DoD challenge brought in 200 great talent management ideas

The Defense Department wanted ideas for talent management, and 200 came in. Nine finalists have now been selected.

Last year the Defense Department staged an innovation challenge. It wanted new ideas for talent management. And did it ever get them. It got 200 ideas. Now officials have picked nine finalists. For an update, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with program analyst Beth Stewart and challenge director Dr. Jeannette Haynie.

Interview transcript: 

Tom Temin Last year, the Defense Department staged an innovation challenge. It wanted new ideas for talent management — and did it ever get them. Two hundred ideas came in. Well, now officials have picked nine finalists. And here with an update, program analyst Beth Stewart. Ms. Stewart, good to have you with us.

Beth Stewart Good morning.

Tom Temin And challenge director, Dr. Jeannette Haynie. Dr. Haynie, good to have you with us.

Jeannette Haynie Thank you. I’m thrilled to be here.

Tom Temin And just review for us, exactly, what you were driving at with this challenge. Talent management can mean a lot of things, I guess. Dr. Haynie?

Jeannette Haynie It certainly can, and we are really grateful to be joining you again to talk about this challenge. I’ll just go back briefly to reset on what the challenge was, and why we did it. As you know, the Defense Department has quite a few people. We have several million. And there is no shortage of challenges in the talent management space. And so we recognized pretty early on, as a team and as a department, that we need to be able to leverage the creativity and the ideas that come from the breadth and scope of the whole force. And so we launched this challenge last summer, to identify from those working closest to a lot of the pain points, what the challenges were that they faced in talent management, and what kind of solutions they would propose in response. And so, we opened up that challenge to the entire department, military and civilian personnel alike, and pulled in over 200 ideas from folks across DoD who were very interested in helping us solve these problems. I can talk a little bit about the stages, but let me pause there for you.

Tom Temin All right. And what was the incentive for people to send in ideas? Usually, a challenge has a little squiff there at the end.

Jeannette Haynie It does. It does. And so, part of this was being part of the solution. Part of the draw was, you know, we’re working with folks across DoD who are by these pain points and who want to solve them, if nothing else, to make their daily lives easier. But really, because the folks who contributed ideas to this are passionate about the work they do, and they want to make things better. So, that was part of the draw. Being able to meet with the senior policy leaders and talk through the challenges and solutions, but also being able to be seen as part of the solution set and part of how we solve problems. We use our people. DoD has 3 million people. If we’re not using the strength of that people, then we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.

Tom Temin And did the talent management idea apply to uniform personnel? Because that’s a pretty different world, in some ways, than civilian. And yet, often, they work side by side on the same function.

Jeannette Haynie It did. It was for uniform members and civilian members alike, and we got a range of ideas across pretty much every population you can imagine in DoD.

Tom Temin Sure. So, let’s get to the finalists there. Maybe give us a sense of what it is they proposed.

Jeannette Haynie Absolutely. And just for a little reference, we pulled in over 200 ideas, narrowed them down to 33 for the semifinal round. For the semifinalists, we had folks from every service, every military service, different OSD components. We had military members, civilian members, enlisted officer, different grades and ranks, executives all the way down. So we drew from a wide population and then narrowed it down to nine ideas. And if you’d like, we could go into a little bit a brief overview of those different nine ideas.

Tom Temin Well, first I want to get from Ms. Stewart, what is it that are the pain points in general? I mean, because people chose to enter this, that means they probably had something that really bugged them.

Beth Stewart I think the biggest finding and confirmation is that people have a lot of talent to offer the department, that we’re not even close to tapping into. We get binned by our occupation series or MOS ASFC, and people tend to tend to stay in those channels, but they also have additional skills and aptitude and abilities that we can draw out and lean on, especially when we’re looking for short-term projects and just an additional little help, a boost to a program or a project, that we just have no way of recognizing in this really structured hierarchical system.

Tom Temin And was it mostly HR types of people that answered the challenge, or did you get it from people that have a program or some kind of a functional responsibility who have to deal with the need for talent?

Beth Stewart Not at all. I think there are very few HR applicants. I think everybody else came from a different functional specialty.

Tom Temin All right. We’re speaking with Beth Stewart. She’s a program analyst, and Dr. Jeannette Haynie is director of the Defense Department’s talent management innovation challenge. And let’s get to some of the themes that came out in the nine finalists. What ideas did they come up with?

