Questioning why a practice is done — or why another isn’t — is a common practice inside the government, the MSPB has said, but in carrying out such change “there’s no substitute for critical thinking and hard work.”
A new publication gives as an example allowing job seekers to submit resumes rather than fill out a standard application form, a change that often was suggested and ultimately was carried out. But that “may have done less to revolutionize federal hiring—in ease of application, time to hire, or quality of hire—than proponents might have hoped. Observers of federal HR can easily think of other reforms that seem to have underperformed,” it said.
It recommended that those wanting to become change agents (in its words):
“Look broadly and closely. Be wary of assuming that all organizations use a particular practice. They might not. The idea behind strategic HR management is that policies and practices are aligned with an organization’s goals and workforce—think tailored rather than “one size fits all.” Seek information on how well the practice really works and what makes that practice work. Using the example of résumés as employment applications—what happens next? How are applicants screened and referred? How free are the HR specialists and hiring managers to decide which résumés to review? What competencies are assessed, and what assessments are used?
“Think it through. If the change still looks promising, consider how it would work in the Federal space. Is it compatible with existing policies and business processes, or must those change too? What are the effects on stakeholders such as employees, managers, citizens, and contractors? To what extent is the change technical, cultural, or both? Changing minds isn’t enough if a change in policy is needed. The reverse holds too. For example, OPM guidance has clearly stated for some time that subject matter experts (SMEs) can play a substantive role in screening candidates. But the belief that SMEs cannot or should not be involved at that stage has proved remarkably persistent in some organizations.
“Start small and experiment. It may be impossible to anticipate every obstacle or persuade every stakeholder. Piloting a change on a small scale, with collaborators who are open to change and prepared to learn from failure, may be the best (or only) way forward. The hiring changes piloted by the U.S. Digital Service that we highlighted in our January 2020 Issues of Merit are excellent examples. The proponents did not attempt a “big bang” reform of federal hiring in all agencies or for all occupations. Instead, they focused on a local problem and arrived at local solutions that could be applicable in many corners of government.
“Stay around and persist. Almost any change will encounter resistance or setbacks. That doesn’t mean that one should simply resign oneself to working harder rather than smarter. But it does suggest that an advocate of change should remain engaged after the change is announced. That way, the advocate can see what happens and help work through the issues that arise.”