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Talent Management Systems Help Governments Manage Their Workforce

Governments are employing tools to help combat the growing numbers of baby boomer retirements and the challenge of attracting a new generation of employees into public service.

by / August 18, 2014
Jim Honchar, deputy secretary for HR, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania centralized its HR system in 2010 to save money and more consistently serve the state's 80,000 employees. Copyright Tolbert Photo

When Henderson, Nev., advertises a job, often hundreds of people apply. And in the days when those applications came on paper, the city had no way to evaluate them all. “We’d have to limit it to the first 150, 200 or 300,” said Bill Howlett, the city’s manager of training and organizational development. So some candidates never got a glance — possibly including individuals with excellent qualifications.

Today, job hunters apply for city jobs online, and an applications management system searches the entire pool for likely candidates. “We’re able to take a lot more applications and filter on the key factors we’re looking for,” Howlett said.

Application management is one of many functions in a category of software devoted to talent management. State and local governments use talent management solutions to help them with activities along the entire human resources continuum, from hiring to retirement.

These systems also help organizations manage documentation connected with those activities, said Adrian Woolcock, managing principal at consulting firm ProSidian, which includes a practice in talent management. “If I take training that is a requirement for promotion, how is that captured?” he asked, by way of example. “How do I know what training is required for me to be promoted or to be in compliance?”

Governments are seeking talent management solutions because of several trends in HR, said Peter Dong, senior associate at ProSidian. One is the need to accomplish more within the constraints of tight budgets; another is the need to comply with an array of government policies focused on HR.

“Mainly on the federal level, but also trickling down to state and local, we’ve seen renewed emphasis on diversity initiatives, for instance, and on being able to track what people are doing, where and when,” Dong said. All this forces government agencies to manage employees in more sophisticated ways and to better document their HR activities.

And, more importantly, these actions are all part of a larger public-sector trend that’s becoming a crucial issue for CIOs and hiring managers. The need for governments to become more sophisticated about how they hire, train and retain employees is driving more interest in talent management systems, and that requirement is due in part to growing numbers of baby boomer retirements and the challenge of attracting a new generation of employees into public service.

According to a survey published in May by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, 49 percent of responding governments saw more employees retire in 2013 than in 2012. And those numbers will continue to increase.

With the looming number of retirements come concerns about losing skilled workers and their institutional knowledge, and in response, agencies are seeking help with succession planning. Governments also are using technology to capture what their senior workers know before they leave. “A lot of places try to put in an institutional or organizational knowledge store,” Dong said.

Those factors are all leading governments to seek better and smarter ways to manage their workforce — an issue no one can ignore for long.

In Henderson, the quest to improve and automate talent management activities started several years ago. Based on a consultant’s recommendation, city officials decided to take a best-of-breed approach, rather than invest in an integrated talent management suite.

To assist with employee training, the HR team chose a learning management system (LMS) from PeopleSoft (now owned by Oracle), the vendor of its enterprise resource planning system. The city chose an applications management system from NEOGOV of El Segundo, Calif., and a performance management system from Halogen Software of Ottawa, Ontario.

The hosted NEOGOV solution not only helps Henderson to better manage incoming applications but also allows job seekers to register interest in specific kinds of future opportunities. “When we open that position, you’ll automatically get an email saying this job is open and you can apply for it,” Howlett said. That improves the chance of hearing from qualified candidates.

The NEOGOV system has helped to shorten the hiring cycle, Howlett said. Also, hiring officials within city agencies have become more involved in the recruiting process, because with electronic applications, it takes less effort to evaluate more candidates. The HR department used to pass along only the top five or so applications. “Now we might give them the top 10 or 15, and they make the decision,” said Howlett.

Henderson implemented Halogen’s cloud-based eAppraisal software for its police and fire departments about five years ago. Leaders in those departments wanted to replace the paper-based performance management processes, which took too long and were difficult to track, Howlett said.

For example, it took several months to complete a police officer’s quarterly review and get signoffs from people in the chain of command. In addition, the paperwork kept getting lost, said Howlett. With the electronic process, a police performance review now takes 45 days and there’s no paper to lose.

The police department also uses the system to document comments from supervisors throughout the year. “That’s automatically shared with the employee, and the employee can rebut it,” Howlett said. “And that’s pulled into the appraisal at the end of the year.”

Having automated those transactions, the police department will soon require supervisors to offer documented feedback at least once per quarter. That practice could help improve officer performance. “They’re going to be able to address issues at the front end, before they become disciplinary,” Howlett said.

Beyond the police and fire departments, Henderson is rolling out eAppraisal for employees represented by the Teamsters union and non-unionized professionals. The city also plans to add an onboarding package for managing newly hired employees and, eventually, a succession planning package.  

For the state of Pennsylvania, talent management was part of a larger strategy to cut down HR costs. The 2008 recession provided the impetus. “We were looking for any and all solutions that would help us not only to save money, but to become more efficient,” said Jim Honchar, Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary for HR.

At the time, each state agency managed HR for its own employees, and the decentralized approach was expensive, Honchar said. It also created inconsistencies, since employees in each department received information from a different HR organization. And if an agency lost an HR expert, it was hard to find a replacement with the necessary knowledge and skills. “It would take you six months to a year to hire someone and bring them up to speed,” he said.

