering.
  • Bad Managers: In the current system, it can be really difficult to identify a bad manager if they have a good team or are just extremely likeable. Split-timing forces management to understand what it takes to run a department and what resources are needed to get the job done. In other words, the manager has to know what they are managing in addition to having management skills. Good managers already do this but there are many that don’t.

To most this is just a cost of doing business but if you take a deep look at it, it has a much larger impact. Innovation suffers, the talent pool shrinks and organizational cost increase while at the same time, skilled workers do not often get paid what they are worth.

Another way to approach this situation is what I am calling (for the lack of a better word) Split-Timing. It is a variation of shared resources, freelancing or contract work. An individual would be shared between agencies and business units and maintain an employment contract. Unfortunately, the systems to accomplish this are not in place in a lot of organizations and not many managers want to “share”.

We are in a completely different world now then we were even 10 years ago when it comes to how people work and tools available to support initiatives like this. Telecommuting is a big topic on GovLoop and some agencies are already participating in it. If we can make the next step to better utilizing skilled workers I think we will see an overall increase in quality and decrease in costs. What do you think?

Tim Howell is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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It’s funny that you bring up telecommunting because I just had an experience around it yesterday. I’m a relatively young local gov worker (32) who had a meeting with mostly 50+ year old workers yesterday. The topic was brought up about a work from home day, and one of the guys said he doesn’t think it should be available to anybody because HE can’t do HIS job from home. This is indicative of a typical government thought-process. I experienced the same thing in the military, where the more senior people would make life harder for the lower ranks/new guys just because they had it bad at one point. Rather than encouraging and doing everything possible to compete for and retain talent with the private sector, this has a tendency to push people away.

Tim Johnson

Tim you are so right. I have tried for years now it implement this concept within Units at the State Department of Health…to no avail. I am wiling to share and have, but I find that many other managers object to the sharing of their employees with other units. Our DOH complement has decreased by some 1000 employees over the last 5 years. The mentality is do more with less. That mentality is counterproductive when the sharing of employees is removed from the equation. As you stated in your piece, morale is at an all time low, employees are revolting and burning out and yet many managers fail to agree to share. In my opinion and may others,the Department is self destructing and no one cares.