Memo to agencies: Here’s how to address President Trump’s ‘lean government’ plan

On April 12, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a detailed memo to agencies that, on its surface, establishes guidelines to fulfill the requirements of President Donald Trump’s hiring freeze and reorganization. Beyond the freeze and reorganization, the memo aspires to loftier objectives: tackling “growing citizen dissatisfaction with the cost and performance of the federal government (with) too many overlapping and outdated programs, rules and processes, and too many federal employees stuck in a system that is not working for the American people.”

Fortunately, the 14-page memo — with the subject title being “Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce” — provides helpful recommendations which extend beyond “cut headcount now.”

Two core directives stand out as mission-critical here:

  • Develop a plan to maximize employee performance by June 30, 2017.
  • Align the federal workforce to meet the needs of today and the future rather than the requirements of the past.

To successfully meet the goals, the memo’s comprehensive plan encourages agencies to boost efficiencies, eliminate duplicative and non-essential functions, improve information-sharing throughout existing silos and better leverage and consolidate technology to serve key business needs.

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Forward-looking chief human capital officers (CHCOs) should take advantage of the pending changes and the plan’s directives to — as this administration has enthusiastically supported — make agencies work more like private businesses.

Here are four ways to get started:

  1. Embrace automation transformation. The government must move away from manual processes — now. The plan specifically stresses the need to “identify opportunities where adopting new technology will automate processes and result in increased efficiency and budgetary savings.” Readily available HR solutions can achieve these outcomes by jettisoning paper and/or legacy systems-supported procedures related to recruitment, onboarding, training, performance reviews, etc.
  2. Boost engagement. A leaner approach to government will obviously require employees to take on additional roles and tasks that were previously covered by now-unfilled positions. Such circumstances often lead to low morale and the possible loss of valued, remaining staffers. This is why managers must focus on engagement. Work units scoring in the top one-half in engagement nearly double their chances of success, compared to those in the bottom one-half, according to research from Gallup. Even better, study after study has proven that winning engagement efforts do not have to involve pay raises or bonuses. Organizations can motivate today’s professionals in meaningful ways with proactive interactions in the form of positive feedback, career guidance, mentorships and regular (and public) displays of appreciation to acknowledge accomplishments and milestones. Managers will be able to obtain a quantifiable breakdown of engagement levels with a new Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey that started in May and will be able to respond accordingly.
  3. Improve performance reviews. Agencies that still cling to the dreaded, annual, paper-based performance review are out of step with modern ways. Employees benefit far more through two-way discussions which take place routinely throughout the year. Employee performance elevates in real-time with enhanced engagement through continuous conversation. And, as the memo states, CHCOs should leverage technology by moving appraisals to online portals and implementing an enterprise-wide view with immediate accessibility and automated functionality.
  4. Invest in analytics. Analytics solutions will pave a smoother path for all of these and any initiative introduced to support the plan’s recommendations and overarching themes to “meet the needs of today and the future.” These solutions can identify and help eliminate redundant personnel functions and centralize information-sharing about HR data that is currently “trapped” inside of dozens of silos. They can dramatically increase the automation, visibility, efficiency and effectiveness of recruitment, onboarding, training and succession-planning.

These solutions enable managers to “drill down” deep into job satisfaction survey results, to pinpoint which roles, regions and areas generate the highest and lowest scores, so the managers can develop “lessons learned” from both to bring up results agencywide. Similarly, for performance reviews, analytics tools will deliver in-depth metrics for trend assessments to lend insights about where and why employees are excelling and struggling, to come up with an actionable response strategy.

While all of this may seem overwhelming at first, it doesn’t have to be so. CHCOs and their teams can pursue these steps in small bits, trying out various measures through pilot programs to find out what works and what doesn’t before launching a broader initiative. But it’s important to get started now.

By doing so, agencies will give themselves a head start, demonstrating clear progress toward the plan’s objectives — abandoning the “overlapping and outdated” and “unstucking” failing systems — as the June 30 deadline approaches.

Sean Osborne is the vice president of product management for Acendre.