(Sarcastic News Flash) Public Sector HR Needs to be More Strategic

News FlashYou won’t be shocked by the joint findings of EquaTerra and HR Executive stating that public sector HR needs to be more strategic. This shouldn’t be a surprise given the traditional notion of the public sector lagging the private sector in progressive practices. Because, let’s face it, HR in the public sector is hard.

Some of the challenges EquaTerra cites are common to most HR departments, both public and private, including:

  • Inadequate resources and lack of executive management attention and support that hamper process improvement efforts;
  • An inability to adequately focus on more strategic activities because of competing demands and insufficient resources;
  • Ongoing attrition of skilled/affordable employees needed to address these challenges and an overall aging workforce. (pg. 4)

But others are truly public sector centric, such as:

  • Competition from the private sector for employees;
  • Diminishing appeal of the public sector “brand” as a means to attract and retain skilled employees;
  • More responsibilities than their counterparts of yesteryear as a result of mandates from the Federal Government and public calls for additional services, including homeland security. (pg. 4)

If you’re still reading and haven’t fully given up hope just yet, you’re probably interested in hearing what the answer is – the big punch-line, the silver bullet shot forth from the blogosphere that offers that dreamy “ah-ha!” moment of infinite clarity and obvious action. This blog may not have the ultimate answer, but here is some food for thought. Perhaps the answer lies in the persistence of public sector HR to not take no for an answer.

We asked Glenn Davidson, Managing Director of EquaTerra Public Sector, to comment on how public entities can stretch tight dollars for key initiatives and transformation:

“Be creative; work smarter. For instance, a marketing/branding strategy for recruitment, retention and driving behavior doesn’t have to be costly. Look for alternative ways to get access to technology and services, thereby freeing up resources to do other work.”

Neil Reichenberg, Executive Director of IPMA-HR concluded that:

“This study demonstrates the challenges that public sector HR faces in becoming more strategic, especially in a time of diminishing resources. While the study results indicate that progress is being made, the journey is far from over. The HR department needs to develop innovative strategies and tools that will enable them to become leaders in total talent management within their organizations.” (pg. 19)

The underlying implication is that this is not happening. But in fact, it is…. slowly. Those who have a vested and external interest in public sector HR are going to continue to saber rattle and cry from the highest rooftops. Why? Because there are billions of dollars in services, licensing, consulting, competitive sourcing and the like to be gained if the internal HR functions could simply “get out of their own way”.

The problem is that this type of change cannot truly exist without those who feel the pain each and every day electing to stop, take stock of their situation and say enough! This is hard, and scary, and risky, and sometimes career limiting. But if you don’t try, you frankly have nothing to complain about. So take action now and let’s keep the conversation going.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply


I think that problem with HR is the name. I really like the latest HBR articles especially the one on HR. I agree with their comment from their friends graduating HBS asking “why would you go into HR?”

Personally, I would love to work in the field if it were more about strategic talent management, knowledge management, creative thinking, and innovation. As the government outsources more and more, I firmly believe we need the best and the brightest knowledge workers to acquire, manage, lead, and oversee our contractors. Which is a whole new set of HR and talent issues.

But unfortunately I see very little of that going on in government HR and it seems more about memorizing rules and regulations and maintaining the status quo. But maybe I’m missing something.

Mark Stelzner

You’re not missed too much. The goal should be to get rid of the process oriented transactional work and thereby free yourself up for the strategic and value-added items you described above. There is a lot of conjecture regarding whether HR knows how to be strategic, thus we see many commercial HR execs who come from finance, corporate strategy, etc., and are presumably unencumbered by what HR is supposed to be.