Workforce

Agencies link reorgs with employee engagement

Shutterstock image (by Jirsak): customer care, relationship management, and leadership concept. 

While some Trump administration priorities, such as workforce reduction and civilian budget cuts, seemingly run counter to improving workforce morale, human resources offices are looking to tie agency reorganization plans to employee engagement efforts.

At the Dec. 12 Human Capital Management for Government event, Roland Edwards, deputy chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security, said that when it comes to both reorganization plans and employee engagement, "you're talking about streamlining and getting the most out of employees."

For DHS, "a big thing we're looking at as part of our reform plan" is putting together an enduring human capital system that focuses on future workforce needs and builds upon DHS' recent efforts to boost employee engagement, he said.

"We're looking at this as a way for us to do kind of a beta test ... to basically reinvent how we hire, how we retain, how we use performance management," he said. "We're looking at the private sector, and we're trying to benchmark what's going to work" with an eye toward the future.

With budget cuts and effects from the hiring freeze, agencies are "not getting people in the doors in a lot of places, and those places that are, they're very critical positions," said Samantha Cutler, director of workforce relations at the Department of Education.

"The focus is on who's already in the seats and how they're doing the work," she said, adding, "if we really drill down … we haven't reached optimal levels of making sure that the people who are already in the seat[s] are doing the best job they can do."

Peter Constantine, deputy chief human capital officer of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said that improving the performance of those in the seats requires metrics of how employees are doing, holding them accountable and providing performance feedback "throughout the year."

In the context of the agency reorganization priorities of keeping employees accountable, measuring employees' performance and improving engagement "go right together," he said.

The issue in boosting agency productivity and employee engagement isn't about addressing the poor performers, which "you're able to get rid of," Constantine said. Instead, he said, the challenge is in how you manage and get the most out of the middling employees.

Based on input from managers and employees, some of the metrics HUD will be tracking, for instance, include the number and timing of employees placed on performance improvement plans, tracking supervisors' training as well as the timeline of the reasonable accommodation process. Constantine pointed to HUD's digital dashboard as an example of making better use of this data.

Edwards agreed that technology can help improve engagement and real-time management as well as employee feedback. However, he added that in order to carry out some of these "common sense" goals and improve employee engagement scores, they must be prioritized as a year-round and multiyear goal, and senior leadership must be on board.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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