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Posted by on Jul 17, 2014

Lesson from the VA: The Role of Culture in Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce

001-B340-2TRecently, failures of service at the Department of Veterans Affairs have been in the news.  Investigators have found that the problems at VA are not occasional occurrences but to quote the Washington Post, the VA suffers from “corrosive culture of employee discontent and management retaliation. “

Unfortunately, organizational culture and workforce development continue to be particularly challenging for many Federal agencies. Federal agencies have always faced unique challenges in workforce development including competition in attracting and retaining talented employees.

To improve performance, the VA and other agencies facing similar challenges will need to develop and sustain high performance cultures.  To make this happen, Federal leaders must utilize benchmarked best practices.

Recently, Management Concepts Press and my team at Penn State University have collaborated on a ground breaking book, Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce that analyzes some of these practices and how they can be best be used in a Federal environment.  My colleagues and I especially emphasize the importance of organizational culture:

Agencies are working to create a culture where employees want to be—and can be—as effective as possible in serving the public. A results-oriented performance culture system, as defined by OPM, is a system that “promotes a diverse, high-performing workforce by implementing and maintaining effective performance management systems and awards programs.” OPM identified six critical success factors for creating such a system (OPM, 2005):

1. Communication. Each agency should have a process for sharing information with all employees that allows employee feedback to involve employees in planning and executing the mission.

2. Performance appraisal. Each agency should have a process under which performance is reviewed and evaluated.

3. Awards. Each agency should recognize and reward individual or team accomplishment that contributes to meeting organizational goals or improves the efficiency, effectiveness, and economy of the government.

4. Pay for performance. Each agency should use pay-for-performance systems that link salary levels to an individual’s overall performance and contribution to the agency’s mission.

5. Diversity management. Each agency should maintain an environment characterized by inclusiveness of individual difference and responsiveness to the needs of diverse groups of employees.

6. Labor/management relations. Each agency should promote cooperation among employees, unions, and managers that enhances effectiveness and efficiency and improves working conditions.

Excerpted with permission from Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce by William J. Rothwell, Ph.D., SPHR, CPLP Fellow; Aileen G. Zaballero, M.S.,CPLP; Jong Gyu Park, MBA. © 2014 by Management Concepts Press. All rights reserved.

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