HR leaders have transition on their minds

Federal human resources leaders face somewhat different challenges than they did one year ago, a change that is attributed largely to a pending change in administration, an authority on the federal workforce said on Wednesday.

Katie Malague, senior program manager for the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, said chief human capital officers across government are thinking ahead to the HR changes that could come with new national leadership. She spoke to an audience at the Government HR Innovations 2008 conference hosted by the Performance Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based think tank.

The Partnership is halfway through conducting interviews for its new chief human capital officer survey, to be released in December or January. The 2007 report cited pay reform and recruiting among the top issues.

But this year, Malague said, CHCOs are focused more on ensuring a smooth transition to the next administration. The last survey showed most HR leaders credited the President's Management Agenda with helping to get agency heads to buy in to the importance of workforce issues. Malague said many CHCOs now are working to ensure that progress is institutionalized at their agencies to sustain the change in leadership. "It's an agency project rather than a president's initiative," she said.

CHCOs also are working to cultivate the skills HR employees need to manage new workforce initiatives and changing demographics, Malague said. The role of generational differences is front and center for many HR leaders as they seek to maximize the unique talents each of the four generations bring to the workforce, she said.

Other priorities have not changed much from one year ago. CHCOs consider recruiting, hiring, retention, performance management and pay for performance to be their top challenges, according to Malague. They say the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Human Capital Survey, which is conducted every two years, helps them identify initiatives that work or need improvement, she said.

OPM Director Linda Springer, who announced on Tuesday that she will resign in August to join Ernst & Young's government and public sector advisory services practice, said the next president's first national address should include a broad call to public service, much like former President John F. Kennedy's in 1961, when he called on Americans to "ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

Springer called on all federal employees to share their satisfaction with public service with their families and friends. "It's not just OPM's job, it's your job," she said. "OPM can run all the advertisements in the world, but if your family or neighbor knows you're doing public service and you're not proud of it, then why should they care?"

The outgoing OPM chief also said her successor should not "go back and reinvent the wheel." Noting that OPM and the federal human resources community have made a lot of progress in the last eight years, Springer encouraged her replacement to keep the momentum going. "We have these four-year cycles in government, and you could very easily take things back to the ground level again," she said. "Instead of going back, build on that and keep going. We have great career people at every agency, and that's the real heartbeat of public service."

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