Two major HR developments in 2011 are helping to lay the foundation for an increasingly lean and mobile federal workforce: An online learning platform and a new approach to employee evaluations. At the center of both initiatives was Energy Department Chief Human Capital Officer Mike Kane.
For his work, he earned the “Chief Human Capital Officer of the Year” award from the CHCO Council, whose members are human resources leaders from across government.
Kane spoke recently with Federal News Radio about his banner year and the challenges ahead in 2012.
HR University ‘will make us more mobile’
2011 saw the launch of HR University. Despite its name, the online training platform offers courses for hiring managers and others outside the human resources field. It allows agencies to save money by sharing their training courses with each other. The courses are vetted by government experts.
“HR University is going to fulfill the dream of the civil service,” Kane said. “We will be trained in a more common vein and access a lot more training than we can in our individual agencies.”
In the long term, he said, employees could use it to map out a strategy for building skills as they advance in their careers. The standardized training would enable them to move more easily from one agency to another.
“It will make us more mobile as a community,” he said.
Supervisor’s supervisor weakest link in performance management? Kane also led more than 100 members of federal unions, management associations and agency human resources chief in revisiting one of the thorniest issues in government: how supervisors evaluate employees.
The CHCO Council worked with the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations in a process that “stretched one’s own boundaries and drove us closer as a group,” Kane said.
That’s reflected in the resulting performance management framework, he said.
Unions balked at first because they did not understand the benefit to employees, he said.
“We kept talking about it as a GPS concept. You know where you are when you walk down the street with the phone” he said. “Why don’t you know where you are when you do your work? You can correct it if you know where you are. If you get off base, it’s easier to correct.”
The framework also emphasizes management training.
“The supervisors of supervisors are the weakest link in our chain right now. We don’t have an overall approach to how supervisors grade and rate supervision,” he said. “We need to hold those leaders accountable.”
The Energy Department is one of six agencies piloting the framework. The agency is working on integrating employee performance management activities with program and acquisition reviews “so that you’re required to look at the health and readiness of the workforce as part of those reviews,” Kane said.
He plans to meet with agency leaders in January and deliver a report in March on the agency’s progress thus far.
Pay reform may be “on the docket” in 2012
In 2012, human capital leaders would be wise to focus on long-term goals, even those without immediate payoffs, Kane said.
With more than 30 years of federal service, Kane has been through rough budget cycles before. In the downsizing of the 1990s, many senior staff retired, leaving agencies with knowledge gaps.
In that situation, “the first tendency is to say, ‘I need that expert. I need to replace the person who had all the knowledge,'” Kane said.
But, he added, that would be a mistake.
“You can’t hire at the top of the pay bands. That’s defeating the purpose of developing the next generation of workers,” he said.
Energy will look to the proposed Pathways program — which will replace most internships when it goes into effect next year — to bring in younger talent at lower grade levels, he said. It will also allow agencies to hire university graduates without going through the time-consuming and burdensome competitive hiring process.
In his vision of a well-planned workforce, the agency would have an “entry pipeline, where people come in, grow, reach a journeyman level and either decide to stay here or go on to other public-service careers,” he said. “We would then bring people in at the midlevel from other agencies who change our culture and give us a more diverse view of the world.”
In addition, he said, the government as a whole should assess its workforce with a focus on mobility.
The next step after hiring reform may be overhauling pay systems. “I think that’s going to be on the docket,” he said.
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 8-10 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.