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STAR TREKING Public Workforce Management

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Marvin Pichla
December 12, 2017

In this age of extreme technological advancement and change-by-the-second, it is highly appropriate to take a strategic look at public sector workforce management. Today more than ever before, the public sector would be wise to consider the annual “retooling” steps taken by the automobile industry to prepare itself for offering the best products possible for the upcoming year. Granted this form of staying modern would be a very challenging concept. However, without undergoing a top-to-bottom annual retooling initiative, there is every possibility the public service workforce and its management priorities will always be somewhat obsolete and, more importantly, ineffective and inefficient going forward. Therefore, the goal of this STAR TREKING Public Workforce Management article is to first review the sources of management drivers and then offer options and opportunities which may better prepare the system for modern-day challenges.

Let’s begin our plan to “go where no person has gone before” and consider the major source of guidance for public sector workforce management: Federal/State/Regional/Local legislation and policy. Too often the planning and development opportunities for growing public sector management leadership looks past the direct impacts realized within grant/program rules and regulations. The traditional wording and policy issuance designs very much serve as learning instructions to those in public sector management positions. The result are job descriptions, policy manuals and performance evaluations which address primarily “what has been done”…instead of encouraging a focus on “what else can be!” Finally, consider how often in the narrative of an old or new piece of legislation do you find terms like focus on creativity, pilot test new service options, expand the customer base beyond the traditional groups and/or innovative demonstration activities will be fiscally rewarded? Can they be found?

If one reviews the legislation that drives federal employment services/workforce development programming, one could argue the majority of the legislation has not changed in forty years. Think about it. The target groups have been low-income citizens and laid-off workers. The policies have enforced traditional services that are delivered to those most-in-need and the disadvantaged. These legislative targets were appropriate when the economy was challenged and applicable legislative guidance was inserted for those in public sector management roles. But what adjustment options are offered when the economy is good? What forms of workforce management leadership directives are available to those legislatively “handcuffed” in a poverty program arena and not allowed to possibly diversify into a service deliverer in the economic development field? Has retooling ever been considered?

As we continue our STAR TREKING Public Workforce Management exploration journey, also think about the service delivery difficulties realized by the extreme advancement of technology. There is no current piece of legislation which can adequately or appropriately adapt to the unexpected consequences (both good and bad) of what the latest “App” can create. As a result, management in the field of public administration is always at a critical disadvantage. Whether the responsibility is budgeting, performance, employee motivation, customer service, service diversity or partnership building, the voids created via operating in a history-burdened, technology-light legislative rulebook severely hinders 21st century public workforce management.

Our STAR TREKING Public Workforce Management retooling idea has now reached an unique crossroad. Although it would be very difficult to craft new legislation and perhaps amend current laws to acknowledge trend-based transformative components, adaptability and flexibility must be built into all areas of legislation to promote change and innovation as policy. Introducing Trend-Based Legislation that contains exclusive wording to enable funding, programs and/or services to be adaptable and flexible to evolving public sector situations would be a timely answer. The result would be fluid public policy which self-corrects to the times, and thereby enables a managing public workforce to respond most progressively.

Introducing Trend-Based Legislation as THE law-building standard would be a tremendous step forward in “future-izing” public workforce management. Trend-based adaptability and flexibility components written into all forms of public service legislation could include but not be limited to:

1. Sliding-scale client eligibility levels

Sliding-scale client eligibility level legislation would allow program delivery agents to exercise data-based service shifts based on current (and projected trends), thereby expanding program customer-bases.

2. Innovation-First designs

Innovation-First legislative components would allow for unique projects to be introduced and operationalized without seeking special authorization.

3. Counting Differently

Trend-based program performance measurements would allow for adaptations and flexibility based on changes in the economy, clients to be served and new-age expectations.

STAR TREKING Public Workforce Management through taking annual retooling action is critical for workers currently in the field of public administration and those considering occupations in this area. A major initiative in the retooling effort would be formulating Trend-Based Legislation. By future-focusing policy and rulemaking at all legislative levels, the outcome would be a system designed for and self-encouraging of continuous improvement EVERYDAY.

Author: Marvin N. Pichla, Ph.D., is the owner and creative adviser of Inspiring Innovations, Inc. Sharing his unique entrepreneurship and innovation in public service experience, Marv consults with public and private business, education and community organizations to develop new and different problem-solving methods through real-life, example-based learning. Email: [email protected], @TRIPLEIIITIME 

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