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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

The People Equation

Two critical pieces of guidance from the Obama administration present an opportunity to drive results and strengthen coordination among C-suite executives at federal agencies. The release of the final regulations for the Pathways Program, focused on recruiting quality job candidates, and fiscal 2014 budget guidance might seem like discrete events, but agencies should consider them interrelated and look for ways to connect workforce planning to the budget process.

Here are five suggestions to strengthen the integration of workforce projections and budgeting, and address the administration’s goal of reducing discretionary spending by 5 percent in 2014 while building workforce capacity.

Analyze workforce data and address skills gaps. Identify and strategically use data about mission-critical and nonmission-critical occupations to forecast future requirements. What are the current and projected vacancy rates for these positions? What are the retirement projections? What are the skills gaps? Which of these occupations are hard to fill? Determine whether the agency can redeploy employees from nonmission-critical jobs to fill mission-critical vacancies. And ask whether there is an associated cost for relocations or other scenarios. Important questions like these will allow agencies to use data consistently to model alternatives and make strategic workforce decisions with budgetary factors in mind.

Integrate workforce and strategic performance planning. The 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act requires agencies to describe how they will meet their strategic and annual goals. By asking agencies to consider the skills, training and human capital requirements for meeting their objectives, the GPRA modernization reaffirms the links between human capital and budget planning. To break organizational silos successfully, a strong chief operating officer should foster close collaboration among the agency’s chief executives -- human capital, financial, acquisition, information and performance improvement. This would generate mission-focused performance goals that address program and policy challenges, such as improving customer access with a leaner budget, assessing the cost and benefits of regulations, and building a culture of continuous improvement.

Commit to learning and development activities. Historically, when agencies are forced to make cuts, funding for learning and development becomes the first sacrifice. But, not all training activities have to cost a lot of money. Formal and informal mentoring programs, rotational assignments, blogs, e-training and brown bag lunches with senior leaders can be effective ways to foster a learning environment while maximizing resources. Programs like HR University allow agencies to draw on existing, and sometimes free, training resources from other federal organizations. Determine how to develop, implement or leverage shared service opportunities across government to maximize resources. Find out what no-cost or low-cost developmental activities are available. Ignore learning and development at your own risk.

Use the new Pathways Program. Recent evidence suggests an uptick in retirement claims, which could indicate agencies are reaching that allusive tsunami so many have been predicting. Executives and technical experts retiring from government service create skills gaps that can be difficult to address. Recent graduates and other Pathways applicants might not provide immediate relief, but they are the future. Hiring and developing their talents today builds capacity. Leadership and technical development programs are often a cost-effective way to train and motivate employees to contribute to an agency’s mission in meaningful and productive ways. The difference in basic salary between a GS-9 and a GS-12 is almost $19,000. Can you hire the GS-9 and use the salary difference for training? Think about Pathways as a cost-effective way to buy contemporary skills by hiring recent graduates. Develop them to be government’s future leaders.

Reevaluate progress regularly. Successful workforce and budget planning and execution must include robust and ongoing evaluation to achieve intended results and to make course corrections. In a tight budget environment, agencies must make a concerted effort to understand how the workforce planning and budget processes affect employee engagement, morale and performance. The Office of Personnel Management’s 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey provides agencies unprecedented amounts of information about their organizations. What can you do to make sure your employees are engaged and aligned with mission objectives? Think about how to use this data along with other critical workforce and budget information to make sound programmatic decisions.

As Winston Churchill once said: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” The Office of Management and Budget’s fiscal 2014 guidance signals difficult times ahead, but good workforce planning combined with effective budget estimation can create opportunities for agencies and employees. The Pathways Program is just one example of how agencies can use creativity and innovation coupled with data-driven decisions and strong leadership to develop the workforce the nation needs -- today and tomorrow.

John Salamone, former executive director of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, is a managing consultant at Federal Management Partners. Ellen Tunstall, a former executive at the Defense Department and the Office of Personnel Management, is a senior adviser at FMP.

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