Blog Post

Why People Strategy is Critical to Government

Steve Dobberowsky

Director, Strategy and Value Service, Cornerstone

It is critical that agencies manage talent well in order to achieve their missions. It would be hard to find anyone in government who doesn’t believe that. So, why is it that many government agencies are so out of the loop when it comes to their people strategy? 70 percent of government agencies rely on informal methods for workforce planning, including handwritten notes, white boards and blank spreadsheets. (Note 1)

When compared with the private sector’s turnover rate of 18 percent, the government’s turnover rate is 31 percent—a shocking difference and a compelling reason to focus in on the agency’s people strategy. (Note 2) While agencies recognize this need, many of them struggle to manage their workforces holistically—from the moment they start recruiting to the time employees retire. Some will tell you that government agencies are just too big to have a holistic people strategy. Could this be true? Could our government agencies simply be too big? I don’t believe that.

To do this in organizations with thousands of employees that may not be centrally managed and funded, HR professionals need IT systems that help them work efficiently, and leaders need access to comprehensive, timely data to inform their decisions about the workforce. The bigger you are as an organization, the more critical it becomes to have a game plan for your most valuable resources: your employees.

Automate Your Processes to Save Time and Money

While automation seems like a given in today’s world, many HR processes are still manual. Staff spend a lot of time processing paperwork rather than focusing on strategic management issues such as succession planning. Even where automation exists, most agencies have multiple disconnected IT systems. As a result, human resources staff must continually log into multiple systems, enter the same data repeatedly and retrieve information from various places.

Improve Access to Data

Many agencies do not have accurate data that provide a comprehensive view of their workforce, making it impossible or labor-intensive to do strategic workforce and succession planning. Almost all would benefit from better data analytic capabilities. Having multiple entries into disparate IT systems causes delays and makes available data more prone to error.

Embrace Innovation

Sometimes, it is not the organization that is unprepared for a comprehensive people strategy, it is the people. Let’s be honest, the government has a hard time with change. Innovation is not entirely encouraged in many agencies. Risk is seen as a bad thing—to be avoided at all costs. So, when you look at the organization of these types of agencies, you might see an org chart that looks something like this depiction from Tom Fishburn.

According to the Pew Research Center, "At a general level, the public finds the government frustrating and badly managed. Just 20 percent say the federal government runs its programs well, and 59 percent say it is in need of "very major reform, up 22 percentage points since 1997." (Note 3) Generally speaking, the news isn’t good, the numbers are going down.

But not all agencies are viewed negatively in the government, there are some bright spots. For example, 84 percent of the people surveyed in the Pew Research Study have a positive view of the US Postal Office. Perhaps it is due to the Postal Service’s focus on its people strategy.

In addition to collecting information on how employees feel in terms of engagement, they also ensure their employees know the strategic direction, trust their senior leaders’ ability to make necessary decisions, rate the quality of the service their office provides to the customer, rate the supervisor on communication skills, promote diversity of backgrounds and perspectives, feel personally responsible for helping the Postal Service succeed as a business, and understand how the work they do impacts the service that the Postal Service provides. (Note 4) It appears as if the Postal Service has spent a lot of time working on their people strategy.

When we talk about agencies getting focused on people strategy, it’s important for senior leaders to begin the process. Sometimes we want to make sure we have a perfect plan in place before we begin, but it’s okay to start out and build upon your successes, learn from failures and keep growing. Transparency and communication are critical factors for organizations to focus on in order to have a successful people strategy.

Photo: Twenty20


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