DoD adds up the results from a talent management experiment

DoD personnel officials have been sifting through results of a recently concluded challenge. Staff in the office of the under secretary of Defense for personnel...

DoD personnel officials have been sifting through results of a recently concluded challenge. Staff in the office of the under secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, sought ideas from uniformed and civilian employees on how to improve what they call “talent management.” That would be new and better ways to recruit, retain, and promote people. For what they came up with, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke to force development HR specialist Beth Stewart and to special adviser to the under secretary, Jeannette Haynie.

Interview Transcript: 

Tom Temin And tell us, well, first of all, what were you trying to get at here? I guess ideas from people who were already in [Department of Defense (DoD)], either on the uniformed or civilian side, on what might have improved their experience in coming in and recruiting and so on. Tell us what this was all about, Dr. Haynie.

Jeannette Haynie Absolutely. Thank you so much. So just for a little bit of background. The Talent Management Innovation Challenge was the first of its kind to focus attention on the mission critical issue of talent management and the need for more strategic and cohesive departmental talent management approach. And we can give a little bit more about the why in a second. But just to set the stage, it was a mix of bottom up innovation with top down strategic alignment, encouraging DoD, military and civilian employees at all levels to submit their promising talent management ideas with the potential to make an impact. And we really hoped with this, to harness that diversity of thought, experience, background and capability offered by the total force. We get into the details of how it went here in a second, if there’s interest.

Tom Temin Well, sure. This ran for about a month. And how could people submit ideas online? You had some kind of a mailbox for this?

Jeannette Haynie Yes, actually, we invited participants to submit ideas in the following priority areas recruiting and sessions, promotion and retention, and then a wild card area as a catchall. Since this was the first of its kind, we really wanted to cast the net pretty wide. And we had an open season of about seven weeks from early August to Sept. 30. That session has concluded and we’re now in the process of vetting the ideas to push some forward to a semifinal round late this year and early next and then a final round in March. So right in the middle of all those stages right now.

Tom Temin Ok, Beth. And how many ideas came in? Did you get a big basket full of tickets here?

Beth Stewart It was a little concerning because we had over 3 million people who are eligible to participate in the challenge, but we had a reasonable number of 200 really good ideas and over 150 participants and teammates joined to help them provide those ideas to us.

Tom Temin And how did that break down uniformed versus civilian?

Beth Stewart There’s about 30% of the participants are in the civilian category. And then we had officers and enlisted participating from every branch across the military.

Tom Temin And I guess this is probably obvious, but did the uniform people talk about what it would take to help the armed services get to their recruitment numbers, which they’ve been struggling with? And did the civilian people talk about regular federal employment that happens to be under the DoD umbrella?

Beth Stewart It was really interesting. We had both of those ideas, but we also had ideas that applied to both the military and the civilian population together. In fact, for the recruiting ideas, they proposed more of a joint effort recruiting civilians and military together so that we appeal to a wider talent audience.

Tom Temin Yeah, because in many cases you’ve got people that in the civilian workforce who were military. I think we’ve got a couple of cases in point right now.

Beth Stewart Absolutely.

Tom Temin Jeannette, maybe a little bit more on the whys of this whole effort.

Jeannette Haynie One of the things that we really enjoyed about this was the passion and the energy that came from these ideas. People are giving us parts of themselves. The folks in the total force are the ones closest to the pain points. And if you think about how big, diverse and dynamic this department is, as a nation, we talk about America’s strengths and how those strengths come from our people. And that’s just as true here. And we saw such a range of ideas coming from across the department. Beth, I’m not sure if you mentioned that the different grades and ranks we saw, but perhaps adding a little bit of info on the scope of that could help.

Beth Stewart We had officers from ’01 to ’06, your lieutenants to colonels. And I’m sorry, I don’t know the Navy grades, but we had civilians from GS-4 to senior executive service and we had enlisted from E9 to E5.

Tom Temin Ok. Yeah, that’s pretty much of the range there. We’re speaking with Beth Steward. She’s a force development specialist for the Defense Department. And with Dr. Jeannette Haynie, she’s special advisor to the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. And with the understanding that you’re still evaluating the ideas. Give us a sense of what people specifically suggested here. Well, let’s start with recruitment, because that’s always a problem, especially on the military side these days. Dr. Haynie.

