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The Federal Coach

Federal hiring transparency: A workforce of Brownies?

"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job!" No one has epitomized government favoritism and incompetence in the minds of the public like former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown, and his handling of Hurricane Katrina.

While the appointment of Brown is often held up as an example of an unqualified and unprepared individual running a crucial agency, a strong majority of federal workers are questioning the competence of colleagues who are advancing up the ranks.

According to a report released earlier this year by the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), 72 percent of federal employees surveyed believe that government promotions were based on favoritism more than competence. MSPB is promising more answers about the source of employees' perceptions -- whether they stem from flawed practices or a lack of transparency.

In the meantime, I would put my money on the source being an information vacuum.

The term "transparency" gets thrown around a lot these days as it relates to government performance and results. However, it's just as important that you make your decisions around promotions as clear as possible to avoid having misperceptions becoming the reality for your workforce.

Here are three questions to ask yourself about your approach - well before you make another promotion:

Have you communicated with your employees about their performance and their potential? You're partly to blame if your employees have delusions of grandeur. You need to keep your folks positive and motivated, but you also need to hold regular, honest conversations with each member of your team about their performance and opportunities for promotion. If you're not talking regularly, they may be developing a different set of expectations about their future than you.

Have you shared the requirements for a promotion to a new job and encouraged your employees to apply? You've put out a position description and vacancy announcement. You're not hiding anything. Why don't people understand what you're looking for? Chances are, your employees haven't read the documents or they've gotten lost in a sea of government gobbledygook. Take the time to meet with your team and outline the job requirements for any position that would be a promotion for them. Afterward, confirm their understanding and invite them to approach you individually if they're interested in being considered.

When you promoted someone, did you share why? Once you've made a decision to promote someone, it's worth communicating the decision to folks as well as the reasons behind it. You should tie the person's skills and experience back to the job requirements so that everyone is clear that the decision is fair and consistent with the government's merit principles.

I get it. You're pulled in multiple directions on any given day -- during any given hour -- and you need to make choices about what you can and cannot do. But if you choose to avoid these conversations, you'll feel the results immediately, in morale, turnover and productivity. On the other hand, making the time to talk with your employees, both one-on-one and as a group, will pay dividends on a daily basis.

Feel free to share your own stories about a promotion gone right or wrong. Perhaps you can offer other ideas or ask questions about this topic by sending an email to fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

Otherwise, please check back on Wednesday, when I interview U.S. Secretary of Labor
Hilda L. Solis.

By Tom Fox

 |  June 21, 2010; 9:38 AM ET |  Category:  Getting Ahead Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Career paths from state to federal | Next: Hilda Solis: 'I like to ask questions'


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The fact that 72% of feds believe they cannot be promoted on their merits is a national disgrace. And rather than fix the underlying problems, OPM was too busy concocting elaborate evaluation schemes such as NSPS and DCIPS (for the DoD Intelligence Community). Both failed utterly; NSPS was legislated out and its evil twin is about to go the same route. I can speak confidently about hiring/promotion practices in the DoD, but not for the rest of the Executive Branch agencies. I personally observed numerous instances of cronyism and the "good ole' boy" network. SecDef can turn a blind eye, but there is still a pervasive anti-female bias within the Department. It's the military mentality, after all. Transparency? Consult with your employees? Not on their watch! They're really, really good at doing end-runs around HR. If their bud Billy Bob is retiring from the army or whatever, they'll cook the books to make it look like Billy walks on water. Damn the HR, full speed ahead!

Posted by: RetiredFed2 | June 22, 2010 4:34 PM

Hey submarinerssn774,

You have a lot of nerve. I do get the job done but I also follow the rules. For your information, if this organization's history shows only those who are of a certain race, religion and color who brown nose & snitch get promoted, what am I to think? And for your information, I have always gotten very high ratings & am considered the agency expert in my field.

Didn't your mother teach you that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all? Besides, I'm the wrong gender to be a boyscout.

Posted by: Arggg | June 22, 2010 3:42 PM

I'm also employed with USDA and it is ABSOLUTELY based on FAVORITISM!!! I've worked with other agencies.... but this is ridiculous!!! Why aren't people being paid based on their level of responsibility and skill set? It's sad...