Jeannette Haynie Most of the ideas were clustered around the idea that we have a vast number of people in this department, and we just don’t know and map their skills and capabilities as well as we could to the jobs in the challenges that we face. So the challenge ideas, the ones that made it to the final round, were really clustered around understanding who our people are, what they bring to the table, and how we can best leverage their diversity, their brilliance, their intelligence and creativity to accomplish the DoD mission.

Tom Temin And Beth, tell us about some of the ideas.

Beth Stewart One of the more intriguing ideas was an idea called Go Fish. Government to fix spousal hiring. This idea aims at bringing in civilian talent, but it also helps us retain military talent, which I think, you know, covering the spectrum there of the people that work for the department. The ideas that are in the final round range from acquiring talent, onboarding, developing, assessing, assigning and retaining them. The next idea in the onboarding category was a talent emerge program. It’s an extensive onboarding program to help people understand the culture of the organization that they’re being drawn into, and give them, you know, a sense of a friend, and colleagues that are in the same boat with them, acculturated into their agency. And this program was not just for new employees to the department, but for people who’ve been around a while and just joined the agency. And we’re getting their feet wet in that new culture.

Tom Temin So it sounds like one of the themes is knowledge of the knowledge that’s there, almost.

Jeannette Haynie We don’t know about people, and if we’re not really accessing all the skills and the capabilities and experiences people have to offer, then we’re not exploring the potential that we have in this department. And one more idea to talk about the agile talent ecosystem powered by Gig Eagle was an idea that was fairly mature, and along the way has been used in various ways in the Air Force already. And that’s a way of mapping people with specific skill sets to short-term opportunities across DoD. All of these kind of get at a broader shift around how we think about our people, how we engage our people, and how we leverage our people.

Tom Temin Right. And maybe the second theme then is not keeping people in the channel or in the bucket that you mentioned, the bin, but maybe tasking them from time to time to something exciting that uses another part of their talent, which makes the career more interesting and makes people maybe want to stay around longer.

Jeannette Haynie Yeah, absolutely. There’s definitely a retention aspect to this. If people feel like they are being able to use the full breadth of skills that they bring to the table to do meaningful work across DoD, that’s a huge point of it. And what was really fascinating about the ideas as well, I’ll say two things. One is, none were in direct conflict with each other, the ones that made it to the final round. There are so many challenges in the space that they were all kind of across a continuum, tackling different facets of talent management challenges and are actually stronger woven together in different ways, which was pretty cool to see.

Tom Temin And by the way, who did the picking of the nine finalists?

Jeannette Haynie Oh, that was a team effort across DoD and particularly the personnel and readiness component. We leaned heavily on experts who own military and civilian personnel policy, talent management force resiliency and diversity, equity and inclusion.

Tom Temin All right. And in the DoD, there’s often a valley of death, as they call it, between the creation of an external idea, say, from industry and turning it into a product that the DoD can use and deploy. Will there be a valley of death on these ideas, or what’s the next steps to make sure they get implemented in some way and into the system?

Jeannette Haynie You know, the valley of death, indeed. So, that’s what we’re in the middle of right now is figuring out what are the near-term actions and what are the long-term actions, and how do we continue to make progress on these right now as a department, while mapping them towards everything we do in the future? I don’t want to get out ahead of the leadership decisions right now, so we’re happy to do another update down the road if there’s interest. But, you know, our goal right now is to weave as much of this into existing efforts and advance what we can via pilots. You know, we’ve got a chief talent management officer on board, working closely with him and his team to figure out what we can bring on from these, moving forward. And how do we make a challenge like this, something that is ongoing year over year.

Tom Temin Beth, let me ask you this. Do you get the sense that the ideas can be implemented if people choose to, without a whole big rigmarole of rulemaking or doctrine rewriting and policy changes?

Beth Stewart Yes. And the rules are there for a reason, but they’re always meant to be challenged. And we have to make sure that our rules serve us well. And we have to think beyond where we’ve come from to where we’re going, and to make sure that we designed a system that values people, puts them at the center of our mission, capability and focus. And we have to just change our our way of thinking about how we leverage talent. People bring a lot more to the table than we ask of them if we let them. And that’s probably the biggest takeaway.

Tom Temin Beth Stewart is a program analyst with the Defense Department’s Talent Management Innovation Challenge. Thanks so much for joining me.

Beth Stewart Thank you.

Tom Temin Good to be here. And Dr. Jeannette Haynie is director of that challenge. Thanks for joining me.

Jeannette Haynie Thank you so much. Good to be here.

Tom Temin We’ll post this interview along with a link to more information at Hear the Federal Drive on demand. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

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