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New Report Confirms Talent Management Lags in Federal Agencies

Friday, April 17, 2015

With an aging workforce and shrinking budgets, federal and defense organizations face several unique challenges in building their next generation of leaders. At the top of the list of challenges is failed talent management initiatives, revealed by a new survey from talent management software firm Cornerstone OnDemand, conducted in collaboration with WBR Digital. 

Cornerstone and WBR Digital’s benchmark survey, Building a Culture of Excellence and Engagement: The 2015 Human Capital Management Report, found that 78 percent of federal agency human capital executives feel their current talent management programs fall short of where they need to be, slightly up from the 2014 report. Additionally, eight in 10 respondents cite the culture of their agencies as the biggest barrier, other than budget, to creating positive change and reaching their talent management and performance goals. Challenged by stagnant management practices and resource gaps within departments, the federal government also faces its lowest employee engagement rankings in 11 years, according to the 2014 Best Places to Work in Federal Government produced by the Partnership for Public Service. 

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), nearly two-thirds of senior executives will reach retirement eligibility by 2016. Cornerstone and WBR’s report found that the top concern among federal agency human capital executives is finding qualified job candidates, with 68 percent currently working on such initiatives—a 23 percent jump from the 2014 study. Surprisingly, nearly eight in ten federal agencies have no active plan in place to recruit Millennials, the generation projected to comprise 75-80 percent of the workforce in the next decade. The lack of investment among federal agencies to recruit the next generation of leaders threatens the continuity of talent development and knowledge retention as high-level officers age out of key positions. 

Other key survey findings include: 

  • 2015 talent management priorities. After finding the right people for the job, respondents name succession planning and identifying and closing skill gaps as their top priorities – all three of which are tightly linked to staff development, which 63 percent of respondents name as an active area of focus. 

  • Developing leaders. While the majority of agencies cite that succession planning is a priority, only 29 percent are focused on leadership development training, signaling that employees are not being properly groomed to fill key leadership positions.


  • Changing the culture. In order to change the management culture for organizational improvements, there must be transparent dialogue and feedback. However, half of all respondents ranked their continuous feedback process as below where it should be, with 15 percent calling their efforts flatly unsuccessful. 

  • Building morale and engagement. To turn back the negative engagement ratings and historically rigid management culture, agencies are increasingly adapting to workers’ needs and desires. Seventy-three percent of respondents are implementing teleworking and work-time flexibility programs, nearly two-thirds are employing non-monetary recognition initiatives, and 58 percent are implementing mentorship programs to ensure knowledge retention and bridge the gap between generations in the workplace. 

While the report reveals a positive shift within federal agencies to adapt to the way today’s employees desire to get work done, the lack of investment in recruiting millennials and leadership development initiatives signifies that many federal agencies are not adequately preparing to attract and retain the next generation of talent. Today’s federal agency leaders have an opportunity to re-energize their workplace and improve employee engagement, and yet without a focus on supporting employees to be successful as they step into key roles, they run the risk of contributing further to talent gaps and losing out on the strongest candidates to the private sector. 
For detailed analysis of the data, download Building a Culture of Excellence and Engagement: The 2015 Human Capital Management Report.  For a brief overview, check out the infographic.  



About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at rellis@td.org. 

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