The types of forces impacting all levels of government – federal, state, and local – are well documented. Its role as the protagonist for a high quality of life is experiencing unprecedented elasticity as there are those who want to shrink government to the level of a vending machine – you only receive for what you pay, to the other extreme that is the government is the sole enable of everything. Regardless of your politics, its undeniable the government’s workforce is being affected, as well.
The ability by public sector leaders to attract, retain and develop its top talent needs a serious booster shot to transition from the workforce you have to the workforce you need. Adopting and implementing a “next practices” approach to building your workforce is essential to sustaining your agency’s role as a community builder.
Here are four approaches government leaders should embrace or expand to translate the headwinds of disruptive change into a tailwind:
1. The composition of the workforce. As the economy continues to slowly improve and with it government revenues, there's a belief among some public managers that elected officials will be receptive to adding new government jobs to the payroll. That's a fantasy. Of course, elected officials must be committed to meeting constituent expectations, but the political reality is that it won't be accomplished any time soon by growing the public workforce. The question, then, is how those community needs will be met.
One method is through the provision of a "contingent workforce." Savvy leaders get that what they need is to challenge the conventional notion that government always needs an FTE — a full-time equivalent — to provide a service. Do you really need an FTE? Instead, how about sharing employees between government jurisdictions? How about your agency employing that planner three days a week and another jurisdiction using him or her for two days? Yes, you'll have to figure out arrangements about benefits, workers’ comp and the like, but it can be done.
2. Recruitment and selection. First off, this should not be just an HR department function. Successful government leaders realize this and bring organizational horsepower to bear so that a shared and unified vision among all executives, managers and supervisors guides the development of their workforce.
It's time to recognize that you're competing for talent. The best people today aren't simply looking for a job. They want meaning and impact, and government is all about having an impact on the quality of life for citizens. Redesign your agency's website so it presents more curb appeal and includes a web-based application process. Feature testimonials from current employees about what a wonderful organization yours is and how the work is challenging. Modify promotional practices to factor in performance as much as seniority, because it's a myth that seniority translates to competence, just as it is a myth that technical proficiency translates to supervisory effectiveness. Wise leaders pivot from these tired old notions and adopt a more practical approach that reflects what they're really seeking from their workforce. Remember, hiring is like dating — you get what you look for.
3. Social media. If your agency doesn't have an active Facebook page, you're not even in the game for top talent. Active and relevant social media must be used to attract the caliber of talent you're seeking. And don't ask your IT department to create a Facebook page for your agency. Instead, invest in a marketing firm to assist your staff in crafting a social-media plan, one that includes Twitter and emerging digital tools and that reflects tomorrow's trends, not today's.
4. Developing and training the workforce. It’s way past time to discard the notion of “soft skills” because those skills are actually the hardest skills for people to adopt and utilize. In today’s world, the ability to build and sustain healthy working relationships is essential for everyone in the workforce. Moreover, for supervisors, managers and leaders their capability to manage employee performance has become the hallmark of well-run organizations. Consequently, equipping people at all levels of your workforce with the appropriate people skills should be priority one. Pursuing an organization-wide approach to succession planning has emerged as the catalyst to targeting resources – time, people and budgets – for immediately improving the skills of workforce members.
What all these "next practices" approaches have in common is a focus not on simply adding bodies to the government workforce but on transitioning to one that is right for the times as they are now and as they will be. The old models just won't get you there.