OPM: Agencies Should Provide Better Training for Supervisors

Only 63 percent of experienced supervisors reported that training programs included required topics.

The Office of Personnel Management told agencies Monday that the results of a governmentwide survey show they must do a better job of training and retraining federal managers and supervisors throughout their careers.

Mark Reinhold, OPM’s associate director for employee services, in a May 21 memo to human resources directors announced the results of the agency’s Federal Supervisory Training Program Survey, conducted in 2016 in compliance with Government Accountability Office recommendations on how to improve performance management among supervisors.

In March 2015, GAO found that agencies need to do a better job of supervising new employees and managers during their probationary periods. Recommendations included improving training and firing poor performers. OPM conducted its survey to assess “the current state” of leadership training programs at various agencies, and develop guidelines for further improvement.

OPM’s survey found that while 84 percent of participants in training for new supervisors attended programs that covered all of the federal government’s mandatory topics, only 63 percent of those in training for experienced supervisors were taught the mandatory topics.

Additionally, 69 percent of respondents reported that recommended, but not required, training topics like HR-related techniques and leadership competencies were included in training for new supervisors, while only 54 respondents reported those elements were part of training for experienced supervisors. Only 27 percent of respondents said those recommended topics were included in training for aspiring leaders and team leads.

Fully 80 percent of respondents said participating in a supervisory training program was a requirement for completing their probationary periods. While formal development plans are only required for executive employees, 41 percent of survey respondents said their agencies required all supervisors to complete one, while an additional 4 percent of respondents said formal development plans were required only of new supervisors.

OPM said that while 72 percent of respondents confirmed they had evaluated their agencies’ training programs, the metrics used in that process do not adequately assess the training’s effectiveness.

“The top five metrics used to evaluate included: satisfaction level of the training, number of supervisors trained, supervisor satisfaction levels, number of courses delivered, and change in knowledge, attitudes and skills specific to the courses delivered,” Reinhold wrote. “These top five metrics only reflect activities, reaction and learning, as opposed to the application of the learned skills and impact. These metrics cannot be used to determine the adequacy of a supervisory training program or its meaningful contribution to agency outcomes.”

Noting that there is “inconsistent delivery and availability of supervisory training across agencies,” OPM issued a number of recommendations for agencies to improve supervisory training programs. Each training program should start with specific business requirements, aligning with organizational needs and knowledge risk, and designed to increase employees' proficiency so they can progress through their career.

OPM also suggested that agencies build on training at all levels of the supervisory career ladder so they can better institute succession management when employees retire or change jobs. Reinhold recommended a “broader approach” to training, in accordance with OPM’s Federal Supervisory and Managerial Frameworks and Guidance, and said agencies should use formal Individual Development Plans for both new and experienced supervisors to improve accountability.