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The Public Manager Magazine Article

The Evolving Role of the Federal HR Professional

As recruitment and management of the government workforce change, HR professionals need to become consultants who can align HR practices to strategic business goals and build partnerships with managers.

By and

Fri Jun 10 2016


As recruitment and management of the government workforce change, HR professionals need to develop a new set of competencies.

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Workforce and workplace issues have become increasingly complex, requiring HR professionals to serve as trusted strategic partners. The current focus of the federal government on good management, driven by political direction and public demand, forces agencies to pay greater attention to efficient delivery of services to the public. The key to meeting these goals is a highly flexible, talented workforce.


The competition for talent, demands for flexible workplace arrangements, cybersecurity threats, rapid technological changes, and the challenges of managing a multigenerational workforce are only a few of the issues facing HR professionals and their management partners. As the role of HR continues to change rapidly, HR staff must continually improve traditional skills as well as develop emerging competencies that add value to their organization's leadership and employees. Because these roles may have a new focus or be organized differently from those of the past, organizations must develop more efficient service delivery models and refocus HR staff from rule-and-regulation keepers to strategic, consultative partners and advisors.

Although a strong technical foundation remains essential, federal HR professionals must become consultants who understand the business, can ask effective questions, and are able to make ­evidence-based HR decisions. Beyond the cross-cutting core competencies of client engagement and change management, decision making, flexibility, and influencing and negotiating, today's federal HR professional must be able to align HR practices to strategic business goals, adapt practices to organizational culture, and "think like an economist" to determine the return on investment of HR practices.

HR systems, including talent and knowledge and performance management, must support the strategic business goals of the organization and should periodically be re-evaluated to ensure tight alignment. Although a benchmarking mindset has always been focused on continuous improvement, the literature indicates that best-practice adoptions often fail due to poor cultural fit. The true skill in best-practice adaptation lies in understanding the organization's culture, what will work within that context, how to build supportive structures, and how to manage the change process.

Effective HR consultants need to build partnerships with managers to engage them, clarify and understand their business HR issues, find relevant information, help them develop options and strategies, and deal with expected resistance. As skilled consultants, they must possess the ability to assist, aid, advise, coach, counsel, explain, guide, mentor, prescribe, recommend, show, steer, support, teach, and sometimes tell. But having those skills alone is insufficient. They need to know which technique will work with each issue faced.

Measurement of HR processes and, more important, outcomes has become increasingly important. Although some HR outcomes cannot be easily measured quantitatively, almost any measure is better than no measurement at all. An effective HR analytics program involves collecting relevant data, interpreting the data's meaning, presenting compelling data-based recommendations that include an assessment of likely and potential unintended consequences and generate action, and building a consensus to act.


Finding talent for mission-critical, hard-to-fill positions has become more challenging, especially in high-cost-of-living areas. The traditional approach of "post a position, hope candidates see it and apply, and pray that the applicant pool includes a sufficient number of well-qualified candidates" is obsolete. Social media networking technologies offer an opportunity to actively search for potential candidates, engage them with information about the organization that they find relevant and interesting, and encourage them to apply for positions in the organization. Building and maintaining a business-based social media network will be the future of recruiting.

Ensuring that HR professionals have these competencies will ensure that they will help drive effective and cost-effective delivery of services.

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