Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

So Many Bosses, But Who’s Doing the Real Work?

ARCHIVES
Photodisc

Many supervisors today were promoted or hired into their managerial positions after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, so they have only known a world of government expansion and increased staffing allocations -- especially for national security and law enforcement agencies. Before sequestration, some agencies rushed to fill jobs with as many seasoned employees as possible, creating more supervisory and senior staff positions than were necessary or advisable.

During this boom period, organizations often established high-graded expert and coordinator positions, at the expense of mission-critical jobs that represent the primary work of the agency. Many agencies hired more program analysts and program coordinators than food inspectors, air traffic controllers or park rangers; and established additional supervisory layers between policymakers and the employees actually doing the work.   

Look at any federal agency’s organizational chart and you are likely to find as many staff offices and positions that report to the agency chief as there are organizational units that perform the core work. Often, it is difficult to figure out the chain of command and how authority flows through the organization. Many organizations are top-heavy with program analysts and special assistants at the top of the General Schedule, but don’t have enough workers in training or developmental positions in the mid-grade GS levels that serve as the pipeline for future staff in mission-critical occupations.   

Too many bosses and not enough workers. This is the result of poor position management.       

Some seasoned managers who are familiar with the government’s continual growth-and-contraction cycle just shrug and figure they have to tighten their belts for a while. But many new managers are seriously concerned about the low morale and increased attrition brought on by sequestration and multiyear salary freezes. They recognize that inadequate human resources management contributes to employees’ lack of confidence in senior leadership and impedes the accomplishment of agency missions.   

If any of this sounds familiar, your agency might need to embrace the simple principles of good position management, which has served federal managers well in previous periods of tight budgets and reduced staffing. 

Position management is defined by Office of Personnel Management guidelines as “designing position structures which blend the skills and assignments of employees with the goal of successfully carrying out the organization’s mission or program . . . a logical balance between employees needed to carry out the major functions of the organization and those needed to provide adequate support; between professional employees and technicians; between fully trained employees and trainees; and between supervisors and subordinates.” Basically, it is the seemingly antiquated notion of ensuring that the organization is as streamlined as it can be to accomplish the assigned work.  

Here are some fundamental principles about how to structure an organization:

  • Take on work only when there is clear organizational authority and responsibility to perform that work.
  • Concentrate organizational resources on direct positions, rather than administrative staff and support positions.
  • Consider organizational context when establishing positions: How does a given position relate to other similar ones in the organization?
  • Ensure a reasonable and supportable grade structure -- one that balances mission needs, economy and efficiency of operations, sound use of skill and knowledge, and recruitment and retention of talent.
  • Strive for a minimal supervisory structure.
  • Avoid excessive layering.
  • Establish sensible spans of supervisory control.
  • Distribute work, especially the highest-level tasks, logically among available positions.
  • Distribute work so there is variety and opportunity to develop expertise.
  • Establish a position structure that provides career paths for most employees.
  • Avoid too many one-of-a-kind, dead-end positions.

The words “reasonable,” “sensible” and “logical” represent key themes that were often overlooked during government’s latest growth cycle. As agencies return to an era of doing more with less, applying the principles of good position management can be a useful tool for managers, especially when incorporated into an agency’s overall strategic approach to managing with fewer resources. 

Henry Romero is a senior advisor with Federal Management Partners Inc. His 32-year federal career in human resources included positions at the Defense and Justice departments as well as the Office of Personnel Management.

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.