Want to keep good talent? Hire good managers

John Desenberg, policy director, Performance Institute

wfedstaff | June 4, 2015 8:26 am

It’s been a year since President Obama issued his executive order on hiring reform. OPM has made strides in reforming many parts of the hiring process, including shortening the hiring process to 80 days. But some say that isn’t enough.

John Desenberg is the Policy Director at the Performance Institute. He joined the Federal Drive from the Excellence in Government Conference

“There are so many other glaring weaknesses in the federal personnel system,” Desenberg said. “From getting some of the top students even in the door, to creating an environment so that you can keep them here.”

That, Desenberg said, is where many agencies fall short.


“People come into an organization based on mission, and based on what it does, but they stay based on their boss,” Desenberg said. Federal managers have the ability to retain the best workforce, and it’s up to them to do it.

“You can have the most interesting mission in the world, you can be doing great things and have great technology at your organization, but if you’re not managing well, you’re going to loose people,” Desenberg said.

A simple way to affect change is by providing regular, informal feedback. According to Desenberg it’s a major factor in keeping workers engaged and interested in their work.

Another key change should be in the appraisal process, and how managers and the government as a whole differentiate between high and low performing employees.

According to Desenberg, reforming the appraisal process should be of priority, not the issue of cutting federal pay, which does nothing to punish under-performing employees or reward high performers.

“We’ve got to step back up to the plate and say ‘What can we do?’ to drive up high performance and identify people that we really want to reward and we want to keep in the organization long-term and invest in,” Desenberg said.

Another glaring weakness according to Desenberg? The discrepancy between the high performance scores of federal managers, and the low performance of government projects. A Performance Institute study found that nearly 85 percent of SES managers receive a 4 (very good) or 5 (excellent) on their appraisals.

“How can we be rewarding senior executives with 4s and 5s, but the programs that they’re running oftentimes are not performing at that level?” Desenberg said. “Where is the disconnect there? This kind of thing is starting to get the attention of the American people.”