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In a recent Army Times article, the U.S. Army’s top cyber commander, Lt. Gen. Edward Cardon, made a telling observation about the shocking lack of talent management practices across the Army. He warns that the Army will squander the highly sought cyberwarfare skills within its ranks unless the personnel are better managed, reflecting that there is no way to track personnel after expensive and critical skills training is delivered.

In other words, the Army does not know the skills its workforce possesses, or where the highly skilled and trained personnel reside within its organization. People with critical skills may be walking out the door (or already gone), and there is no way for the Army to know – or to do anything about it.

While Lt. Gen. Cardon was simply acknowledging challenges he is facing within his own organization, he articulated a harsh reality across the government: federal agencies do not know or understand their workforces.

Struggling With Talent Management Questions

In my work with federal government agencies looking to implement talent management solutions, I frequently see them struggle to answer the following questions:

  • What skills, knowledge and abilities do your existing employees possess?
  • Where are there gaps that should be the focus of training or recruitment efforts?
  • What skills are needed for today’s missions – and where do you need to build for missions of tomorrow?

A Checkbox Approach?

Beyond the fact that there is no technological framework in place to keep this kind of information organized and centralized, a key reason as to why it’s so difficult for federal agencies to answer these kinds of questions is because they have long taken a “checkbox” approach to managing their workforces. They know the number of open roles that need to be filled, and the number of positions that need to be eliminated – and meeting those numbers is how they measure success. Agencies therefore focus solely on hitting those numbers, with little consideration for the individual worker and the skills, knowledge and abilities they bring (or should bring) to the role. This is inefficient, a huge waste money, and jeopardizes the agency’s ability to accomplish its mission.

Linking Talent Initiatives with Mission Requirements

As federal agency HR organizations strategize to set personnel management goals and priorities for 2014 and beyond, talent management must be at the top of the list. Government agencies need to implement solutions that allow them to focus on the work that needs to be done to meet mission requirements, not a job opening that needs to be filled, or a number of positions that need to be eliminated. As Lt. Gen. Condon observes, “I’m more interested in what’s your skill set, and are you able to do the job. How are we managing your skill set, and do we have a growth path for you to continue?”

Lt. Gen. Cardon’s message is a wake-up call for government agencies – the time to implement talent management solutions is now. Programs and solutions must be put into place to help agencies understand the skills, knowledge and abilities that each employee possesses so they may easily and effectively align organizational talent to mission requirements; execute training and learning initiatives to address any skills gaps; and measure and manage performance against mission requirements. “Checking the box” is no longer a sufficient measurement of success.