Firm outlines steps to successful workforce reforms

Federal agencies must start treating employees as a critical variable as they tackle staff shortages, seek to increase job satisfaction and forge stronger links between policy and practice, according to an upcoming report from global management and technology consulting firm Accenture.

The report, which will be released in July, identifies the greatest forces prompting workforce changes across agencies, and suggests a series of steps toward successful reform.

Greg Parston, director of the Accenture Institute for Public Service Value and author of the report, said one of the biggest factors driving changes is an impending retirement wave, with 60 percent of the workforce eligible for retirement over the next 10 years. Presidential directives, legislative mandates, workforce shortages, public demands and technology also prompt changes, the report notes.

"The government is trying to resolve the demographic challenge of retirement by trying to make their current ways of working work better," Parston said. "But we have to think about the new ways of working and how we're going to employ those new ways, whether through technology or new systems, to help us do things really quite different."

The report identifies five steps for agencies undergoing workforce transformation. First, they must build the vision for change, which involves focusing on outcomes for the public good. Parston related this process to the health care system, noting that doctors are usually held accountable for the number of operations they conduct. "Those are important, but they aren't the outcomes," he said. "The outcome is how healthy the patient is."

Once an agency has a vision, the report says, it must begin designing the new workforce, planning the transformation and implementing the new ways of working. And through all of these steps, the report recommends, agencies must commit to consistent communication with all stakeholders, including employees, labor unions, politicians and the community.

Finally, once the workforce transformation has been fully implemented, agencies must track progress, identify opportunities for improvements and reassess the change, the report says.

Parston said that often federal agencies are faced with timetables or budget constraints, causing them to skip steps in the process. "Skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed and never produces a satisfying result," the report states.

Accenture looked at three case studies to assess how workforce reconfiguration creates public value: one on public school reform in New York City, another on an effort to increase police support officers in England and Wales, and a third on a project to combine the back office functions of 26 government departments in Queensland, Australia.

Parston noted that while each of the transformations faced challenges, each achieved great success. He built off the case study research as well as literature reviews and interviews with public service experts to develop the five steps.

Meanwhile, Parston noted that pay for performance needs to be drastically reformed in order to be successful. "In pay for performance, what we've become skewed by is what we see as the benefit -- what we get for good performance," he said, "and we haven't taken a look at what happens when there's no performance. And it doesn't mean just no pay raise."

Parston said that in order for pay for performance to be effective in the government, there must be stricter guidelines for poor performance. "I might do a lousy job, so they say 'you get nothing,' and that's supposed to be my punishment," he said. "But my punishment should be that I either get developed to be better, or I go."

He said the public is unaware of the seriousness of the challenges facing the workforce, including the expected retirements. Accenture will launch a series of seminars with Georgetown University in the fall on federal workforce issues.

"We need to learn a lot more about this if we're going to deal with this issue in a progressive way," Parston said. "Otherwise, we're going to be wringing our hands with this retirement wave, trying to do things with the same people, the same way."

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