Agency Experts and Leaders Convene to Address Challenges Facing Federal Workforce Management

The crowded room at the Federal workforce management event.On the morning of March 28, at the University Club in Washington, D.C., Management Concepts joined forces with the National Academy for Public Administration (NAPA) to produce a spirited, critical event called “Exploring and Addressing Talent Gaps in Federal Workforce Management.”

Speakers and panelists from Federal agencies included experts in workforce planning and organizational development from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), FBIGovernment Accountability Office (GAO), and Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They joined for a panel on closing critical skills gaps in Federal organizations, including a fire side chat on how community-building was a critical success factor in successfully implementing SES reform at HHS.

Moderating the panel, facilitating discussion and audience interaction, and sharing welcome remarks, were our own Tim Bowden (Executive Director for People and Performance Consulting), Debbie Eshelman (Managing Director of Human Capital and Talent Management), and Lisa Doyle (Managing Director of Learning Solutions).

NAPA president and ceo Terry Gerton welcomes everyone at the event.

NAPA President and CEO, Terry Gerton.

The packed room at the University Club was greeted with an opening statement from Teresa Gerton, President and CEO of NAPA. Her message carried two particularly valuable points:

  1. The information and concepts shared today can be of immense value to the new administration.
  2. Everyone can take these ideas and discussions and push for meaningful and necessary change in public service.

Tim Bowden followed Gerton’s charge by encouraging the audience to get back into the habit of asking questions—asking hard questions that aren’t so difficult as to not have an answer, but hard enough to lead to meaningful answers that bring change.

“Ask the why, what if, and how,” said Bowden. “How would I get more people involved at my agency to engage in efforts toward performance improvement? If we can begin to answer these questions about engaging, managing, and delivering improved results in the Federal workforce, we’re going to see some changes.”

What follows are highlights from topics discussed at the event:

Exploring Gaps in Federal Workforce Management

Debbie Eshelman walked the audience through a new research report, published by Government Business Council ( and Management Concepts, called “Unleveraged Talent: Exploring Gaps in Federal Workforce Management.”

Debbie Eshelman listens to comments from the audience.

Debbie Eshelman leads a discussion with audience members.

The survey conducted in this report assessed how Federal employees from over 30 different agencies feel they are being supported with regard to workforce management strategies being implemented in their agencies. The survey pointed to the biggest blocks to better talent management strategies: ineffective processes, lack of leadership support, and budget constraints.

Management Concepts framework for meaningful talent management speaks to the integration of strategy and implementation. An effective strategy needs to be aligned to the agency’s mission, vision, and organizational strategy, along with the culture to engage, retain, and leverage talent. Implementation needs to focus on comprehensive workforce planning, recruitment and selection, performance management, learning solutions, recognition, critical knowledge retention—it all needs to be interconnected and interdependent, and all employees should feel supported.

“It’s not just Millennials who want transparent, open dialogue about performance and career pathing,” said Eshelman. “I think everybody wants this, Millennials are just more open to talking about it.

Highlights from the Panel Discussion: “Implementing Talent Management Strategies to Close the Gaps”

Lisa Doyle moderates the panel of federal workforce experts

From left to right: Bill Wiatrowski, Sally Jaggar, Lisa Dorr, Amy Grubb, and Lisa Doyle.

Lisa Doyle moderated the discussion, which featured Dr. Amy Grubb (Senior Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, FBI), Sally Jaggar (SES, NAPA Fellow, formerly of GAO), Bill Wiatrowski (Acting Commissioner, BLS), and Lisa Dorr (Director of IT Workforce Planning and Development, HHS).

Here are some of the highlights, paraphrased and condensed from the opinions and expertise shared by the panelists:

From Amy Grubb

  • It’s hard to build and operate complete, outstanding workforce development strategies, but you can build the pieces, and work each piece into alignment with the overall mission/vision/strategy. If the work’s done right, over time it can still come together. You don’t have to do it all at once.
  • To try to reshape culture at the FBI, we modified our mission. We made it bigger: “Mission first, people always”—it was an extension of what we do as a particularly mission-focused organization.

From Lisa Doyle

  • During a hiring freeze, leaders have to look at their workforce more strategically.

From Sally Jaggar

  • It’s a big mistake to just let people leave your organization. Engage with your talent. Think ahead, do the planning for skills you’ll need in the future. It can be hard to do, but it’s necessary so skills development moves forward—so your organization is where it needs to be in the future.
  • For the people you want to hire, you have to focus on what they want to do. To be in touch, build a talent pipeline and maintain it and nurture it, so you have connections to get to the people you want. You have to have a way to give people what they want and a way to convey that to them.

From Lisa Dorr

  • Supervisors must be equipped with the right toolkit to look out for their staff, to attract, retain, position, and equip talent.
  • Define roles, determine competencies, then work with operating divisions to define the skills gaps and address them. If you don’t have well-defined roles and competencies, you can still find the gaps and work from those. Acknowledge that each occupation or talent group has a different culture—the culture of that cadre of individuals must be focused on.

From Bill Wiatrowski

  • The job openings and labor turnover survey (JOLTS), in some ways, outlines the challenges of talent attraction and development in the Federal government. In the government, there tend to be more openings than hires—the jobs are difficult to fill because more specialized training is required.
  • The Employment Projections program produces a report every two years predicting the industries and occupations that will be growing or declining in the next ten years. A lot of the jobs in the future government workforce are scientific jobs—forensics, cartographers, criminal justice, and statisticians—requiring advanced degrees.

From the Fireside Chat with Chris Major, moderated by Debbie Eshelman

Debbie Eshelman having a fireside chat with Chris Major

Debbie Eshelman (left), with Chris Major (right).

Closing out the event, Debbie Eshelman talked with Chris Major (Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration and Chief Human Resources Officer, HHS) about the need for stronger community among SES members. According to Major, just getting SES folks together more regularly has helped a lot. Major celebrated the effectiveness of job rotations, while recognizing that they were once looked at as less productive career development options.

Hiring for SES-level positions is now in the process of becoming more of a resume-based process. And job announcements are made more clearly and effectively, in an effort to streamline the hiring process and welcome the next generation of senior-level leaders.

Lively discussion at the event.

We thank everybody in attendance at the event, as well as all the speakers. To keep the conversation going, and to see how our experts are moving it forward, subscribe to this blog using the subscription field near the top-right of the page, and connect with Management Concepts on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn—we’re working on more events like this one, and we’re sharing new content every week that takes the next step in workforce development thinking.

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