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Posted by on Mar 11, 2015

Individual Talent Acquisition Skills Key to Solving the Government’s Recruiting Woes

Individual Talent Acquisition Skills Key to Solving the Government’s Recruiting Woes

LeadershipHabit1_SocialNetworkOn Monday, The Office of Personnel Management Director, Katherine Archuleta, revealed an ambitious, data-driven approach to “untie the knots” in Federal hiring and recruiting new employees. According to the Washington Post, “Among the problems: Hiring managers often are blocked by rigid rules from hiring talented candidates, Archuleta said. Job seekers send résumés to apply for open jobs, only to hear nothing for months, if at all. Human resources staff members, who do the bulk of hiring, are poorly trained.”

As an HR professional, when I hear that HR staff members are “poorly trained,” quite a few things come to mind. First, I consider the number of management analysts (aka “343”s) in the Federal government who perform HR tasks. They often not only have no prior HR experience, but also have widely varying degrees of interest in developing deep expertise in HR. Second, I think about the HR tasks that have been transitioned to line personnel, such as hiring managers or supervisors, even though the line personnel may not yet have adequate supervisory skills for these tasks. Third, I think about the number of hiring managers and supervisors a single HR professional may be supporting. Given Director Archuleta’s remarks about “poor training,” and all of these factors, I propose that evaluation of the HR professional requires changing the professional development of HR to focus more on strategic consulting skills and less on unnecessarily rigid compliance.

HR Professionals Are “Poorly Trained” Because Their Training Has Focused on Compliance Rather Than Strategy
Effective training, and the HR Certification program in development at OPM, are positive steps toward to ensuring the technical competence of HR professionals and also helping non-HR Feds appreciate the great degree of technical competence HR professionals must have.  HR is not exclusively a career for friendly extroverts, as some outside the field too often see us. HR is also no longer just a field of rules, regulation, and compliance. The value HR provides now is as a strategic partner, acting as an internal consultant, supporting line personnel in meeting the talent needs. As we look at Federal staffing specialists in particular, perhaps they are “poorly trained” because the bulk of their training focuses solely on the compliance aspect of the role and not on overall talent acquisition strategy. Traditional Federal recruiting training is not developing internal staffing consulting skills and is instead too often training for a myopic compliance checkers.

Shrinking Need for Tactical Skills
This is not to say that compliance is not important. The reality, however, is that so much of the tactical, compliance-oriented processes within HR have been automated or passed onto hiring managers so that HR’s tactical role is ever shrinking while the need for strategies to compete in the war for talent is skyrocketing. Take for example position classification, an early step in the hiring process for a new role, as described by Jeff Neal: “The number of HR people doing job classification has dropped significantly as agencies have delegated classification authority, used standardized position descriptions and turned to automated classification systems. Those automated systems often allow a manager or HR specialist to classify a position by starting with a desired grade level and having the system produce duties statements that match the grade. This backwards approach, combined with grade level increases driven by competition for talent, has resulted in continuous grade creep for many years.”

Simply put, HR’s role in this case is to determine how to classify the role to get the required level of contribution and competence without grade creep and wasting taxpayer dollars. Does this require knowledge of rules and regulations? Absolutely. Is that enough to address the issue? Absolutely not. HR’s role as an internal consultant and strategic skillset, however, when employed, will lead to a solution that meets the hiring manager’s need and budget.

Increased Need for Strategic Skills
Knowledge of the laws and regulations governing hiring is critical for  Federal HR staffing specialists. In most cases, however, it is appears that lack of technical knowledge is not the inhibiting factor. Director Archuleta specifically references the “rigid rules” for hiring. These rules are not all that rigid, however, if the HR professional acts as an internal consultant, developing a talent acquisition strategy from the first conversation with the hiring manager, through assessment of multiple hiring authorities, all the way to onboarding the candidate to drive engagement.

To be clear, talent acquisition strategy is not just recruiting. It  begins with identification of the need –and often with anticipation of the need – and ends only when the new hire is fully productive and engaged. The focus is on meeting the organization’s talent needs in a compliant manner, as opposed to compliance being the driving force in filling a vacancy. Unfortunately, the latter has been the implied mantra in traditional recruiting training for HR. Is it no wonder training programs on compliance in recruiting leave HR professionals ill-equipped to meet this goal?

Tying It Together, Not in Knots
The “secret sauce” in Federal Talent Acquisition is to both know how to integrate the strategic consulting with the core technical expertise. HR staffing must be able to discover from hiring managers the true best qualifications for a role, develop a strategy to attract those candidates, and ensure the value proposition is there to hire the best candidate all while maintaining full compliance. It is not an easy task and does require training. Compliance and process-only training, however, is not up to the task.  The results of these changes will be measurable both in manager satisfaction with candidates and candidate’s satisfaction with the overall process. Director Archuleta’s plans to provide tools, support, and structure to “untie the knot” gives HR professionals the support we need to make the necessary changes to solve our government’s hiring challenges. The impetus is on us as HR professionals to develop and employ the strategic skills, however, to plan for, and ultimately “tie the bow” in presenting perfect candidates. The first step is to change the focus of our HR training to include a strategic lens even if the topic area appears tactical.

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