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What State Governments Can Learn from the Cornhusker State

Patrick Devlin

Senior Vice President, Fishtree

For state governments, striving to operate as "one employer" comes with a variety of challenges. To start, state agencies range in size, geographic spread and mission, and they tend to operate in isolation from one another. When it comes to managing, engaging and training state workers, frequently there are as many methods used as there are state agencies.

With 17,000 employees across 80 divergent agencies, this story rings true for the State of Nebraska—and in 2010, the State set out to unify its workforce management efforts, turning to Cornerstone OnDemand’s integrated talent management solution to support its initiatives. We recently sat down with the team at the State to discuss their progress and explore the benefits realized since undertaking their transformation.

When speaking to state governments across the country, I am regularly asked what states like Nebraska did to make their talent management efforts successful. What best practices should they take away from these successes when changing or reviving their own talent management projects? Several factors make Nebraska’s initiatives successful.

Understand your talent

The State of Nebraska’s talent team thought beyond individual agencies to understand the skills and abilities of its entire workforce – both what skills employees possessed, and where training was needed. Looking at the entire talent pool across 80 agencies helped the State to align and consolidate training, development and succession planning efforts statewide. As a result, the State was able to create consistent methods of employee evaluation, measurement and training – something that transcends agencies, administrations and changing elected leadership.

Engage the workforce

The State of Nebraska didn’t settle for the commonly held perception that state government jobs rarely provide exciting, upwardly mobile and career-building opportunities. Taking matters into their own hands, the talent management team challenged this assumption and demonstrated to employees that the state is committed to providing the tools and training to let employees grow and develop their skills, obtain increasing levels of responsibility, and pursue leadership positions. Involving employees in discussions around their development led to a more productive and engaged workforce committed to growing their careers with the State.

Develop careers – beyond the agency

Nebraska’s agencies were siloed and operated independent of other departments within the State, and as a result, their employees—especially in the smaller agencies—often embraced a limited perspective on their job opportunities, focusing only on the narrow career progression path within the confines of their current team. With its increased focus on the whole talent picture, Nebraska is leveraging its talent management programs to help its workforce embrace a different kind of path – one where employees can move across agencies as they build their careers, learn new skills and take on increasing leadership responsibilities. This approach helps motivate employees, improves retention and a commitment to a government career, and provides a vehicle for ensuring the right people with the right skills are in the right roles.

Federal, state and local governments are well aware that they need to improve how they recruit, engage and retain employees. Like the State of Nebraska, governments that embrace creative ways to approach their workforce and talent management activities will see a transformation among employees that lets them not only meet the requirements of today, but also prepare to address the emerging needs for tomorrow.

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