NOTE: This is my column from my Women’s Entrerepreneur column that I write for the DC Examiner. This and past columns can be found at http://www.examiner.com/x-12152-DC-Womens-Entrepreneurship-Examiner.
Last week I attended an Excellence in Government breakfast at the National Press Club. The panel spoke on “Human Capital” and the future of civil service. Allow me to define “Human Capital.” According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), “Human Capital” is “Our Federal workforce…our most important asset.”
AS CEO of a growing business, I absolutely agree that the people of an organization are its most important asset. I also know from experience (as a business leader and as a human capital practitioner) that an organization requires clearly defined strategies to recruit, develop, and retain the people that they cherish so much. Otherwise they won’t have them anymore.
The panel, which included Congressman Gerald Connolly (Virginia), as well as editors and journalists from Government Executive magazine, discussed the government’s need to restore a sense of respect for, and a belief in, public service. Currently, according to the panel, the public attitude towards federal service has filtered down towards career choices.
The government is facing a retirement tsunami, and government leaders of Human Capital – often referred to as Chief Human Capital Officers or “CHCOs” – are very aware of what’s coming down the pike. In the next five years approximately 600,000 workers will be able to retire from their government jobs. That equals roughly 47% of the federal workforce.
This situation poses enormous challenges for our government, and for our country:
1: The leaders of the next generations are not really interested in filling these positions.
2: There is no clear strategy to ensure that the intellectual capital – the experience and knowledge acquired during 30 years of service – is appropriately transferred to the next wave of workers.
In addition, there has been a forced convergence of multiple generations in our government, which has created a very interesting dynamic. Workers are staying in their positions longer, but they are also starting their careers earlier. In today’s business environment, we have 4 generations of workers working together. So you may very well have an eager, bright-eyed 22-year old wearing their iPod during work hours (whenever and wherever that may be), constantly texting, twittering, and facebooking, alongside someone (literally or figuratively) considerably older who is accustomed to a more traditional work environment.
So how exactly does our government transform itself into a career option that is attractive to the Millennial generation?
How do the Human Capital leaders fix both the internal perceptions and external perceptions of government? OPM recently conducted its latest Federal Human Capital Survey to evaluate the satisfaction of the federal workforce, and identify the areas that need improvement. And while many of the results were positive, what I found to be alarming was that only 50% of the workers actually felt it was important enough to respond. Here are some of the highlights of the survey:
Ninety-one percent believe their work is important. This continues to be the highest rated item on the survey. Eighty-four percent know how their work relates to the agency’s goals and priorities. Seventy-five percent believe the workforce has the knowledge and skills to get the job done. Sixty-eight percent are satisfied with their jobs.
Recognizing high performance and dealing with poor performers show improvement, but work still needs to be done in these areas.
Fifty percent are satisfied with recognition for doing a good job. Only 40 percent say creativity and innovation are rewarded. About 30 percent believe performance differences are recognized in a meaningful way or see steps taken to address poor performance.
Only 26 percent see a link between performance and pay raises. This item received the highest negative rating on the survey.
Substantiating the concerns highlighted in this survey is a noticeable increase in Requests for Proposals surrounding the areas of cultural assessments, cultural audits, and other critical human capital issues. Agencies are taking proactive measures to get a grasp on what is happening at every level of the agency from a cultural perspective.
In addition, Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) introduced legislation that would require agencies to provide all managers with regular, ongoing training on management skills, employee rights and general leadership. The goal of the Federal Supervisor Training Act of 2009 (S.674) is to improve accountability and leadership in the federal supervisor ranks.
The bill requires the head of each federal agency to establish:
(1) a program to provide training to supervisors on developing and discussing relevant goals and objectives with all employees; (2) a program to provide training to supervisors on prohibited personnel practices, employee collective bargaining and union participation rights, and processes to enforce employee rights; and (3) a program under which experienced supervisors mentor new supervisors.
In addition, as I mentioned in my previous column, OPM Director John Barry announced a comprehensive plan to jumpstart agency telework programs, giving thousands more Federal employees nationwide the opportunity to work from home. The components of Barry’s plan are drawn from two bills which have been introduced in Congress: H.R. 1722, the “Telework Improvements Act of 2009.”
It is so encouraging to see progress from both the agency leaders and Congress as they work to create essential cultural shifts, which will lead to a stronger government and stronger nation.
As a small business owner who has always been so focused on my own organizational culture, I couldn’t be happier that our government is taking such important steps to build a culture similar to that which I strive to create every day…
a culture that is shaped by transparency, accountability, innovation, creativity, and work-life integration.
However, I can’t help but wonder if the leaders at the helm will invest the time required to learn best practices from the companies that embody the cultures they want to build – the small businesses that make up 99.7 percent of all U.S. employers.
Will they ultimately award the contracts to those who already live and breathe their vision of accountability, transparency, innovation, creativity, and work-life integration – to the small businesses of America? Or will they turn to the larger companies who are in many ways mirrors of their current selves?
As a small business owner with an outstanding human capital practice that is already working with more than a dozen government agencies, has extraordinarily low attrition, an incredible culture, and “gets” the workforce the government wants, that is my personal $54,000 question. In fact I took a risk and asked this column at the breakfast.
As I had this epiphany, I knew that if I stated it aloud, I would either come across as an idiot, or I would come across as someone who was making a very important connection.
Nervously, I approached the microphone that stood in the center of more than 200 attendees. With all eyes on me, I looked straight at the panel and said, “The culture you are describing – one of transparency, accountability, creativity, innovation, technology advancement, and work life integration – describes the culture naturally found in a small business. What is the government’s plan to incorporate best practices to build this culture, and work with small businesses to help you achieve your goals?”
After several awkward moments of silence the moderator replied, “The government is not a small business.”
I thanked him for stating the obvious, and re-emphasized my point that the government has the aspirations to develop a similar culture. He told me he had to move on to the next question.
So who will the government turn to for change? Will they look to the companies that walk the walk? Because here’s a newsflash. The large companies that currently dominate more than 70% of government contracting don’t have the cultural attributes the government wants.
One of the panelists made a comment that you wouldn’t want to purchase meat from a butcher that is a vegetarian. Where will the government be purchasing their meat?
For more information on the OPM Federal Human Capital Survey and the Best Places to Work in the Government, visit:
For more information on the Federal Supervisor Act of 2009, visit:
For more information on the Telework Enhancement Act of 2009, visit: