Key Issues > Best Practices and Leading Practices in Human Capital Management
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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.

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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

Agencies should:

  • 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.

Workforce Training

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

Agencies should:

  • 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

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

Agencies should:

  • 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

Agencies should:

  • 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

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

Agencies should:

  • 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.
Looking for our recommendations? Click on any report to find each associated recommendation and its current implementation status.

Human Capital:

Transforming Federal Recruiting and Hiring Efforts
GAO-08-762T:
Published: May 8, 2008. Publicly Released: May 8, 2008.

Diversity Management:

Expert-Identified Leading Practices and Agency Examples
GAO-05-90:
Published: Jan 14, 2005. Publicly Released: Feb 4, 2005.

Human Capital:

Human Capital:

Key Principles for Effective Strategic Workforce Planning
GAO-04-39:
Published: Dec 11, 2003. Publicly Released: Dec 11, 2003.

Results-Oriented Cultures:

Creating a Clear Linkage between Individual Performance and Organizational Success
GAO-03-488:
Published: Mar 14, 2003. Publicly Released: Apr 4, 2003.

More Reports

Federal Workforce:

Human Capital Management Challenges and the Path to Reform
GAO-14-723T:
Published: Jul 15, 2014. Publicly Released: Jul 15, 2014.

Human Capital:

DOD Should Fully Develop Its Civilian Strategic Workforce Plan to Aid Decision Makers
GAO-14-565:
Published: Jul 9, 2014. Publicly Released: Jul 9, 2014.

Information Technology:

Human Capital:

Strategies to Help Agencies Meet Their Missions in an Era of Highly Constrained Resources
GAO-14-168:
Published: May 7, 2014. Publicly Released: Jun 6, 2014.

Oil and Gas Management:

Continued Attention to Interior's Human Capital Challenges Is Needed
GAO-14-394T:
Published: Feb 27, 2014. Publicly Released: Feb 27, 2014.

Human Capital:

Agencies Should More Fully Evaluate the Costs and Benefits of Executive Training
GAO-14-132:
Published: Jan 31, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 4, 2014.

Oil and Gas:

Interior Has Begun to Address Hiring and Retention Challenges but Needs to Do More
GAO-14-205:
Published: Jan 31, 2014. Publicly Released: Feb 19, 2014.

Rail Safety:

Improved Human Capital Planning Could Address Emerging Safety Oversight Challenges
GAO-14-85:
Published: Dec 9, 2013. Publicly Released: Dec 9, 2013.

Human Capital:

Opportunities Exist to Further Improve DOD's Methodology for Estimating the Costs of Its Workforces
GAO-13-792:
Published: Sep 25, 2013. Publicly Released: Sep 25, 2013.

Community Policing Hiring Grants:

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