5 recommendations for how to improve federal managers

Agencies are doing a better job in training new managers than providing continuing education for existing managers.

And departments are struggling across the board to ensure new and existing supervisors have formal development plants.

To help improve the training of new and existing managers, the Office of Personnel Management is making five recommendations to help improve accessibility, adequacy and effectiveness of supervisory training.

“While the federal government requires supervisory training, the development, implementation, and evaluation of these types of training programs have been left to the discretion of the individual agencies,” wrote Mark Reinhold, associate director of Employee Services at OPM, in a memo to agency human resources directors. “Agencies have the flexibility to implement learning and development requirements and recommendations, in consideration of mission needs and funding availability. As a result, there is inconsistent delivery and availability of supervisory training across agencies.”

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OPM developed the recommendations after a survey of supervisory training programs with agency chief human capital officers (CHCOs) in late 2016 found a several challenges in training of managers. OPM says the online survey consisted of 15 questions, organized into three sections: Planning and Strategy, Development and Delivery, and Evaluation, and of the 69 completed surveys, over 66 percent were submitted by the agency’s chief learning officer (CLO) or training manager/officer representing 26 federal agencies and bureaus.

OPM conducted the survey after the Government Accountability Office recommended in 2015 that it look at supervisor training programs.

OPM has tried to bring more consistency to supervisor training before. In 2015, it rolled out what he calls a “blueprint” for more consistent leadership training across the government. OPM worked with chief learning officers to come up with a recommended list of competencies that all new, experienced and senior managers should have in their toolboxes.

The survey found:

On mandatory training topics

  • 84 percent of survey participants indicated their agency’s new supervisory training program curriculum included the mandatory training topics, including mentoring, performance and productivity, performance appraisals and dealing with employee with unacceptable performance.
  • 63 percent of survey participants indicated their agency included the mandatory training topics in experienced supervisory training programs.

On HR-related technical knowledge and leadership

  • 69 percent of survey participants indicated they included recommended HR-related technical knowledge and leadership competencies in new supervisors training program curriculums
  • 54 percent included the recommended topics in experienced supervisors training program curriculums.
  • 27 percent said aspiring leader/team lead training curriculums on average incorporated recommended training topics and competencies.

Types of learning

The top four approaches all leadership curriculums were the same:

  • On-site classroom/in-person courses
  • Passive web/computer-based instruction
  • Off-site classroom/in-person courses
  • Workshops

“The most notable difference was in the fifth most commonly offered learning intervention. Coaching was primarily offered to experienced supervisors and mentoring was primarily offered to aspiring leaders/team leads and new supervisors,” Reinhold wrote. “OPM encourages agencies to provide coaching services as a supplement to leadership development efforts at all levels because it is considered one of the most effective leadership development interventions. Furthermore, coaching can improve federal supervisors’ interpersonal skills thereby enhancing the supervisor-employee relationship and ultimately maximizing employee performance.”

Evaluation of training programs

72 percent of survey participants indicated they evaluate their agencies supervisory training programs.

The top five metrics used to evaluate included:

  • Satisfaction level of the training
  • Number of supervisors trained
  • Supervisor satisfaction levels
  • Number of courses delivered
  • Change in knowledge, attitudes and skills specific to the courses delivered.

“These top five metrics only reflect activities, reaction, and learning, as opposed to the application of the learned skills and impact. These metrics cannot be used to determine the adequacy of a supervisory training program or its meaningful contribution to agency outcomes,” Reinhold wrote. “Agencies are encouraged to determine where supervisory training belongs in the overall business strategy. Supervisory training that is woven into the business strategy contributes measurable and meaningful changes in business processes, systems, people, and the agency culture.”

OPM’s recommendations to bring consistency and the effectiveness of the training programs for new and existing supervisors and aspiring leaders include:

  • Every supervisory training program should begin with specific business requirements. Agencies should design and evaluate supervisory training programs with the lines of business that will be impacted by the training.
  • Agencies build leadership capability at all levels to support effective succession management. Agencies should provide additional training opportunities for aspiring leaders/team leads on HR-related technical knowledge and leadership competencies. This will reduce the need for intensive training after an employee receives his/her first supervisory role.
  • Agencies take a broader approach to supervisory training and continue using OPM’s Federal Supervisory and Managerial Frameworks and Guidance as they design supervisory training curriculum, complete competency needs assessment, develop training solutions, and ensure compliance with training requirements.
  • New and experienced supervisors have individual development plans (IDPs) to improve organizational and individual accountability of training requirements, improve current job performance, and measure their development progress. A strategic IDP process produces agile supervisors capable of recalibrating to meet the demands of constant organizational and enterprise-wide change.
  • Agencies develop an evaluation strategy that aligns with the organizational strategy to obtain more robust and meaningful contributions to agency outcomes. Useful evaluations will result in increased capacity, consistently dedicated resources, and evidence-based program decisions.