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An election year in the U.S. is an uncertain and transformative time for all Americans—but it's particularly impactful for HR leaders in government.

This year, HR leaders in government are preparing for the reality that they have to do more with much less after the President's Executive Order freezing all Federal hiring (except for some public safety organizations and the military). With fewer opportunities to bring in new talent, departments are paying special attention to retaining high performers and developing current employees to ensure their organizations continue to succeed and thrive.

Our 2017 annual Human Capital Management for Government (HCMG) Report, conducted in collaboration with WBR Digital, emphasizes this increased focus on talent development in federal and state governments, as leadership development was the most commonly reported staff need. But investing in talent development has its own challenges: On top of the hiring freeze, the majority of leaders (71 percent) are entering this year with the same budget as last year—which means they need to ensure resources go to their most effective learning and development programs and practices.

Here are three key strategies government leaders are using to understand, cultivate and retain top talent in their departments in 2017:

Invest in Peer-Based Programs

This year, only six percent of government leaders feel that their "leadership and knowledge management" efforts are very successful. To improve results without increasing total operating costs, departments are exploring ways to foster growth organically—such as mentorship programs, collaborative projects and lunch and learns.

Angela Bailey, Chief Human Capital Officer at the Department of Homeland Security and one of the leaders interviewed in the report, explains her approach to grow everybody from the bottom up and the top down. "[We] create teams where it doesn't matter what your grade level is, and anybody can lead them if they have a passion or interest in leading them," she says. "It gives them an opportunity to have a more seasoned or experienced person to help coach them through the experience, as well as to step up and lead something."

Tune Into the Data

As government leaders attempt to strategically allocate resources to development, it's important to understand the long-term impact of all efforts. Big data can illuminate trends and provide insight that HR leaders may be missing in their own observations. In fact, 49 percent of respondents reported that data is a very important component of their overall efforts.

At the Department of Homeland Security, for example, data analysis revealed that employees who begin in TSA law enforcement often follow a similar career path: moving through TSA to Customs and Border Protection to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and, eventually, to the Secret Service. "You wouldn't know that if you didn't look at the data," says Bailey.

Instead of seeing it as a competition between departments, Bailey says it's seen as a natural progression that the agency needs to support through more attuned learning and development. "Now we can ask how we enhance this path and make it better for not only them, but also for the agencies and their abilities to carry out their missions," she says.

Focus on Retention

An important part in developing top employees is obviously keeping them around: Only 4 percent of respondents said they're "very successful" at identifying and retaining high performers. Of course, in order to understand how to keep employees at your company, it's important to know why they stay or leave.

For many employers, this information is gathered at exit interviews. But Bailey and her team have found that collecting data when someone's already on their way out the door isn't the most impactful or effective strategy.

“We used to have a 'top down' driven strategy where retaining top performers was always thought about purely in economic terms," she says. "Now, the strategy that we are deploying is to sit down, for example, and have interviews with the employees. Not just the top performers, but with all of the employees, to find out why they stay. Because often waiting to ask until someone has exited the agency does us no good."

To learn more about developing and retaining high-potential talent in government, check out the full study here.