CHCOs Can Vastly Improve Their Agencies’ Curb Appeal

How to get your 'house' in order and make it a talent destination.

With the start of a New Year, federal chief human capital officers should take time to reflect on their goals and resolutions. A number of insightful questions speak to their legacy: Have I made my agency better than it was before I arrived? Am I distinguishing myself as a key contributor of strategic leadership? What will I be remembered for?

In a sense, legacy you build at an agency is much like the value you bring to your home: If there are two owners in the same neighborhood getting ready to sell, for example, you may see two widely divergent approaches to stewardship of the houses. Let’s say both properties are equivalent in terms of square footage, acreage, number of bedrooms/bathrooms, location, etc. However, one owner is content to live for years without ever addressing drafty windows, leaky faucets and outdated appliances, shrugging his shoulders in resignation and saying, “Well, that’s simply the way this house is.” But the second owner not only resolves every issue—he tackles it proactively, before it becomes a problem. He knows ahead of time when appliances, water heaters, the roof, etc. need replacing, and he plans accordingly.

The first owner is equally passive about curb appeal, allowing rust, peeling paint, weeds and additional eyesores to linger. The second, of course, is constantly exploring how to make his place look “special.” When the properties are on the market, buyers clearly find greater value in the second one, and the proactive owner reaps the benefits of a lucrative sale.

Similarly, CHCOs must think and act proactively in taking care of their “houses.” They have to examine where staff vacancies will emerge before they actually do. They need to identify recruitment bottlenecks before they trigger mission-damaging staffing shortages. They must determine what factors are leading to employee disengagement well ahead of when they cause retention rates to plummet. Through these and other efforts, CHCOs vastly improve the “curb appeal” of their agencies, making them more attractive as career destinations for talented job candidates.

Fortunately, CHCOs don’t have to do this on their own. Nor should it amount to an onerous task. Thanks to ongoing innovation with talent management analytics tools, they can gain immediate visibility into pending issues before they can do any significant damage. In fact, we’re beginning to see federal human resources teams deploy analytics to respond to the following common challenges:

Vacancies. By now, virtually every government agency is confronting the reality of increased vacancies. Given the wealth of aging baby boomers within the ranks, more than three of 10 federal workers will be eligible to retire by 2017, according to the Government Accountability Office. This will prompt a major brain drain if not remedied. In addition, it’s a hefty budget burden. Agencies have a certain amount to spend on personnel. If those positions are unexpectedly vacated and stay unfilled indefinitely, the budget dollars go to waste.

Through analytics, CHCOs won’t get caught off guard. They’ll be able to see which departments are most likely to post vacancies in six months, a year, three years and five years. Thus, they can pursue succession planning before they have to replace anyone. They can approach well-regarded senior employees and ask them to document their best practices, to pass along the benefits of their intellectual assets and experience to younger staffers. And they can demonstrate how these qualities directly translate to serving the agency’s mission.

Recruitment. If bottlenecks aren’t detected and removed within the recruitment pipeline, quality candidates will drop out of the hiring process and walk away with a negative impression of the agency. (An impression they may very well pass along to other promising candidates via social media, online forums, etc.) With analytics, you can examine all areas of recruitment in real time, identifying where top prospects are getting held up so you can launch corrective action.

Analytics can even tell you whether it’s necessary to recruit for a particular, open position. With these solutions, you can more effectively evaluate if the position still supports the strategic purposes of your agency. If not, you eliminate the position and allocate those dollars to the expansion of roles that do still matter and the creation of new roles to support ever changing goals and missions.

Millennials. It’s clear that government is not where it needs to be with respect to attracting and keeping millennials. Only 7 percent of the federal workforce is under age 30, the lowest figure in a decade, research shows. Obviously, CHCOs must find ways to convince young employees to launch a career at their agencies. Analytics solutions can help them pinpoint what’s frustrating millennial hires. Perhaps the tools will reveal that too many young professionals work for years without any sort of meaningful recognition or advancement. Or that they frequently encounter job difficulties because they’re not receiving sufficient training.

Empowered with the acquired knowledge, CHCOs can develop training programs that specifically target essential capabilities lacking among millennials. (This makes for a smarter spend, as opposed to general sessions that may or may not focus on the right areas.) They can assess which junior staffers are demonstrating the most leadership potential and then incorporate mentorship/training to accelerate their advancement. (Instead of paying more to groom every millennial for future leadership roles, regardless of whether it’s a good fit.)

As indicated before, these professionals are constantly on social media. So such efforts act not only as a retention enhancement, but a recruitment one as well: If millennials feel they’re getting the training required to excel—and are recognized as future leaders as a result—they’ll likely express positive sentiments to peers both online and off.

Legacy systems. Yes, you can build a great, foundational legacy by, well, getting rid of your legacies—meaning the aging, obsolete and costly IT systems that keep your agency from fulfilling its potential. Agencies are spending $52.9 billion on the total cost of maintenance for federal legacy systems, or 70 percent of the entire IT budget, according to Government Business Council. By fiscal 2015, agencies will spend 73 percent of their IT budget on the maintenance of legacy systems. CHCOs must reverse the trend and, again, this is where analytics steps in. By modernizing and consolidating HR systems, you can break down existing silos and develop an analytics-enabled, enterprise view of your entire operations. Through centralization, you see all the parts of the “house” that need fixing and prioritize them, drilling down to the ones that will cause the most harm to your mission.

Without analytics, CHCOs carry on like the aforementioned homeowners, but ones who are determined to take a DIY approach to repairs. Yes, they may make incremental progress, but it’s often too little, too late. Besides, they exhaust themselves in the process. Investing in analytics amounts to hiring a contractor, in essence, bringing in extra help to correct issues more efficiently, effectively and inexpensively. Through this heightened sense of vision, CHCOs ascend to new levels of strategic influence, as leaders acknowledge that the agency is, indeed, a much better place than before the CHCO arrived. And that’s certainly a legacy to be proud of.

Liam Ackland is president of NGA.NET North America.

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