Talent Management Challenges in the Federal Government

We have been doing a lot of research and work with the Federal Government in the area of talent management.  Let me share a few interesting findings.

The United States Federal government has more than 2,7 million employees, ranging in roles from secret service agents to financial analysts to IT specialists to scientists.   These people work in a variety of federal agencies, each of which have a strong and clear mission to provide security, services, or assistance to US citizens.

Talent Challenges in the Federal Government

Like corporate America, the Federal Government is going through rapid changes in its workforce.  As many as 60% of Federal workers are eligible to retire in the coming 10 years, yet the number of Federal positions increased by 33% in the last 3 years.  Today, more than ever, young people (25 years old and younger) are strongly considering Federal employment as a “stepping stone” in their careers (61% of young workers state they would consider working for the government as a first step in their career).  This is very different from 30 years ago, when most people entered public service as a way to “retire well.”

And, like corporate America, the Federal Government has a weak and further weakening leadership pipeline.  Demographics show a tremendous gap in mid to high-level leaders, and today only 41% of government employees are satisfied with the senior leaders in their agencies and only 14% have a “high degree of respect” for their senior leaders.  (Source:  the OPM Human Capital Survey, administered to 220,000 federal workers in 2006)

This adds up to a major challenge in talent management.  Unlike corporate America, the Federal Government has another challenge:  the true measure of “success” is often less obvious.  These agencies measure their success through service levels and attainment of critical goals.  So as a result, the Federal Government has a very difficult time aligning “performance” with compensation and promotion.  In fact, only 40% of employees believe that compensation and promotion is tied to performance and only 7% believe that compensation and promotion are directly and strongly linked to performance.

What Matters?

With tremendous needs for recruiting, career development, goal alignment, and improvement of the performance culture, one may ask “what really motivates workers in Federal Agencies?”  Well the research clearly shows that people who work for the government are motivated by very similar things to those in the corporate world:

What Creates Retention in Federal Workers (and % Satisfied in these Areas)

As this data shows, people are interested in recognition, job satisfaction, career development, work environment, quality of live, and inspiration.  These are very similar motivators to the things which drive high engagement and retention in the private sector.

Unfortunately, as this data (and other data) shows, employees do not feel that they have enough career mobility, fair opportunities, or leadership.  When compared against corporate organizations, the government falls short in the areas of career development, succession management, performance management, and employer brand.


The Office of Personnel and Management (OPM) understands these issues.  While the solutions are not necessarily easy to implement, the Federal Government is well aware of the issues.  Many agencies (The NRC and NASA, for example) have implemented highly competitive talent management, career development, and recruiting programs to deal with these issues.

But many of the large agencies have highly diverse workforces:  combinations of technical, security, administrative, support, and service roles.  We are currently working on a project with the Department of Energy, for example, to build a new set of career models for the “21st Century Energy Demands” of the United States.  Such programs can go a long way to building an integrated solution.

The bottom line, of course, is that two things really matter in talent management:  leadership and integration.  Do the leaders of the organizations understand the “Business of Talent?”  And are the organizations integrated enough to take a wholistic view of talent from end to end? 

We are working hard on research and services with the Federal government in 2008 and 2009, call us or watch for more information on this important part of all of our lives.

3 Responses

  1. sandrar says:

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

  2. MC Bell says:

    Hello. I work inthe energy business and HR and was wondering if your report for DOE was completed and public? Thanks

    • joshbersin says:

      Hi, we have published a number of government factbooks, can you be more specific about what you’re looking for? Thanks…