Ask the CHCO: SSA’s Dr. Reginald F. Wells
The latest “Ask the CHCO” interview with Dr. Reginald F. Wells, the Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Human Resources of the Social Security Administration (SSA), highlighted Federal workforce management in action.
Dr. Wells is the last remaining original member of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council that has championed Federal human capital management efforts such as wellness in the workplace, efficient hiring, and career development. The Council’s mission is to provide a forum for senior management to exchange best practices and support Federal agencies in the effort to build and maintain an outstanding workforce.
“We share those best practices on a regular basis. We talk about them openly. I think through those conversations…all ships rise; all Federal agencies are a little better off because we come together as a body.”
I think it’s obvious that Wells has brought over some of the best practices he learned from his involvement with the CHCO Council. Wells attributes SSA’s success to its infrastructure, diverse workforce, and internet optimization efforts. I’d add that his global approach to internal agency development has gone a long way in developing an informed workforce that takes pride in its service to the public. Aligning a workforce around an agency’s strategic goals is no simple task, but Wells exemplifies a dedication to the basics that produces real results. He notes strong Federal workforce planning can provide the foundation on which CHCOs can build.
“People closest to the issues typically have a perspective worth listening to.”
Saving social security for current and future generations is no easy feat. Developing a plan around that aim has proven very difficult. Wells humbly admits that employees on the front line are closer to the issues and have insight to solutions that senior management struggles with. Vision 2025 is the SSA’s plan to serve their customers in the future. They have gone to great efforts to elicit input from multiple groups with varying visions. They used software tools, focus groups, labor management partnerships, and advisory councils to gain insight from stakeholders inside and outside the organization to contribute to building Vision 2025.
“The work of this agency continues to expand, the needs of the public continue to grow; our workforce has not grown in proportion.”
Vision 2025 focuses on customer service, talent management, and updating technology capabilities, but you cannot ignore the looming probability of closure of service locations. An overburdened workforce, with growing business needs is not a problem unique to the SSA or even the Federal environment. Wells explains that SSA is taking a strategic approach and leveraging technology in many ways. They have moved work online and automated it where possible in order to manage the burden of increasingly larger workloads. Only exacerbating the problem, SSA anticipates a large number of its workforce will retire in the coming years. In preparing to meet that challenge they have turned to mentor programs, efficient hiring tactics, and training to keep the agency running efficiently. Retirement planning is daunting, but the more information employees have, the smoother the transition will be.
“It is incumbent on all of us in leadership positions to try to set a different tone that would let employees know they’re our most valuable resource. Without them there is no federal government… or service to the public.”
An effective recruitment cadre, a good reputation, and a mature infrastructure all help SSA in their effort to recruit high-quality employees. It is the dedication to employee development that helps them retain those valuable employees. Last year, SSA ranked 6th out of 19 large agencies as the best places to work. One of the highest factors in the ranking was the training and development category, where a majority of respondents agreed that their “development needs are assessed and appropriate training is offered, allowing them to do their jobs effectively and improve their skills.” Wells discussed numerous talent development programs including job swapping opportunities and a program called Skills Connect which gives employees the chance to spend part of their time on work for other components elsewhere in the organization. SSA offers expanded telework, flexible benefits, and career mobility within the organization, all in an effort to show employees how much they are valued.
The Federal government and its agencies make up a very complex, multi-faceted organization that presents many human resource challenges. It’s refreshing to see that in the face of that complexity, fundamental workforce management is working.