To meet present and future needs, agencies need to tie their human capital planning and evaluation to their mission and long-term goals.
Several potential solutions can help mitigate this ongoing risk. Agency-wide workforce planning initiatives are critical to building long-term strategies for acquiring, developing, and retaining staff to achieve missions.
The talent management mindset needs to permeate the organization. Frontline managers should have ownership and be empowered to optimize their human capital to accomplish their agency's mission. Senior leaders must be engaged in the oversight of the vision for succession management. While the leadership team may rely on the interdependence of a number of HR and human capital functions, talent management ownership ultimately needs to be among the senior executives within the agency departments.
The most fundamental step to a disciplined approach to talent management is to align the agency's human capital program with its current and emerging mission and tactical goals. Once the future needs of the organization have been defined, skills gap analysis and workforce analytics can be used to predict newly emerging skills gaps. The outcome of this exercise builds the foundation for identifying the essential skills and attributes of future employees—in addition to isolating unique skills that may only be found by hiring from outside the agency.
Another requisite step to having a successful long-term human capital management plan is to integrate agency-wide training efforts and quantifiable annual performance measures. Developing systematic processes to collect and analyze workforce and training data helps ensure accountability. To ensure the agency evaluates its employees as a part of its overall succession practice, both current and potential performance of employees should be evaluated.
Effective performance management is not a perfunctory process. Used appropriately, it's an instrument for improving productivity and effectiveness. We've all heard stories in which the majority of employees at an organization receive a "Meets Expectations" review (even if some don't merit it). This practice enables and incentivizes employees to do little more than the bare minimum.
Central to any high-performing organization is a clear connection between individual performance and overall agency performance goals. Employees should understand the relevance of their contributions to the mission's present requirements and goals. It is vital that agencies employ a robust performance management system that rewards solid performers and has consequences for low performers.
Evaluating the effectiveness of employees' performance in their current roles is separate from the evaluation of their potential and readiness to grow into more responsible leadership roles. The use of 360-degree assessment tools, simulation-based assessments, talent centers, and behavioral interviews based on collective situations that a leader would face within the agency can provide a clear snapshot of leader readiness across an organization.
This process makes succession planning part of a disciplined approach to leadership development and strategic planning. Succession planning is not an independent task—it's an integrated process within an all-inclusive human capital program that drives the agency toward achieving future needs instead of only addressing current ones. By defining leader requirements and aligning characteristics to those success factors ("competency mapping"), agencies are better equipped to discover development opportunities for potential leaders, such as rotational assignments and cross-functional divisional training.
To complicate matters, agencies struggle to bridge the skills gap left behind in their workforce with the exodus of talent. Older workers have in-depth knowledge about their position, operating procedures, company resources, institutional knowledge, and more. To prevent agency brain drain due to the retiring workforce, preemptive agencies are pairing up seasoned employees with recent hires and, more important, with emerging leaders. This practice enables the sharing and transfer of decades of organizational knowledge.
While the younger generation's desire to serve the greater good aligns with the core values of civil service, they have high expectations, which means agencies need to focus on employee retention. Considering that the federal government employee engagement scores trail behind private sector benchmarks, agencies must take a more integrated approach to their talent management. They will need to provide flexible career paths and ensure they connect employees at all levels to their mission and strategy.
Agencies are in a unique position to reshape their workforce and improve their collective abilities as the next generation of public servants is ushered into their organizations. By considering more than simply recruiting and hiring, they can strengthen their talent pipeline and cultivate the next generation of leaders.