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The Time for Gov to Embrace Change is Now

Shutdown, furloughs, pay cuts – oh my! Last year was basically Groundhog Day for feds, each day an endless cycle of bad news – at least, that’s what it felt like. But how bad was it, really? A new survey tries to capture the data.

In the new report, “Embracing Change: CHCOs Rising to the Challenge of an Altered Landscape,” the Partnership for Public Service and accountancy firm Grant Thornton surveyed 60 chief human capital officers and agency HR leaders regarding the challenges facing the federal workforce.

Robert Shea, Principal at Grant Thornton, told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that CHCOs need to make serious changes now, or they’ll run the risk of losing the next generation of public servants.

“’Embracing Change’ is the most positive title as we could possibly come up with,” said Shea. “Things are changing, but the barriers that we put in front of federal employees are getting higher too. Chief human capital officers are left with a really hard job trying to put the right people in the right jobs to accomplish very tough things in a very tough environment.”

The CHCO and HR leaders interviewed in the report identified many challenges that must be overcome – and all seemed to indicate that the time for change is now. “There is an appetite for change,” Shea noted. “And if you’re talking about wholesale statutory reform, there’s some appetite for that too. But there is a sea of regulations that we ought to sift through and find out where we can make easy changes that’ll make a big difference.”

For many federal agencies, a decline in employee satisfaction and engagement requires new and innovative strategies to help deal with the lingering impact of employee furloughs, inadequate resources to get the job done and a two-week government shutdown that left many feeling demoralized and undervalued.

“There is a corollary between a highly engaged workforce and a highly performing workforce,” said Shea. “Similarly, a low engaged workforce is a low performing workforce. The federal government is performing really important functions; we need to do a better job taking care of them, rewarding them for their performance, and reminding them that they are good people doing important stuff.”

Easier said than done – how can we make that happen? Shea says the first step to creating an engaged workforce is to hire the right people. But as we all know, federal hiring is a huge, often bureaucratic black hole.

“Federal hiring is like Groundhog Day,” Shea said. “We’ve been looking to make changed for so many years and nothing has happened. We need to make sure we’re measuring the process from end to end. We need to bring in the right people to apply and make it easy for them to apply,” said Shea. “No question we get a lot of applicants, but it is not so clear that we get the right applicants. We’re still not sure that the process produces the right hire once we finally get there.”

HR is more than just finding the next generation of public servants. There are really two types of HR functions; there’s the day-to-day operation of HR, managing the workforce, then there’s the more strategic functions like making sure that your workforce is well-aligned. “We need to do a better job of making sure that those two elements of the HR operation are aligned and responsive,” said Shea.

A lot of times when budgets get cut, one of the first areas to see a major slash is HR. But Shea warns slashing the budget of HR is a big mistake. “The human capital operation is not measuring what it costs to hire, what it costs to operate the HR function. We need to do a better job of finding places to be more efficient and reallocate those monies to better use. Training is certainly a gap. The conference brushfire has really impacted the extent to which federal workforce can get access to good training or networking collaborating opportunities.”

Grant Thornton and PPS have also created a list of discussion questions that you can bring to your manager and HR staff to start the conversation about embracing change in the workforce. You can download those questions here.

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Christine Frazier

Most people do not think of HR as being a strategic part of an organization but HR should always be included in strategic planning sessions. Recruitment and hiring must be strategic as agencies need to be aware of their organizational needs; be prepared to attract and retain the right personnel to move the agency forward.

This may entail different recruiting methods and revamping job descriptions as a means to expand their reach. Also leadership development sessions will keep employees engaged and motivated to move into leadership roles.