Best Practices and Leading Practices in Human Capital Management
Federal agencies are facing a range of ongoing and newly emerging risks and challenges driven by fiscal constraints, changing demographics, and the evolving role of the public sector. Agencies are also in the midst of a retirement wave. To help agencies overcome these challenges, GAO has identified leading practices in five key areas of human capital management: (1) Strategic Workforce Planning, (2) Workforce Training, (3) Performance Management, (4) Recruitment and Hiring, and (5) Diversity.
Strategic Workforce Planning
In order for federal agencies to meet 21st century challenges, the federal government must (1) align agencies human capital programs with their current and emerging mission and programmatic goals and (2) develop long-term strategies for acquiring, developing, and retaining staff to achieve programmatic goals. See GAO-04-39
- Involve human resources professionals and key stakeholders in strategic and workforce planning efforts, as well as in any agency-wide restructuring efforts.
- Ensure HR staff have the competencies and resources to proactively partner and consult with line managers.
- Identify external resources, such as contractors, or consult with others, such as Congressional decision-makers, when developing human capital strategies.
- Have a system in place to continually assess and improve human capital planning and investment and assess the system's impact on mission accomplishment, and hold managers accountable for implementing human capital plans and overall human capital management.
- Determine the critical skills and competencies its workforce needs to achieve current and future agency goals and missions and identify gaps, including those that training and development strategies can help address.
- Establish and maintain an inventory of employee skills and competencies; have a process to address skills/competency gaps; and have succession plans for leadership and other critical positions.
- Approach workforce planning strategically, basing decisions on mission needs, customer expectations, workload, and skills and competencies of the workforce. Human capital strategies should avoid excess organizational layers and redundant operations, and maintain a balance between supervisory and non-supervisory positions.
- Have linkages between the strategic workforce plan and the agency's strategic plan.
Training involves developing a strategic approach that establishes training priorities and leverages investment in training to achieve agency results; identifying specific training initiatives that improve individual and agency performance; ensuring the effective and efficient delivery of training opportunities in an environment that supports learning and change; and demonstrating how training efforts contribute to improved performance and results. See GAO-04-546G
- Incorporate the results of its workforce planning efforts into its planning and front-end analysis of training and development strategies.
- Conduct formal analysis to choose between centralized and decentralized management of training programs; between designing training programs internally and using an external source; and among different mixes of training delivery mechanisms (e.g. classroom, computer-based, on the job, etc.).
- Have leaders who communicate the importance of training and encourage employees to participate in training activities.
- Have a training and development unit that is held accountable, along with the line executives, for the enhanced performance of the workforce.
- Use measures of quantitative and qualitative performance data as part of a systematic process to assess the results achieved through training and development efforts. Measures should clearly link to organizational goals.
- Track cost, benefit, delivery, and performance data for training programs consistently across the organization.
Performance Management systems are used to plan work and set individual performance expectations, monitor performance throughout the year through ongoing feedback, develop individuals' capacities to perform, and rate and reward individual performance. In addition, performance management systems can help the organization manage on a day-to-day basis by helping achieve results and accelerate change in the organization. See GAO-03-488
- Align individual performance expectations that identify specific levels of performance or targets with organizational and crosscutting goals.
- Provide and routinely use objective performance information to track progress toward achieving organizational priorities and to compare individuals' performance against organizational goals and other individuals.
- Require and track follow-up actions on performance gaps (e.g. to address organizational priorities and hold individuals responsible for making progress on their priorities).
- Define competencies that individuals need to effectively contribute to organizational results.
- Link pay increases, awards, and bonuses to organizational unit and individual performance, using a performance management system that makes meaningful distinctions in individual performance (e.g. through ratings and/or bonuses).
- Involve employees and other stakeholders in the development, modification, and periodic evaluation of the performance management system.
- Maintain continuity during transitions through a performance management system that reinforces individual leaders' accountability for organizational goals.
- Have safeguards that ensure the transparency or fairness (e.g. independent reasonableness reviews, internal grievance processes) of the performance management system.
