Like Wearing Seat Belts, SES Reform Is Not Just the Law, It’s a Good Idea
The recent election results and upcoming change in administration cast doubt on the ongoing commitment to execute several of President Obama’s Executive Orders (EO). One EO in particular, about which we have written previously, relates to improving the Senior Executive Service (SES).
We believe that the Executive Order was created to upgrade long-overdue Federal executive hiring and development practices to mirror common practices in the private sector. We encourage the new administration and its agencies to continue modernizing practices relating to SES hiring, onboarding, development, and succession planning.
Here’s how SES Reform would help the new administration, which seeks to fill approximately 4,000 political appointment positions:
- Streamline Hiring: The Trump campaign ran on the platform of bringing new senior executive leadership into government service. This means creatively sourcing, recruiting, and hiring from resource pools different from where the government found its current civil servants. Potentially thousands of SES positions across government will need to be filled within the next few months, as the smooth transition of power occurs. For executive candidates from the private sector to feel attracted to public service, government must act quickly to streamline its hiring practices, by limiting the bureaucratic burden on executive candidates, reducing overall time-to-fill SES positions, compensating candidates fairly, and working to create an environment for new hires to be successful and productive.
- Onboarding: Particularly for executives new to working in government, hiring agencies must support incoming leaders and smooth their way to becoming effective as soon as possible upon arrival. Transitioning from the private sector to public sector isn’t easy under the best of circumstances. Departmental onboarding teams should support these worthwhile activities by doing the following:
- Develop and deliver orientation sessions providing the big picture of the department, its mission, structure, and its functions
- Build briefing books detailing the specific initiatives for which the incoming executives will be responsible
- Plan introductory events for executives to meet their teams
- Create networking opportunities for the cadre of newly-arrived and existing SES members to get to know each other and build a foundation for collaboration
- Development: Developing and retaining SES executives who have absorbed intimate knowledge of agency functions is critical. At a time when American citizens are looking for greater value to be derived from SES and government at large, keeping executives engaged, challenged, and growing new skills is of utmost strategic and operational importance. Using data gathered from multiple sources—the hiring process, periodic 360-degree feedback assessments, performance observation, and individual executives’ goals—executives can create a development plan that addresses current needs and helps pave the way for future career growth through the acquisition of new skills and greater exposure. This personal and professional development may include accepting temporary rotations into other departments or agencies.
- Succession Planning: Federal agencies must continue serving the American people without gaps in service caused by transition of personnel. This principle is what keeps our government running and delivering services during times of change. Understanding the strengths of current executives, identifying potential organizational risks or vulnerabilities, assessing executive bench strength, and creating development plans to grow skills of current and next-tier talent to manage those risks are desired best practices. Risking an agency’s ability to function due to a lack of leadership causes a multitude of risks. Failure to manage these risks effectively may potentially create gaps or less-than-optimal service delivery in the eyes of service recipients. Operating strategically to ensure ongoing agency functions requires thorough, realistic assessment, careful planning for development, and the will to follow through and execute the plans.
To those tasked with implementing President Obama’s SES Reform Executive Order, it may be tempting to throw up their hands and wait to see if these ideas will be carried forward by the Trump administration. We believe this would risk missing the opportunity to build on momentum to attract and develop strong executive talent and strengthen the SES experience.
The fact is: everyone will feel the need for, and impact of, strong government executive leadership that re-invigorates and navigates positive change.
Continued, dedicated effort to strengthen the SES program is more crucial than ever.