In addition to the pending budget cuts – with mission requirements staying constant – the federal government is facing the combined challenge of increased employee retirements and fewer young people joining their ranks.
How can government confront this issue proactively?
We were fortunate enough to speak with Patrick Nealon, who leads Deloitte’s Talent, Performance and Rewards practice for the federal market. Patrick helps government clients realize the potential of their people through talent strategies, learning and development and other rewards.
Patrick had some very forward-thinking insights to share with us about how government can tackle this challenge head-on.
FedPulse: Tell us about the state of the government workforce.
Nealon: There’s a lot going on these days. We are seeing several major trends happening in the government workforce today, which include the aging of government employees, the demand for specialized talent, multi-generations of employees with different needs, the changing skills requirements and the polarizing perceptions of the benefits and pay of federal employees.
These trends provide unique challenges to the federal government, as well as an opportunity to address these trends by creating new strategies for attracting, retaining and engaging talent.
FedPulse: What more can agencies do to address this current challenge?
Nealon: There’s a lot that agencies can do. First, they should start with what they do well, and then build upon that foundation. I often like to refer to a book called Drive by Daniel Pink that gets to the universal essence of what motivates employees, which are three things: autonomy, mastery and purpose.
The government does a high-quality job at providing a sense of purpose for its employees. Most government employees are connected to and motivated by their agency’s missions and that they are serving our nation and its citizens. This is very common in the Intelligence Community, the Peace Corps, DoD and others that put resources into instilling this sense of purpose and many other agencies have an opportunity to do this.
In addition, if you look at agencies that have been recognized by the Partnership for Public Service as a Best Place to Work in Government, many have a deep connection to a sense of purpose.
After meeting this sense of purpose, agencies can then focus on instilling more autonomy and giving employees the ability to pursue mastery in their fields. This is critical for attracting younger talent, who are looking for flexibility, to be challenged and strong, visionary leadership. By catering to this group from a career standpoint – as opposed to just offering them a set job – and providing opportunities to innovate in a collaborative environment, agencies can tap into this particular group.
One thing to always remember is that people don’t leave jobs – they leave people. This means that agencies should consider providing the right growth opportunities and leadership to guide the next generation of government leaders and innovators. Otherwise, they will go elsewhere for these kinds of opportunities.
FedPulse: How can contractors help fill the talent gap?
Nealon: Great question. The federal government has become reliant upon contractors to fill the gap on areas where they may not have certain skill sets available. On some levels this is healthy. Agencies do not need internal capabilities for everything.
Beyond just helping government to fill jobs, or augment areas where they don’t have the internal resources, we need to do two things. First, be advisors to the government and help them transform the way they do business. Second, we need to develop great practitioners and leaders so that they can fill some of the federal leadership roles of tomorrow.
FedPulse: What is Deloitte’s role in helping government with these efforts?
Nealon: As I mentioned, we are very much advisors to our clients. We can help government customers understand their challenges and propose new ways for doing business. We bring commercial approaches and extensive federal experience. Ultimately, we help them more effectively execute their missions, collaborate more broadly and bring new ideas to their constituents.
FedPulse: Tell us about Deloitte’s Fed Cloud Initiative.
Nealon: Much like government agencies are embracing cloud-based solutions for technology implementations, we took this concept to the next step by suggesting a cloud-based model for the federal workforce.
Called Fed Cloud, the idea is that rather than having employees exist in any single agency, these workers could reside in the cloud, making them truly government-wide employees. These are essentially free agent employees that would bring individual skills and experience into dynamic teams, on an as-needed basis, to solve problems across a variety of mission areas. In addition, agencies and cloud teams could be supported by government-wide shared services that allow agencies to continue to meet mission goals without the costly investment in full-time employees.
We would like to thank Patrick for taking the time to share his thoughts on key innovations and ideas that would allow government agencies to tackle today’s most challenging human capital issues. To learn more about Deloitte’s Fed Cloud initiative, click here.