Recruitment and Hiring
Recruitment and Hiring involves developing and implementing strategies to advertise positions and attract top candidates; assessing applicants' relative competencies or knowledge, skills, and abilities against job related criteria to identify the most qualified candidates; using a variety of candidate assessment tools, such as interviews, to make a selection; and coordinating the process of bringing a new hire on board. For example, candidate assessment tools include written exams, performance tests, and interviews. Agencies should regularly evaluate this process using performance measurements and feedback instruments and make the necessary adjustments to ensure the organization hires the right people, at the right place, at the right time. See GAO-08-762T
- Develop customized strategies to recruit highly specialized and hard-to-fill positions.
- Use vacancy announcements and Web postings that are clear, user friendly, and comprehensive.
- Have an automated hiring process which uses computerized systems to prescreen, rate, and rank applicants.
- Conduct regular surveys to gauge applicant and hiring manager satisfaction levels with the hiring process and its results.
Diversity Management, in this context, is a process intended to create and maintain a positive work environment where the similarities and differences of individuals are valued, so that all can reach their potential and maximize their contributions to an organization's strategic goals and objectives. A high-performance organization relies on a dynamic workforce with the requisite talents, multidisciplinary knowledge, and up-to-date skills to ensure that it is equipped to accomplish its mission and achieve its goals. Such organizations typically (1) foster a work environment in which people are enabled and motivated to contribute to mission accomplishment and (2) provide both accountability and fairness for all employees. To accomplish these objectives, high performance organizations are inclusive, drawing on the strengths of employees at all levels and of all backgrounds an approach consistent with diversity management. See GAO-05-90
- Develop a diversity strategy and plan in alignment with the organization's strategic plan.
- Use quantitative and qualitative measures to assess the impact of various aspects of an overall diversity program.
- Hold top managers accountable for diversity by linking their performance assessment and compensation to the progress of diversity initiatives.
- Have an ongoing succession planning process for identifying and developing a diverse pool of talent for an organization's potential future leaders.
- Have a recruitment process for attracting a supply of qualified, diverse applicants for employment.
- Involve employees in supporting diversity throughout the organization (e.g. through mentoring programs, advisory groups).
- Provide training in areas such as teambuilding, communications styles, decision making, and conflict resolution to management and staff to educate them and inform them about the benefits and challenges of diversity.
GAO-08-762T: Published: May 8, 2008. Publicly Released: May 8, 2008.
To address the challenges that the nation faces, it will be important for federal agencies to change their cultures and create the institutional capacity to become high-performing organizations. This includes recruiting and retaining a federal workforce able to create, sustain, and thrive in organizations that are flatter, results-oriented, and externally focused. In 2001, GAO identified strategic...
GAO-05-90: Published: Jan 14, 2005. Publicly Released: Feb 4, 2005.
A high-performance organization relies on a dynamic workforce with the requisite talents, multidisciplinary knowledge, and up-to-date skills to ensure that it is equipped to accomplish its mission and achieve its goals. Such organizations typically (1) foster a work environment in which people are enabled and motivated to contribute to mission accomplishment and (2) provide both accountability and...
GAO-04-546G: Published: Mar 1, 2004. Publicly Released: Mar 1, 2004.
This publication supersedes GAO-03-893G, Human Capital: A Guide for Assessing Strategic Training and Development Efforts in the Federal Government (Exposure Draft), July 2003. As part of our ongoing review of agencies' efforts to address their human capital challenges, we saw the need for a framework to serve as a flexible and useful guide in assessing how agencies plan, design, implement, and eva...
GAO-04-39: Published: Dec 11, 2003. Publicly Released: Dec 11, 2003.
The federal government is in a period of profound transition and faces an array of challenges and opportunities to enhance performance, ensure accountability, and position the nation for the future. Effective results-oriented management of the government's most valued resource--its people--is at the heart of this transition. This report is part of a large body of GAO work examining issues in strat...
GAO-03-488: Published: Mar 14, 2003. Publicly Released: Apr 4, 2003.
