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ATD Blog

The Non-Strategic State of Workplace Learning


Tue Jun 17 2008



Over the past decade or so, government at all levels has begun requiring short- and long-term plans, including strategic goals, measurable objectives, a system for assessing outcomes, and periodic reporting on results. More recently, decision makers have attempted to tie budget and other resource decisions to agency performance.


Ironically, this shift to a more results-oriented management system hasnt yet made a noticeable dent in public sector organizational culture. I say this because for such a transformation to have occurred would have surely nudged most culture bearers out of their silos and bureaucratic stovepipes. To illustrate, lets consider one of the most prosaic examples of this phenomenon the non-strategic state of training and development, or workplace learning.


Transformational Challenges

Theoretically, in a post-silo organizational culture, Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCOs) and/or Chief Learning Officers (CLOs) would be fully involved in the organizations strategic planning and management systems. Moreover, these activities would be part of a transparent, integrated, 360 process aimed at harnessing all agency assets to meet priority challenges. What are some of these challenges at this point in time?




Starting with the performance challenge itself, to what extent have the CHCOs and CLOs planned, resourced and orchestrated workplace learning initiatives to foster a performance culture? How have they assured that all contributors across the organization, staff and line managers and at different levels understand the link between the procurement process and vendor performance? Between setting budget priorities that help guide agency investment decisions and justifying and reporting on the measurable outcomes of agency training efforts? Have training and development investments been made to compare performance against common standards learning how other public sector organizations make use of benchmarking, leading indicators and other methods to improve and evaluate performance in a comparative context? And with respect to fostering an organization-wide performance culture, what effort is being made to pass along lessons learned from other federal, state and local efforts to improve organization performance? To set standards, hold organizations accountable and consider changes to HR law, personnel policies and systems, and other innovative ideas (e.g., "employment at will") in pursuit of a performance-based culture? And how do these workplace learning investments cut across entrenched organization sub-cultures?



Moving to accountability challenges stewardship, ethics and new financial rules and realities as agency responsibilities, resources and sourcing relationships have grown in size and complexity, how have training and development emphases shifted to address priority oversight needs? What is being planned to assure basic performance measurement acumen and achieve mastery of distributing responsibility appropriately and adequately in a multi-sector workforce; managing internal and external risk and assuring proper internal controls; and effectuating outcome-oriented cost management and cost sharing? And how do these workplace learning investments cut across entrenched organization sub-cultures?



Human Capital

As for human capital, much of this challenge is framed by new demographics and the need to recruit, engage and retain young professionals. Considering the anticipated departure of a high percentage of Baby Boomers over the next 3-5 years including many from the senior-most ranks of governments career leadership and the difficulty in attracting younger generations to public service, what is the training and development community doing to address this challenge? How have workplace learning efforts focused on measuring performance and linking pay and performance (where applicable)? Given the complex, wide variety and pressing nature of the transformative challenges facing todays government organizations, what are agencies doing to prepare their current and future leaders and managers to drive this change over the next several decades? Given the complex, wide variety and pressing nature of the transformative challenges facing todays government organizations, what are agencies doing to prepare their current and future leaders and managers to drive this change over the next several decades? What is being done to prepare current and future leaders and managers to drive anticipated change both generic and organization-specific over the next several decades? And how do these workplace learning investments cut across entrenched organization sub-cultures?



Much of the technology challenge for IT professionals and non-technologists alike will revolve around keeping pace with expanding E-expectations. How does the training and development strategy assure that the organization will keep pace with new technologies and rising expectations among all relevant users citizens, the business community AND a younger more Web-savvy workforce? Both and opportunity and threat stem from the need to manage knowledge across organizational and jurisdictional boundaries. How will training and development investments pave the way in this regard helping transcend boundaries of federal, state and local governments and fostering collaboration among public, private, and nonprofit sectors. And how do these workplace learning investments cut across entrenched, internal organization sub-cultures?



To a large extent, the communication challenge is less readily apparent yet poses a significant threat to achieving organization missions. How does the agencys workplace learning strategy assure that transparency becomes an organization-wide value, driving increased openness and candor in public bureaucracies, within and among different levels and branches of government, and with the public and the media? How are government organizations preparing managers to balance the need for internal controls and confidentiality with the demand for increased freedom of information? Given the volume, pace and complexity of policy formulation activities, how are government agencies preparing managers to engage citizens today particularly in the context of new communication technologies? Given the inter-dependent nature of todays public sector challenges and solutions, government agencies and occupational groupings will need to go outside their own vertically integrated comfort zones and interact with other bureaucratic sub-cultures to achieve priority outcomes. How are agencies preparing managers to reach out across traditional boundaries, alter their basic assumptions and behaviors with respect to sharing information and collaboration in planning, sourcing and managing efforts of common importance? And what is the agency doing to prepare practitioners for leadership and managerial roles aimed at communicating a more global perspective among career government officials around the world?



Going beyond inter-institutional communication, how does the agency plan to share responsibility for achieving results with other governmental levels, internationally and the private sector? What are different levels of government doing to prepare managers for and respond more collaboratively to catastrophic disasters, and how are lessons learned and new techniques in one setting institutionally shared with others? Also, finding common purpose in international collaborations is almost always problematic. How is the agency helping its managers learn how to work together successfully and with alacrity internationally and in other cross-cultural environments? Moreover, more and more government work requirements have been sourced to private contractors. Given the need to measure and report on the performance of all parties, how are organizations learning to communicate oversight and accountability roles and responsibilities in such a demanding, resource-stretched environment? In this regard, what strategy does the agency envision to have managers successfully engaged the private sector, achieving high performance while remaining faithful to their missions and code of ethics and protecting the proprietary needs of their business community counterparts?

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