Influx of employees is part of HUD’s ongoing culture change

Listen to Part 2 of Jason's interview with Michael Anderson and Towanda Brooks

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The Department of Housing and Urban Development expects the 1,000 new employees it hired in 2014 to do more than just help it to meet its mission.

The new employees are an important way HUD is leading a culture change.

“What will change going forward from the experience of hiring 1,000 people is a mindset change,” said Michael Anderson, HUD’s chief human capital officer, in an interview with Federal News Radio. “About a year ago, employees voted to establish core values for the agency. Well over half of the agency employees participated in the process. This was really an opportunity and a test of those core values. Two stood out here that this effort reflected in volumes, teamwork and respect.”

Anderson said the process to hire, evaluate and train 1,000 new employees across the country brought the agency closer together in many respects.

It started with former Secretary Shaun Donovan, the current director of the Office of Management and Budget, and current Secretary Julian Castro ensuring the program offices owned the hiring process.

“Instead of the typical finger pointing we have seen over the years, this particular experience was different,” Anderson said. “That is a mindset change and it went down into the organization, all the way down to the administrative officers and human resource specialists. So it’s exciting to see that here and it’s exciting to be able to participate in such a critical function for the agency.”

The change in mindset is part of how HUD officials over the last five years have been trying to transform the agency.

HUD continues to face a larger-than-average retirement challenge. The agency says approximately 60 percent of its workforce is eligible to retire.

Downward morale trend

Additionally, HUD faces a bevy of human resources challenges. The annual Best Places to Work survey found HUD came in 25th out of 25 mid-sized agencies. The Partnership for Public Service, which publishes the results based in part on the annual Employee Viewpoint Survey conducted by the Office of Personnel Management, found the agency’s score has dropped by 16 points since 2005 to 44.3.

In 2014, however, HUD did see an increase of 1.10 points.

HUD’s biggest problems, according to the survey, are around the extent to which employees feel empowered to work processes and how satisfied they are with their involvement in decisions that affect their work, and the level of respect employees have for senior leaders, satisfaction with the amount of information provided by management and perceptions about senior leaders’ honesty, integrity and ability to motivate employees.

Anderson said agency senior officials fully understand employee concerns and HUD’s struggles. He said the diversity of new hires, which includes veterans, minorities, people with disabilities as well as entry-, mid- and senior-level employees will help transform HUD’s culture.

“The diversity is a double-edged sword,” he said. “You can have it, but if you can’t leverage it, it shows pretty easily because people tend to clan quite easily. We did not rest on our laurels from a composition perspective. We have continued to look for diverse candidates of all types beyond race and gender, and we feel good about it and the new hires will reflect that,” Anderson said. “The other side of the diversity piece is inclusion, how you allow people to be self-expressive, avoid intimidation and how you enable and empower people to work together. That’s work to be done and clearly the EVS scores reflect there is work to be done.”

Remove barriers to job excitement

Anderson said HUD has stood up an employee engagement center as part of its work under the President’s Management Agenda.

“It’s not complicated in terms of what you need to do to cause people to feel good about their experience,” he said. “We understand that and we will embrace that and will be focusing on how we will have a more inclusive environment where employees feel more ownership of their experiences as well.”

He said the engagement center will enable two-way communication between employees and management.

“We have created a concept of innovation time at HUD. We will expand that to more areas of HUD. We want to make it easier for employees to move from job-to-job. It hasn’t been as easy as we’d like it to be. We have a rotational program as well as some other programs in the works that will allow folks to move about more easily. We will allow folks to work on projects they are excited about,” Anderson said. “The engagement center really will be focused on removing the barriers that stop people from being excited about their work.”

Despite the poor scores and an inhospitable impression of the federal government, HUD didn’t have any trouble attracting job seekers to fill those 1,000 jobs. Towanda Brooks, HUD’s deputy CHCO, said the agency received more than 121,000 applications, including 75,000 from minorities and 8,000 from people with disabilities.

Brooks said part of how HUD reached a wide variety of potential employees is through a new tool, called CareerConnector, that it rolled out in 2014 from the Treasury Department.

Treasury’s HR Connect program office created CareerConnector as an online hiring system that automatically rates applicants and places them in value categories.

“Since we implemented CareerConnector as a tool for us, we are able to get a lot more analytics out of the system,” Brooks said. “We had a goal of 18.3 percent for veteran hires, and we are over 19 percent for veteran hires. We are over for a lot of our percentages. We are very proud of that and I think we are doing a great job. It’s not perfect, but we are looking at every step and trying to make sure we are efficient, collaborative and getting it done the right way.”

The other major issue or challenge HUD addressed was how to vet the potential hires quickly and effectively. Brooks said on average it took 72 days to bring on new employees, and most of the time the suitability approval process can take more than half of that time.

Two-day training session

Brooks said HUD didn’t sacrifice quality for speed. Instead, the agency worked closely with OPM and the FBI to ensure the adjudication process is done correctly.

“We have authorized overtime so our employees are spending extra time to get the work done,” she said. “One of the things we have streamlined is people coming from other federal agencies. It takes about the same amount of time that someone from the outside. We’ve looked at that adjudication process and actually streamlined that a bit more.”

Brooks said for the most part HUD employees do not need a top secret or higher clearance.

Once the employees were on board, HUD then had to figure out the best approach to training them — both on the administrative requirements such as timecards or how to enroll and manage their Thrift Savings Plans and around their specific mission requirements.

Anderson said HUD used some of the money from Congress for that initial training program.

“Beyond human capital, we reached out to the other program offices and created a cross-sectional team for onboarding,” he said. “We’re implementing that plan right now to make sure that the people we bring on board are not only are successful in the first week, but we will pay attention to them through the first six months, and through the first year.”

Brooks added HUD also expanded the new employee orientation to two days in order to ensure all questions get answered about leave, benefits, pay and other administrative functions.


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