Investment in Senior Executive Training Pays Off

A well-trained SES cadre is key to organizational success.

An upcoming report by the Merit Systems Protection Board will examine Senior Executive Service training and development with evidence showing that a well-trained SES cadre is key to organizational success. But what can agencies expect to receive in return for the investments they make in training their senior leaders?

To help answer this, we analyzed the Office of Personnel Management’s most recent SES survey results, from 2011, with an eye toward understanding the training and development opportunities to which senior executives reported having availed themselves. We used statistical analyses to classify the 4,624 SES members from 28 federal agencies into five distinct categories or types based on the pattern of training/development they reported using:

We found that for those executives categorized as Minimalist, only 16 percent had attended an executive development program while 100 percent of the SES categorized as Committed Self Developers had attended this form of development. Importantly, 23 percent of our sample was categorized as Minimalists having availed themselves of very few developmental opportunities. Only 22.8 percent of the sample were classified as Committed Self Developers who took broad advantage of their developmental opportunities.

The following table shows the percentages of senior executives endorsing each of the training and development opportunities for each of the five types.

We were interested in the degree to which executives of the five types (representing five levels of SES training and development) were regarded differently by staff in their respective organizations. We looked at employees’ perceptions of the workplace for agencies with higher concentrations of well trained and developed senior executives versus agencies with higher concentrations of less well trained and developed SES. We speculated that employees in agencies saturated with Committed Self Developer and Resident Mentor senior executives would have more positive views of the agency’s leadership than would employees in agencies having higher concentrations of Minimalists and Resident Trainees.

To determine of that was the case, we examined employee opinions on the 2011 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey(FEVS) Human Capital Assessment and Accountability Framework (HCAAF) Index Scores, including that of “leadership and knowledge management.” This index reflects employees’ views of leaders and managers’ ability to effectively manage people, ensure continuity of leadership, and sustain a learning environment that drives continuous improvement in performance.

We classified the 28 participating agencies into high, mid-level, and low on employee satisfaction with leadership and knowledge management index scores reported for each agency. We next classified the agencies into those having high, moderate, or low concentrations of SES in each of the 5 training types.  

What We Found

Analysis shows that those agencies with the highest concentrations of executives who were Committed Self-Developers and Resident Mentors (i.e., those who took more training and development) seemed to produce much more favorable employee opinions of their agency’s’ leadership and knowledge management than did agencies having higher concentrations of SES Minimalists and Resident Trainees (i.e., those who took less training and development). We view this as evidence that agencies whose senior executives are supported with more training and development opportunities are more likely to also have employees with favorable perceptions of the quality of their SES leadership.    

We found similar results for employee engagement levels and employee perceptions of their agency’s talent management efforts. Specifically, the more the agencies had well developed and trained SES, the more favorable were their employees’ 1) engagement scores, and 2) perceptions of how the agency manages talent. Further, we looked at the stability of our finding for the 2012 FEVS (a year after our data was gathered). Results show again that agencies with higher concentrations of well trained and developed SES in 2011 enjoyed more favorable perceptions of agency leadership among the employees in the agencies in 2012.

Our research suggests that investing in and supporting senior leadership training and development may pay dividends in how employees view senior leadership. Where agencies spend time training and developing senior executives, you will likely find employees with more favorable views of senior leadership’s ability to lead. 

J. Peter Leeds, Ph.D., is a research psychologist in the Office of Policy and Evaluation at the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board.

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