The federal government is in a period of profound transition and faces an array of challenges and opportunities to enhance performance, ensure accountability, and position the nation for the future. High-performing organizations have found that to successfully transform themselves, they must often fundamentally change their cultures so that they are more results-oriented, customer-focused, and col...
GAO-17-53: Published: Jan 31, 2017. Publicly Released: Jan 31, 2017.
The Air Force and the Army have not fully applied four of the five key principles for effective strategic human capital planning for managing pilots of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) that are important for resolving the Air Force's pilot shortages and the Army's training shortfalls (see table below). Consistent with the first principle, the Air Force involved top senior leaders, UAS pilots, and sta...
GAO-17-30: Published: Dec 23, 2016. Publicly Released: Jan 23, 2017.
The Veterans Health Administration's (VHA) limited human resources (HR) capacity combined with weak internal control practices has undermined VHA's HR operations and its ability to improve delivery of health care services to veterans.Attrition of medical center HR staff increased between fiscal years 2013 and 2015, due to HR staff transferring to other federal agencies. VHA officials note a lack o...
GAO-16-742: Published: Sep 29, 2016. Publicly Released: Oct 31, 2016.
The Department of the Interior has taken steps to resolve its hiring and retention challenges for key staff engaged in oil and gas activities, but it has not evaluated the effectiveness of its efforts and has missed opportunities to collaborate within the department for resolving these challenges. Specifically, Interior has taken steps to address two underlying factors—lower salaries and a lengt...
GAO-16-403: Published: Aug 17, 2016. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 2016.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) performs key information technology (IT)-related functions, such as leadership, strategic planning, systems development and acquisition, and systems operations and maintenance, largely through its centralized Office of Information & Technology (OI&T), led by the Chief Information Officer (CIO). VA's two IT governance boards are intended to play a role in oth...
GAO-16-521: Published: Aug 2, 2016. Publicly Released: Sep 1, 2016.
A hiring authority is the law, executive order, or regulation that allows an agency to hire a person into the federal civil service. Of the 105 hiring authorities used in fiscal year 2014, agencies relied on 20 for 91 percent of the 196,226 new appointments made that year. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) officials said they do not know if agencies rely on a small number of authorities because...
GAO-16-396: Published: May 12, 2016. Publicly Released: May 12, 2016.
The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken steps to coordinate some advertising activities among the military service components, but it has not developed a formal process for coordination. DOD conducts joint market research and service officials responsible for advertising at times share some information about lessons learned. However, there is no formal process for addressing inefficiencies and t...
GAO-16-404: Published: Apr 18, 2016. Publicly Released: Apr 18, 2016.
Military servicemembers' perceive that a stigma exists with seeking mental health care, but little information is known about Department of Defense (DOD) deployed civilian perceptions. GAO's analysis of the most recently available data from a DOD-wide survey found that about 37 percent of active duty servicemembers in 2011 and 39 percent of reservists in the 2010/2011 timeframe responded that they...
GAO-16-384: Published: Mar 24, 2016. Publicly Released: Mar 24, 2016.
The Federal Protective Service (FPS)—which protects about 9,500 federal facilities—developed a Strategic Human Capital Plan ( Plan ) and engaged in related efforts that generally align with most key principles GAO identified for strategic workforce planning. Specifically, FPSsolicited input from key stakeholders, such as its employees and the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD)...
GAO-16-36: Published: Nov 17, 2015. Publicly Released: Nov 17, 2015.
The Army National Guard (ARNG) has taken steps to increase oversight of its recruiting process primarily conducted by recruiters dispersed at the state-level but has not established a permanent program to monitor state-level recruiting activities. In June 2014, the ARNG created a Recruiting Standards Branch that has started to conduct inspections of state offices. The Recruiting Standards branch c...
GAO-15-794: Published: Sep 30, 2015. Publicly Released: Oct 30, 2015.
The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has multiple system-wide initiatives to recruit and retain its nurse workforce, but three of the four VA medical centers in GAO's review faced challenges offering them. VHA identified a number of key initiatives it offers to help medical centers recruit and retain nurses, which focus primarily on providing (1) education...