It's not an insurmountable problem.
As I walk the halls of many agencies the two biggest complaints I hear are: “It takes too long to hire people” and “I can’t get top talent.”
In fact, these have been the two biggest complaints for many, many years. In most agencies, it takes well over 100 days to hire someone in a new position and replacement positions are worse.
The average cost to hire in the private sector is about $4,000 and 42 days. The government cost is a bit harder to gauge but it appears to be more than $10,000, though some agencies numbers can be as high as $25,000 to $40,000. It’s an absurd use of taxpayer dollars for the return if you ask me.
It really is time to stop complaining and fix it. Great minds within and outside of government could—within a matter of days or weeks—design an effective hiring process that meets merit system principles, allows for certain unique requirements, and dramatically improves talent acquisition. It’s a matter of eliminating nonvalue-added activity, adding innovative and simpler techniques, and creating robust capacity through process, well-trained staff and technology. The problem is owned by both hiring managers and the human resources function and should be addressed that way.
Things That Get in the Way
The process of identifying a need, job analysis, classification, announcements, resume ranking, written responses, panels, interviews, certifications, category ratings, selections, selection justifications, preferences, justifications for candidates that were not considered further, background investigations, and more has not resulted in improved hiring. The processing time alone for all of this is arduous and yet it has not proven to be able to always hire top candidates.
It’s logical to expect that a position that requires a security or medical clearance process would take longer but many other steps don’t make sense.
Most hires in government are refilling a vacant position. Agencies often won’t begin the hiring process until after an employee leaves the position, which results in the replacement having a significant ramp up and backlogged workload being thrust on others.
Most agencies feel a need to reclassify every position even if nothing is changing. Classification is the process of comparing performance requirements (based on a job description) and making sure it is assigned the right grade/pay level. This is a significant bottleneck that I have seen take weeks or months to complete.
Applicants often must write lengthy responses to questions that are so generic they don’t apply to the position and have to be reviewed and “scored.” These questions are often linked to an occupational series, not the specifics of a job. For example, I recently saw a 343 Program Analyst position in a CFO office. It was a data analyst position, yet they were being asked repeated project management questions that did not apply to the role.
Applicants, depending on level, need to go through written reviews, panels, interviews, justifications/certifications and more. This is not only burdensome for the applicant, but it is also burdensome for the government and again does not appear to guarantee a top hire.
How to Fix it
Conduct a process re-engineering effort on hiring while ensuring merit principles are met. Be honest: Eliminate all actions that add effort but do not result in higher quality candidates and increase administrative burden with no benefit.
Reduce classification actions. Classify by exception, not by rule. Every position description does not need to be reviewed and classified each time. If there are no changes or just minor tweaks, accept it and move on.
Implement a recruitment and selection process that makes sense for the position. For most positions that means a job announcement, resume review, interviews of top candidates by multiple people, down select, and perhaps some submission of their qualifications such as writing samples, analytical samples, or even an oral exercise of one or two final candidates such as a presentation or role play. Then a selection, negotiations and hiring. All steps should be transparently done, consistent with merit principles or hiring preferences, conducting background investigations as appropriate, and signed off on by the hiring authority.
Eliminate generic and often meaningless occupational series-based writings and standard question responses. Assessment centers can be valuable for critical positions if they are role-based, not series-based.
Measure differently. While hiring time can be reduced dramatically, it may never be the same as the private sector. However, it is important to measure the quality of the hire and hiring time as appropriate. Quality of hire can be measured through feedback given to the staffing organization at the 90-day review period or through the performance appraisal process. Hiring time must take into consideration a better re-engineering process. Measurements should be separated for typical hires, hard-to-fill, those requiring extra steps such as clearance, etc. This provides a truer look at actual hiring time.
Create prequalified pools for large job population hires. For example, if the Corp of Engineers knows historically that it hires approximately 280 civil engineers each year, then recruit and create a pre-cleared pool of applicants that are ready to go. Don’t wait for a hiring request.
Hiring managers should begin a hiring action before the incumbent exits. This will speed up the process, allows for continuity of performance, and perhaps a little bit of overlap for proper role onboarding.
These are just a few ideas. The point is that this is not rocket science and it can be fixed. It just needs a few great minds who are honest brokers, a process to ensure validity, fair treatment, legality and people willing to be a bit uncomfortable with changing a parochial process. I am ready, are you?
Steve Goodrich is the CEO of the Center for Organizational Excellence and author of "Transforming Government from Congress to the Cubicle." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.