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Making Broadbanding Work in State Government

In the late 1990s, Georgia implemented state civil service reforms aimed at improving government efficiency and effectiveness. In 2001, Florida implemented similar reforms. Both Georgia and Florida’s reforms were considered revolutionary at the time and employed several tools including broadbanding to improve government efficiency. By 2012, less than one-third of states wholly or partially implemented broadbanding. This begs the question why broadbanding, promoted as a tool to help improve government, is not more widely used.

Georgia and Florida implemented these reforms in response to increased pressure to create more responsive, efficient and effective state governments. Today, the challenge continues to find the best method or mix of methods to improve state government services, and maximize outputs while facing pressure from decreasing revenues and resources in the current economic downturn. Politicians, acting as stewards of citizens’ tax dollars, want more bang for the buck. Managers desire more flexibility in hiring, rewarding and retaining quality employees. In response, state governments have been bucking the trend of traditional civil service systems hoping to break away from a rigid and slow human resource environment. The goal is to create a more competitive and flexible state government to hire and retain the quality employees needed to support a more responsive, efficient and effective state government.

Among several human resource reform methods, broadbanding can still potentially deliver on the promise of a more responsive, efficient and effective state government. Broadbanding is a system that groups similar jobs with similar skills along with their associated salaries into larger pay groups. Unfortunately, challenges with implementation have not allowed broadbanding to show its true value. The good news is models do exist to provide learning opportunities in broadband implementation. For instance, the state government of Wisconsin is considered a model of broadbanding which can be looked to for best practices. Wisconsin employed in-depth collaboration and ensured adequate funding for pay for performance to help make their broadband program a success. From the success in Wisconsin and struggles in other states, a list of challenges and best practices can be created to assist future broadband planners to develop sound strategies and avoid the pitfalls that doomed broadbanding programs in the past.

To date, only 15 states have implemented broadbanding either fully or partially. Research focused on some of these states has discovered some common challenges. These challenges are:

  • Overlooking key stakeholders
  • Lack of funding
  • Inadequate training
  • Exposure to favoritism
  • No clear career path or benchmarks

Broadbanding alone can simplify a job classification system and reduce positions but it does not provide maximum flexibility for managers. The true value of broadbanding occurs when it is combined with a pay-for-performance system and is adequately funded. With this combination, a manager now has the flexibility to hire at competitive wages, reward good job performance and retain valuable employees. For example, the state of Wisconsin tied pay for performance to the broadband program and ensured adequate funding. By 2002, Wisconsin experienced a drop in turnover rate in their information technology staff from 20 percent to 3 percent, and 96 percent of state agency managers agreed that broadbanding did improve the recruiting and retaining of qualified employees. This is the true potential of broadbanding but many of the 15 states have not experienced these results.

Many of these states suffered from a lack of funding, leaving their broadbanding programs empty and managers with no more flexibility than before. Broadbanding also opened the potential for managerial abuses leaving employees skeptical of the system and worried about favoritism. The concern with favoritism is the possibility of managers only hiring, rewarding and retaining employees who share their similar political ideals. Employees can also be exposed to pressure to treat citizens of a certain political party affiliations in a particular manner. This erodes the merit principle of political neutrality in the state government workplace. Another issue that has stifled some states’ programs is not including employees in the development of the broadband program, which exacerbated skepticism especially by excluded unions who were resistant to implementation. In some states, managers and employees were not well trained on their broadband systems, did not understand them and were not willing to work with the systems. Some broadband programs did not have career paths or benchmarks, which made it difficult for employees to determine what they needed to do to progress in their career development. Additionally, managers did not know how to measure that progress. Unless these previous challenges are addressed, broadband success will be mitigated.

Based on the difficulty some states experienced with broadbanding and pointing to Wisconsin as one of the more successful states, best practices can be devised to assist future states in implementation. A list of best practices can be created from the research on these states and are listed as:

  • Collaborative planning must include employees and unions (where applicable)
  • Allocate funding for implementation costs and pay bands
  • Provide management and employee training
  • Develop mechanisms to address favoritism issues
  • Create clear career paths and benchmarks

Collaboration is an important element which can facilitate broadband implementation. When employees are part of the planning team along with other stakeholders it allows for a transparent process. Employee participation encourages buy in and creates potential champions for transition. The planning team also should consider including unions, especially in states where unions posses collective bargaining powers. Unions can help pave the way to easier implementation. In addition, planners should seek adequate funding to maximize the goals of broadband programs. This allows managers maximum flexibility to hire, reward and retain quality employees. Planners should also consider adequate training for managers and employees to maximize broadband utilization. Managers need to understand how to use the formulas to determine employee performance and employees must be able to clearly see career paths and benchmarks to establish career goals. To ease concerns regarding favoritism and abuses of the broadband program, planners should consider establishing mechanisms to address these issues. In the state of Oklahoma, for example, a human resources committee recommended creating a statute to make political favoritism illegal in the hiring and firing of state employees.

Without developing strategies to navigate the challenges of implementation, broadbanding will fall short of its intended goals of creating managerial flexibility and a competitive environment to hire, reward and retain highly qualified public service employees in state government. Only 16 states have implemented broadbanding either fully or partially with several others opting for other methods to manage their job classification and pay systems. Interest and support for broadbanding has lacked over the years as research and reports show the challenges that occur in planning and implementation. The concept of broadbanding itself has potential and can deliver on the promises of managerial flexibility and a more responsive, efficient and effective government if given a fair shot. Understanding the challenges of implementation and utilizing best practices outlined in this article, can assist a state government to successfully achieve the goals set forth by broadbanding.


Author: Robert Soria is a student in the MPA program at the University of Kansas, School of Public Affairs and Administration.


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