Opportunities Identified at HCMF 2012

Conversations at the Human Capital Management Federal (HCMF) Training Conference 2012, both in the conference room and around the lunch tables, reflected the strategic role that Human Capital (HC) plays in agency success. Every major topic discussed, from knowledge management to understanding the employee climate, has a direct impact on agency performance. HC professionals recognize the dramatic changes that are coming to the federal government, and while any change can be daunting, they are also responding with a sense of optimism. Ongoing budgetary constrictions will demand creative approaches to federal HC practice. Conversations with our colleges and clients were all about contributing to agency outcomes by shaping an ever more efficient and effective workforce.

Opportunities Include:

Next Generation of Leadership: Even without abundant discretionary funds, the federal workforce can develop future leaders with the resources at hand. Mentoring programs, for example, are an excellent way to capture knowledge from experienced leaders while also giving an agency's future leaders the tools they need to succeed. Joint duty assignments - rotations through other organizations within the federal government - give a future leader the opportunity to compare and contrast best practices from a broader range of organizations.

Workforce Planning: Agency leaders preparing for a shrinking federal government are increasing the pressure on HC to define the workforce five years out. The question used to be whether the workforce had the competencies they needed to accomplish the mission. Now agencies are looking for a strategic approach to workforce planning that recognizes a decline in funding and prepares them for an attenuating workforce. While five-year projections are subject to variables outside of anyone's control, there are trends that the HC community can plan for now. Not every projection will be correct, but an effective workforce plan for 2017 will aggregate the impact of technology, changing customer expectations, an evolving workforce, and significant changes in agency missions.

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Resiliency: As a predictor of success in every aspect of our lives, resiliency gives us the ability to manage change constructively; moving forward with purpose even when faced with roadblocks or changed circumstances. The federal employee of 1980 worked in a much more predictable environment. Resiliency wasn't nearly as critical as having the right skills or understanding the regulations that governed the work. The federal employee of 2013 and beyond does not have the luxury of a predictable work environment; therefore resiliency has leapt to the forefront of critical qualities for a successful federal employee. One essential component of fostering resiliency is a sense of purpose: if you are clear on where you are going, temporary detours won't keep you from arriving at your intended destination. Other industries rely on incentives to motivate employees and keep them on the right track. The federal government has a much more powerful asset: a mission that matters.

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Performance Management: Years ago the federal government could operate with a management style adopted from the paragon of American efficiency: the factory. Much of the work was transactional and individuals could operate as parts of a larger machine with no knowledge of other areas of the organization. Under this model, an individual could exceed the performance standards set for a specific job function even as the organization fails to meet its mission. As technology takes over routine transactions and expectations for agency performance increase, the disconnect between an individual's performance and the organization's success is no longer sustainable. The connection between each part of the whole and the overarching strategy and performance is now evident. The federal HC community is driving the federal government towards a paradigm where the line connecting individual performance and agency performance is understood at all levels and incorporated into agency strategic planning.

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Knowledge Management: The prospect of capturing, retaining, and accessing the knowledge that resides with each federal employee is daunting at best. Early attempts at knowledge management focused on retaining the process and policy documents that govern federal work products. New pressures, including the wave of federal retirements, are pushing the application of knowledge management principles past documenting the proscribed processes to capturing the ways processes are actually executed by real people. HC practitioners are taking an approach that aligns with the Agile model of development: putting people first, taking on manageable-sized projects, and allowing evolving requirements to shape federal knowledge management practice.

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Organizational Culture and Social Capital: As the pressures on the federal workforce increase, managing the softer side of HC becomes more important. In a hyper-connected era, established constructs like labor relations and climate surveys must be pushed beyond their traditional roles. Agencies that are proactive in maintaining a positive employee climate are outperforming their counterparts with lower climate indicators. The link between culture, the social functionality of the workforce, and mission accomplishment has never been more clear to leadership. HC leaders across the government are working to identify concrete tactics, like social networking, to create the can-do culture and positive employee climate that will drive mission success.

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These are challenging times for the federal HC community, but there are also unique opportunities to use HC to drive the federal government towards more efficient and effective operations. HCMF provided a forum for federal HC practitioners to collaborate across organizations, learn from other's experience, and develop ways forward that are tailored for specific organizations while still being informed by broader perspectives. It is an exciting time to be a part of the federal HC profession.

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