Leidinger: Retooling government HR

Human resources shops must reinvent themselves by becoming advisers to program leaders

Last May in these pages, I noted that federal agencies face major recruiting challenges. What are those challenges? And what can government human capital professionals do to respond to them? The Partnership for Public Service recently conducted a survey of chief human capital officers. The report, called “Federal Human Capital: The Perfect Storm,” notes that government is failing to develop enough future leaders and that many federal managers lack the people skills necessary to build closer working relationships with subordinates.  

The report adds that the human resources workforce must be radically transformed to meet the increasingly complex requirements of strategic human capital planning.As federal HR operations are increasingly outsourced, government HR professionals must assume new roles as management advisers to agency leaders, while fewer people will be needed to handle traditional HR work.  

How can government HR shops effectively transform themselves to meet the strategic human capital requirements of agencies? First, I recommend that all government agencies do an HR departmental assessment to determine whether their HR office is meeting the needs of internal customers and whether it is aligned with organizational objectives.  

An assessment should determine if the HR office is actually performing critical HR activities and meeting specific requirements of agency line managers and program leaders. The assessment should identify service gaps and make recommendations about how to address those gaps by re-engineering key HR processes.  

Second, based on those assessment results, it’s likely that agencies will need to re-staff their HR operations to more closely address strategic human capital planning requirements. For example, it’s important to put human capital professionals in place who can work closely with line managers and program leaders to develop job descriptions, identify skill requirements, and evaluate job candidates to fill current and future positions. Those individuals must possess superb consulting skills.  

Third, to support a new, high-octane HR/human capital function in agencies, it’s important to establish policies and procedures that link strategic human capital planning activities with an agency’s strategic plan.  

Finally, it’s vital to have the right enabling technology to support the gamut of strategic human capital planning activities, from recruitment and retention to talent management, performance management and outsourcing.  

The pressures on federal HR shops to change how they function are coming from many directions.  

To meet those challenges head-on, government HR shops must continue handling the activities — such as benefits, payroll and administration — for which they’ve always been known.  

They must also be able to partner with top government executives to diagnose current and emerging needs, and undertake the full gamut of activities that fall under the banner of strategic human capital planning. The future of every government agency depends on it.  

Leidinger (wleidinger@msn.com) is a former assistant secretary for management and chief human capital officer at the Education Department.   

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