Posted by: amarie68 | June 22, 2010 1:04 PM

Hey Arggg, if the reasons unstated, then how do you know? i to am a Fed of 20+ years but you sound like a whiner. first you try to transfer out, then you wawa about being the wrong race, religion and color or not brown noseing or snitching. i'll bet you're a boy scout who follows the rule book and deosn't kick a$$ to get the job done no matter what.

Posted by: submarinerssn774 | June 22, 2010 12:41 PM

Unions are not part of the problem, they are part of the solution. I am not sure why some want to blame unions or bosses for the ills of our Government. We the people are our government. Featherbedding doesn't help anyone! Poor service doesn't help anyone. We should all take responsibility for doing the best job that we possibly can and encouraging others to do the same. We are all working to continually improve at the job that we are assigned. I have yet to met a boss, manager, or employee that did not want to do a good job. Communication is the key. We sometimes develop mismatched expectations that lead to conflict that leads to poor productivity (based on disgruntlement, demoralization, and the sense of a lack of empowerment). Effectively organized motivated employees that take responsibility for their actions, participating in unions can help overcome these communication issues and improve work quality and productivity.

Posted by: UnionStewardatDOELocal | June 22, 2010 11:09 AM

Public employee unions are consuming way too much apple pie. While many federal lifers are talented, committed, hard-working professionals, there are way too many more who are featherbedding with the help of unions.

Look at the clunky websites, try to get a live human being on the phone, try to get a live human being on the phone to give you the same information the last human being gave you -- heck, look at the editing of the latest Census worker instructional materials!

We've created a permanent class of bureaucrats in response to the old spoils system. Surely we can do better than this...

Posted by: practica1 | June 22, 2010 10:07 AM

I'm a Fed of 20+ years. I was denied a promotion recently. The stated reason, I had asked for a transfer from my VERY disfunctional office. The unstated reasons are, I am the wrong race, religion and color and I don't brown nose or snitch.

Posted by: Arggg | June 22, 2010 9:18 AM

Fantastic- federal employees are complaining that raises and promotions are based on favoritism rather than merit-72 percent think this is the case- that would be a great election result, no? Look at MMS. Look at Arlington Cemetery. Look at the VA. Look at the fraud in Medicare. They complain until they are faced with the same productivity requirements and benefit contributions as in the private sector- then all-of-a-sudden, they are stimping their feet and complaining that they get a bad rap. Been to the Post Office lately in any mid-size to large city? I am told that there are certain zip codes where if you wish to mail a metter in the covered neighborhoods, even if you live in the adjoining one, add several days, because those zips are the union headquarters and they could not be concerned about moving mail. The notion of experience does not apply when it is not applied. Showing up is not enough. Our government continues to operate on too much cross-purposed paperwork and staffing. Our criminal agencies on all levels should be seamlessly communicating and on one system ofr ID's DNA, etc. Our education system should have taught itself to be efficient for the sake of our children. Metzler will retire from his shamed post at Arlington with benefits that would make the average joe cringe....but the President can't unmake lazy people, he can't know everything that is going on in every corner of the government. Neither can the Department Chiefs. Each employee has got to be responsible, but the system of checks and balances has to support and encourage that system. The current system that makes it excrutiatingly hard to get rid of a lazy or bad worker, has got to be reformed. Change that system and the lazy and inscrupulous will fall away and those who are deserving with step up because they will earn what they receive, fairly.

Posted by: poppysue85 | June 22, 2010 9:17 AM

I'm employed by USDA (and I would be more specific about where) and I can assure you that favoritism is very alive and well. Nearly 100% of the promotions that I've witnessed were based on favoritism, race or gender quotas. It stinks badly.

Posted by: TooManyPeople | June 22, 2010 8:57 AM

I don't think communication is the issue. A large part of the belief is rooted in the increasing practice of a White House appointing 27-year-old political backside-kissers to high level positions. That's no dig at Obama; it's been on the upswing since Clinton, accelerated during Bush, and is at its zenith now. A Federal workforce run by Monica Goodlings and other twenty-somethings resembles a Congress run by its aides. Any wonder the real experienced employees are resentful?

Posted by: gasmonkey | June 22, 2010 8:27 AM

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