To address those problems, Pennsylvania officials created a consolidated HR center serving all of the state’s 38 agencies and 80,000 employees. The center opened in February 2010, with support from two cloud-based talent management modules from New York City-based Infor.

One of those modules provides a self-service knowledge base, which employees log onto for benefits information. “You can go in and ask, for example, ‘What are my entitlements under our dental plan?’” Honchar said.

The second module, customer relationship management, helps employees in the service center manage transactions with other employees as well as agency-based professionals to enroll someone for benefits, for example, or to correct a payroll error.

In November 2012, Pennsylvania added a third Infor module to address onboarding, the process of bringing new employees into the organization. In the past, an HR representative had to sit with the new hire for one to two days while the employee enrolled in benefit plans and signed forms agreeing to comply with government policies.    

Now, before they even report for work, new hires go online for a virtual orientation. The system explains their benefits and outlines the policies that apply to their jobs. New employees also use the system to enroll for benefits and conduct other necessary transactions, such as completing the federal Employment Eligibility Verification Form.

“Onboarding allows us to take care of all the preliminary things that are normally done during the first week of employment, even before the person sets foot in their job,” Honchar said. “So when the person comes to work on the first day, they’re ready to work.”

 The onboarding system also helps new employees forge an immediate connection with the state, said Kelly Powell Logan, secretary of the Governor’s Office of Administration. “They feel well oriented, and they get a consistent orientation.”

Thanks to the centralized service center and talent management technology, Pennsylvania has eliminated 70 HR positions, Honchar said. “That was a payroll benefit of roughly $3.5 million a year.” Because everyone in the service center receives the same training, there are now far fewer HR errors. And the state has increased its HR “bench strength,” he said. “If someone walks out tomorrow, we have sufficient staff to back them up.”

The onboarding system is saving the state an additional $1 million a year, Logan said.

Pennsylvania also uses SAP’s Learning Solution LMS for employee training and development. In addition, the HR organization is looking for other opportunities to harness technology. “We are looking at performance management, for sure,” Honchar said. “Resources permitting, it’s at the top of our priority list.”   

The Denver Public Library (DPL) turned to talent management software to help improve its extensive staff development program. In January 2013, the DPL implemented the Cornerstone Learning Cloud, a cloud-based learning management system from Cornerstone OnDemand in Santa Monica, Calif.

Employee training has been a vital element of the DPL’s culture since its founding in 1889, said Learning and Development Manager Sandra Smith. “We very much believe that learning is part and parcel of what you need to do to be an excellent staff person.” The library system employs about 650 people, and each of them is required to take at least one or two classes per year.

The DPL’s training programs cover job-specific topics such as database searches, early childhood literacy, the use of e-readers and, for custodians and other trade workers, safety and ergonomics. It also trains employees in soft skills such as management and how to deal with difficult customers.

The library system often uses staff members to teach other employees, and in the past, it delivered most training face to face. It didn’t have enough storage capacity to support much e-learning, Smith said.

The DPL published a quarterly newsletter, both in print and in electronic form, to publicize upcoming classes. To enroll, an employee filled out some paperwork, obtained a supervisor’s signature and then faxed or delivered the paper to complete the registration. “A huge amount of staff time was being taken just to go through the mechanics,” Smith said.

Smith and her team wanted to streamline the process and put more power in employees’ hands. “We wanted them to be able to manage their learning in a very efficient, effective way,” she said.

With the Learning Cloud in place, the DPL now posts new learning opportunities continually and staff sign up for classes online. Logging onto the library system’s myTRACKS (Training Resources and Continuing Knowledge for Staff) system, employees also keep track of which classes they’ve taken and put others on their wish lists for the future. “They use that with their supervisors to manage their skill levels,” Smith said. “The LMS allows us to manage employee development in a much more interactive, one-stop shop.”

The learning management system has also increased Smith’s ability to analyze and plan — determining, for example, which classes are in greatest demand.

Because the Learning Cloud hosts online courses, e-learning now plays a much bigger role at the DPL. “I beg, borrow and steal webinars from all over,” Smith said. The online courses allow employees to learn at their convenience, and employees appreciate the chance to manage their own training schedules.

Before implementing the LMS, the Denver library system offered 100 different “learning objects” — in-person classes, webinars, videos and other opportunities — at any given time, Smith said. “Now we have over 800 learning activities and resources.”

By increasing the number of available classes, and making it easier for staff to take advantage of them, the Learning Cloud has spurred a huge jump in employee training. “From 2012 to 2013, we had a 435 percent increase in attendance,” Smith said.

When resources allow, Smith hopes to implement Cornerstone’s Performance Cloud system. “Learning and performance, of course, are closely tied together in an organization,” Smith said.

And with a wave of baby boomers getting ready to retire, she also hopes one day to implement a succession management system. “What kind of plan do we have for continuing our organizational knowledge?” she asked. “Who are the people who are going to step in and be our leaders? We all have to look at that now.”



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Merrill Douglas Contributing Writer
E.REPUBLIC Platforms & Programs