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Make talent management a priority

Jun. 9, 2014 - 02:10PM   |  
By PATRICK DEVLIN   |   Comments
Patrick Devlin is the public sector vice president at Cornerstone OnDemand.
Patrick Devlin is the public sector vice president at Cornerstone OnDemand. ()


The fact the federal government workforce is changing is well documented. Although some people are putting off retirement for a variety of reasons, baby boomers are retiring in droves. Millennials will make up more than 50 percent of the workforce by the year 2020, and they continue to make their presence known in today’s government agencies. Technological advancements demand that we change how we approach the work of government. But are we changing fast enough?

Last month, Cornerstone OnDemand released the results of our benchmark survey of federal agency human capital management (HCM) professionals about their programs, priorities, challenges and successes. One of the more alarming survey results was that 80 percent of respondents stated that, apart from budget, the management culture of their agency is the greatest barrier to achieving HCM program goals. Consequently, 76 percent of respondents reported their agency’s employee management initiatives fall short.

This has to change. While HCM professionals create programs to align employee development to mission requirements, each agency employee must take ownership to achieve successful outcomes. Every leader needs to prioritize talent management to ensure that we are successfully identifying and retaining top performers, training and developing staff, recruiting the right people with the right skills, and identifying and closing skills gaps.

Changing the management culture at an agency requires vision, skills, incentives, resources and proactive planning that go well beyond traditional HCM initiatives. All agency leaders need to be part of the solution by embracing a more holistic approach to managing talent: identifying and developing future leaders needs to be a part of everyone’s professional DNA.

According to our survey report, federal agencies lack integrated, unified human capital strategies to prepare the federal workforce to meet the challenges of future missions. Successfully meeting future mission objectives requires a unified approach to hiring new talent, evaluating and engaging current employees, and developing future leaders — and we need to widen the lens. Instead of evaluating a small cadre of senior staff, we should look at employees at all levels and years of experience and think about how we can adequately prepare them to step into roles of ever-increasing responsibilities on their way to becoming the next generation of agency leadership.

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This is truly what 21st century succession planning is all about — thinking beyond the job description and focusing on the work that needs to be done for both today’s missions and those of the future. What are the skills and competencies needed to overcome challenges and successfully execute the required work? Who possesses these abilities, and whom do we need to prepare or bring on board to meet emerging mission requirements?

Declining and alarming numbers in job satisfaction, coupled with the upcoming wave of retirements and the HCM challenges revealed in our research, speak to how urgent it is to prioritize talent management today; this isn’t something that can be put off any longer.

I challenge federal agency managers at every level to take on this challenge and find ways to elevate talent management efforts within every department and team.

Explore new ways of looking at your teams, employees, job openings, organizational charts and specifically defined roles and responsibilities. Think about what can be done to engage workers and counter the risk of losing the most talented agency employees and future leaders.

Every agency employee has a responsibility to engage and inspire the workforce. Certainly, changing an agency culture has its challenges. You can’t make it happen overnight. But when you begin to integrate your resources and efforts around talent management initiatives, you will be better prepared to take full advantage of the government’s most important resource: its people. ■

Patrick Devlin is the public sector vice president at Cornerstone OnDemand. The survey whitepaper can be found at

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