Because American government has been assigned a nearly unprecedented role in spurring economic recovery, many agencies are expanding their mission responsibilities. And as missions are extended into new realms of activity, Federal workers in many agencies are effectively in the hot seat. Their performance—and that of the teams they’re assembling– will tell the tale on the government’s readiness to shepherd us all out of this crisis. Many a Department with a recovery-related mission—including Treasury, Energy, Commerce, HHS, and a long roster of other agencies–is poised to ramp up efforts to recruit new employees at all levels.
As I’ve said before, this year has provided us with an unmatched opportunity to recharge the government’s working talent—provided agencies can get 2009’s “windfall” of candidates on board expeditiously. Weakness in the general economy has brought thousands of qualified recruits to the government’s doorstep: likewise the widespread surge in enthusiasm for government careers among recent and imminent grads. And now many agencies are retooling for recovery-support responsibilities, which will in turn create more demand for qualified workers.
The key is life-cycle talent management, not just recruiting. But bringing a wealth of new talent onboard is just the beginning. Keeping employees productively engaged and enthusiastic about their work is the real key to sustained human capital success. The dispiriting truth today is that most agencies don’t devote enough attention to matching talent to task, and to keeping productive teams and individuals engaged and inspired by their work.
Recruiting programs, no matter how successful, aren’t meant to address the underlying challenge here. All employers have to respond creatively to evolving workforce needs throughout the full employment life-cycle. Otherwise, attrition drains away any human capital advantage the organization has gained while its available supply of talent was deep.
Senior leadership has to step up. If government is going to address this issue squarely, senior agency and Department executives (and not just Chief Human Capital Officers) need to step forward as vocal and proactive champions of strategic talent management. This means mandating comprehensive talent management programs at the heart of every human capital initiative, coupling life-cycle talent management with all Department or agency strategic planning, and fostering a pervasive talent “consciousness” among their key subordinates and agency populations.
If government is to gain any traction in our economic recovery, Federal executives have to take the lead in shaping realistic, long-term strategies to engage, retain, and reward the talented individuals who will sustain their newly expanded missions in the months and years to come.
They can’t fall short here. There’s just too much at stake.