OPM offers new professional development roadmap for each SES career stage

During times of transition or reorganization, the Senior Executive Service corps was designed to be a steady presence and help their colleagues weather often rough waters of change.

But senior executives need their own guidance and opportunities to develop too, and the Office of Personnel Management has developed a new framework to help SES members plan and track a path of continuous learning and development.

“Federal senior executives are expected to possess the leadership capabilities to lead in a continuously changing political climate with evolving performance expectations, and must continually broaden their perspectives and strive for continual professional executive development,” OPM wrote in the framework.

The guidance describes the basic requirements and overall tenets of a continuous, professional development track for senior executives.

“The continual learning and development of executives ultimately prepares them for new and various positions, including those of higher authority and responsibility, and this preparation is critical for the federal government to succeed in its workforce planning and talent and succession management,” the framework said.

An OPM interagency working group designed the framework with input from the Chief Learning Officers Council, with the idea that agency leaders and SES members could adopt the framework and apply it to their individual needs and experiences.

The framework describes different leadership objectives and behaviors that SESers should strive to reach at each step in their career and the opportunities they should look for to achieve those goals.

OPM’s guidance breaks down those activities into three general points in an executive’s career: finding my place, making my mark and leaving my legacy.

The Office of Personnel Management released a new framework for continuous development for senior executives. (OPM)

Agencies can ultimately use the guidance to tailor executive development plans to individual senior executives, but they must:

  • Have more senior executives participate in rotation programs
  • Have executives complete at least one developmental activity a year
  • Make sure executives work with their supervisors to update their executive development plans
  • Ensure executives complete at least one leadership assessment involving employee feedback every three years

If they haven’t already, agencies should also set up a formal onboarding program for senior executives, OPM said.

The guidance in OPM’s latest framework delves into greater detail on the topic of professional development than the executive order President Barack Obama signed in December 2015.

Members of the federal management community generally praised the basic pieces of the executive order to increase the initial basic pay rate for SES positions, boost spending on performance awards, streamline the SES hiring process and develop a rotation program.

But federal management experts at the time said they were disappointed the executive order did little to address a much-needed culture changes within the SES and provided few opportunities to empower current managers to lead such changes.

Though the order required that SES members complete one professional activity a year and full leadership evaluation once every three years, it offered little other guidance on professional development activities.

Those opportunities typically push down leadership satisfaction results, which have remained relatively low over the past five years.

Numerous organizations, including the Merit Systems Protection Board, have pointed to training and professional development as a key driver of employee engagement. Those kinds of training and development opportunities often bring back a return on investment for the agency, the Senior Executives Association said.

“Whether it be for new hires, first line supervisors or senior executives, investments in continuous employee development and learning are critical to ensuring the federal workforce keeps its toolkit sharp and is best able to serve agency missions and the American people,” SEA Executive Director Jason Briefel said. “This framework should assist agencies in ensuring their career senior executive leaders receive the development they need to succeed.”