Jeannette Haynie I’ll say just typically innovation challenges have focused on inviting technical solutions. So we certainly saw some recommendations. And we can’t go into specifics as we’re still vetting these for the next round. But broadly looking at talent data and analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning and visualizations and developing expertise and understanding, leveraging talent data. And that was both promotion and retention focused and recruiting and a session focused.

Tom Temin And Ms.Stewart, what else do we hear?

Beth Stewart The ideas wanted to target the total population and not just recruit for military service, but all sorts of things to support the DoD as well. We saw a number of ideas that were interested in recruiting STEM talent and more ways to appeal to that, more ways to market what service is all about. From the life that you live and the opportunities you have working in the Department of Defense that you won’t get anywhere else yet.

Tom Temin Because when you look at the civilian workforce in DoD, it really is the range of things. There’s STEM. Tons of people in research and development, research and technology transfer throughout the different armed services and DoD cybersecurity, acquisition, logistics, huge issue for civilian people. And did you find that all of those get represented in the ideas?

Jeannette Haynie I don’t know that we saw specifics with each one, and we’re trying to be careful to not give away too much. But we saw an incredible breadth of focus on different career fields, occupational specialties and pathways.

Tom Temin All right. Well, you got a couple of hundred ideas in from those 3 million people. And do the couple of hundred ideas at least span a wide range? You didn’t get 199 or the same idea. And one of something else.

Jeannette Haynie These spanned a pretty wide range. And I would say that there were some commonalities, like there were quite a few opportunities where we were vetting the different ideas and said, Oh wow, if we connect this one to that one, think about how impactful that would be. But yeah, it pretty much spanned almost everything across the department.

Tom Temin All right. So what happens next with these 200 ideas and I guess especially, how will you operationalize them if that’s important? Because an idea to an actual doctrine change or procedural change in DoD is quite a hurdle to the point where Lloyd will say, good idea, I’m signing off on it.

Jeannette Haynie It is indeed a process in DoD to make change happen in different ways. But the open submission period has closed, so we’re carefully reviewing the ideas and scoring them now based on the challenge criteria. We’re evaluating those and creativity, relevance to talent management, potential implementation, benefits, feasibility and impacts to the department. So we’re tapping subject matter experts of the key ones, and we’re purposely not saying an exact number are going to move forward to a semifinal round, which will be a virtual pitch in front of a panel of key DoD personnel and readiness experts. And then from there will recommend a small group move up to the final round. How each one progresses will really depend on the merits of each idea and where we’re able to connect them. But we also don’t see just the semifinalists and finalists as the end all, be all. We’re hoping to connect good ideas, no matter how mature they are to different subject matter experts across the department through this.

Tom Temin And these presentations to the judges of the next round, will they be by you or will they be by the people who submitted the ideas that might get tapped and say, guess what, we’ve got something for you to do up here at the Pentagon?

Jeannette Haynie It will definitely be by the folks who have the energy and passion behind these ideas, the ones who have been the closest to the challenges and figured out how to mitigate those.

Tom Temin And are those people geographically scattered? I mean, might they have to make a trip to Washington or, I guess Virginia technically to do this?

Jeannette Haynie Yes, that’s a great question. So the semifinal round is virtual and then the final round will be in person. However, there will be a virtual option or a delay option if someone needs to, for operational reasons, propose or make their pitch at a later time.

Tom Temin And Jeannette, will you pick them up at, say, the airport in a helicopter? Since I know you can fly them.

Jeannette Haynie I fly a Honda Odyssey now. So maybe a 2010 Honda Odyssey that’s missing paint on top. That would be me.

Tom Temin All right. They do have a paint problem on top, don’t they? You got to get to them faster they don’t cover it, by the way. So there’s more to go yet. And what’s your basic timeline when you think something might be a solid proposal for the brass to consider?

Jeannette Haynie So every single one of these ideas is different, which makes it a little challenging to say exactly when. But what we’re hoping is for the final pitch, which we’re targeting for March, leaving that again a little bit open ended just because we didn’t know how many ideas would come in, etc., the best ones can really move forward quickly or they could be something where there’s a pilot and then they move forward down the road in different phases.

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