Scott Quehl is a managing director and leads the Strategic Government Efficiency initiative at Accenture Federal Services. He previously served as CFO and assistant secretary of administration at the Commerce Department.
The federal workforce is a key enabler of achieving agency objectives; it also carries a significant cost. Along with their c-suite colleagues in operations, finance, technology, and acquisitions, chief human capital officers wrestle to find the answers to tough questions, such as:
» How do we balance the needs for mission readiness and delivery with the need to make spending cuts?
» Even as we meet top line savings targets, are there certain programs, functions, tools, and skills requiring more personnel investment to deliver on top mission priorities and make our workforce more productive – how do we pay for these?
» Where reductions are needed, how do we best apply voluntary measures and efficiencies to avoid demoralizing, reactive furloughs and involuntary reductions?
The two year budget horizon enacted in December provides a window to plan and take action. Many agencies are embracing the move towards strategic government efficiency.
Human capital analytics will play an increasingly important role as federal agencies continue to tighten their belts and look for ways to be more efficient. For succession planning and other needs, leaders need advanced analytics to drive informed decisions which demonstrate an understanding of not just past behavior, but current and future trends.
Human capital officers understand the importance of investing in workforce training. One way to bridge the gap between the training that is essential and tightened budgets is to reduce the cost of learning delivery – through blended learning solutions. When agencies shift from traditional, formal learning and development methods to ongoing, informal learning methods such as podcasts, it create opportunities to promote collaboration and on-the-job competency building at reduced costs.
Organizational structures present further opportunities to make HR management better. Shared services can replace a mix of fragmented HR information management systems, supported by labor-intensive and unproductive processes, with a streamlined 21st century system able to provide the information managers need. Client facing HR professionals can then better focus on solving program customer challenges, even as more commoditized elements of HR back office operations are outsourced to a cost-effective shared service provider. Meanwhile, process improvements and a performance dashboard, combined with engagement across component agencies, helped one department cut the time needed to hire employees by 20 percent.
Agencies are also finding and applying efficiencies at a large scale in mission support business processes outside of human resource management, so that a leaner, productive workforce can be sustained. Here are some examples:
» Consolidating a department’s personal computer purchases to a single contractual vehicle has reduced burdens on contracting officers who previously administered nearly 200 personal computer contracts.
» Deploying an enterprise-wide email exchange, supported by a cloud computing solution, helped a multi-billion agency connect its thousands of employees to shared communications in less than a year.
» Operations, technology and human resource analytics are supporting an objective business case at one agency for facility consolidation.
» One department applied reductions in other mission functions and tens of millions of dollars in strategic sourcing savings and efficiencies, to support the up-front costs of a new HR system – consolidating multiple systems into one – and absorb some of the blow from spending cuts that would otherwise fall on personnel.
» Employee and labor union input for efficiencies have been engaged at a number of agencies, with the most promising ideas made part of guidelines for how the organization operates.
Ultimately, human resource management should not exist as a silo. It touches every program and function, with a direct impact on mission success. By taking human resource management out of HR offices and engaging broadly in answering the hardest management questions, human capital officers can lead in helping their agencies adapt to the demands today’s urgency provides.