Ask the CHCO: HHS’ John Gill
As part of the series “Ask the CHCO*,” Federal News Radio’s Lauren Larson interviewed Chief Human Capital Officer (CHCO) and Deputy Assistant Secretary John Gill. Currently, he leads a human resources operation that serves 90,000 diverse Federal employees across multiple departments with complex and challenging missions. He took this opportunity to share his insights into the current state of the Federal workforce and where it’s headed in the future.
Mr. Gill shared some examples of the progress that has been made in recent years to streamline and strengthen talent management, including the efforts of the SES reform advisory group on which he serves. To maintain the momentum, he identified four mission-critical goals: create a performance culture, identify high potential talent, attract young talent, and understand future capabilities requirements.
Create a Performance Culture
A key component of driving a performance culture is the commitment to a mission and an understanding of each stakeholder on how to support it. Mr. Gill believes this is where the government holds an advantage: the very nature of public service suggests that people are drawn to the work because of their passion for it. The incentive to perform is inherent in their role and the stakes are high, such as HHS’ response to the Ebola outbreak. Additionally, engaged leadership, organizational transparency, internal communication, incentives, and accountability foster an environment that inspires high performance.
How can you build a high performance culture? Try these initiatives:
- First, turn your managers into coaches. Supervisors in the Federal government increasingly need to be held accountable for coaching their teams to improve performance. Making the shift from a management philosophy that focuses on evaluating performance to one where managers work to build the capabilities of their workforce is an important element of creating a culture of performance.
- Second, create a participative environment. Organizations function at their peak when all employees take ownership of the work required to achieve the organization’s mission. By working to create an environment where all opinions are valued and individuals are encouraged to contribute their unique perspectives, an organization can take advantage of the collective strength of the workforce.
- Third, build a culture of recognition. For a culture to maintain high performance it is essential that leaders at all levels of the organization recognize and reward success. Building an organization where high performance is rewarded (even with a simple thank you) reinforces positive workplace behaviors and establishes expectations for performance that can spread throughout the organization
Identify High Potentials and Attract Young Talent
Mr. Gill mentioned repeatedly that he works with amazingly talented people at all levels. But there is a need to do a better job of identifying individuals with the aspiration and potential to grow their roles. The goal is to engage them, and help define their career path. Talented individuals are much more likely to stay in Federal service when they can see future opportunities, and this directly relates to retaining young workers.
We’ve all heard for ages that the Federal workforce is aging. To further complicate matters, fewer young people are seeing the government as a viable career option compared to years past. This means while the government is losing career Feds with a bank of knowledge, the younger generations aren’t signing on to fill these empty spaces. To continue improving performance, agencies need to find better and more effective ways to attract talented individuals from younger generations. And, once it has them, they need to be working in an environment that they want to stay in.
Understand Future Capabilities Requirements
Forecasting future capabilities needs may be the most complex task before us. My colleague Denean Machis, who focuses on developing workforce solutions for acquisition and contracting professionals, shared these thoughts with me:
“As Mr. Gill noted, technology and culture will drastically change the way we work and learn. What capability needs will be essential to support future goals? With workers routinely mobile, will software programs be necessary to provide mentoring, and perhaps even supervision? Will training be accomplished by learning assistants and learning games assessable on demand? Will part-time government employment become the norm as a way to ease out baby boomers and make room for Millennials?”
As Mr. Gill stated, there is increasing unanimity of thought around the workforce challenges across government. Projects like the SES reform advisory group and OPM’s effort to “untie the knots” in hiring have built momentum around talent management. To continue cultivating a high-performing workforce, Federal leaders and human capital practitioners must tackle the challenges of creating performance culture, identifying high potentials, attracting young workers, and better understanding future skills requirements.