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Transforming the Government Human Resources Office

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

By Bill Brantley
February 12, 2018

In 2017, the International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA-HR) concluded an intense study of public sector human resources management. IPMA-HR performed the study because government human resource departments need to move from being transactional to transforming the agencies they serve. According to the report, “many public HR departments lack the support, exposure, and resources to make the transition from transactional to transformational.” The IPMA-HR argues if government tries to better the lives of citizens, then government agencies need an engaged, innovative, ethical, efficient and effective workforce.

IPMA-HR created a framework to help agencies achieve transformational public sector human resources management. The framework starts with three critical lenses: business acumen, innovation and strategic orientation. Supporting the three lenses are five focus areas: leadership, culture, talent, communication and technology. By working on the five focus areas, agency human resources department will improve their business acumen, increase innovation and work more effectively with the agency’s strategic mission.

The three lenses and five areas of focus work together to create a holistic framework for planning, communicating and implementing HR services that will meet the strategic and tactical needs of the organization. The framework is scalable and relevant to all sizes of HR organizations.”

The Three Lenses

The first lens is business acumen which “is the ability to see the organization with an executive-level mentality.” Traditionally, human resources professionals have been the “rules cops” who are only interested in the narrow enforcement of human resources policies. To become a transformational human resources department, the human resources professionals must develop a strategic view of the agency’s mission and how to fashion human resources policies to help the agency fulfill its mission.

The second lens is innovation. Most organizations do not view the human resources department as an innovation leader. However, the human resource department has a “unique and comprehensive view of the organization and as such can assist in finding efficiencies and other opportunities to streamline operations and deliver services more effectively.” The key is to develop the human resources department’s business acumen and to build the strategic orientation lens.

The final lens, strategic orientation, calls for the human resources department to shift from being transactional to consultative. Strategic orientation is defined as the ability to “broadly assess the environment, develop an understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the organization, and craft a pathway from the current state to the future state.” The common theme of all three lenses is the ability of the human resources department to expand its perspective beyond purely human resources management concerns to the entire organization’s concerns. Next, the five focus areas that support the three lenses.

The Five Focus Areas

Leadership, regarding the report, means the systemic leadership approach. The human resources leader links human resources management with the broader agency strategic and mission concerns. In the last ten years, there have been many articles about human resources management gaining a seat at the senior management table. According to the IPMA-HR report, the best way to gain that seat is to practice the three lenses.

Closely related to the leadership focus area are the two focus areas: culture and talent. For culture, the human resources department builds a positive organizational culture through three core interdependent values. First is “caring” which support the employees’ well-being. The second value is “learning” which means an increased focus on employee development. The third value, “innovation,” connects back to the second lens. As seen by the three culture values, there is an increased focus on valuing and developing the agency’s talent. The goal of the talent focus area is to rebrand government as the employer of choice.

“Technology is a key driver in creating potential opportunities and success as HR prepares organizations to deliver services and respond to the challenges of the future.” The report describes several ways that technology can support the transformational capabilities of the human resources department. For example, the agency can use a human resource information system (HRIS) to deliver accurate and real-time workforce data to aid in strategic planning. Human resources departments can also use customer relationship management to understand their customers better.

The final focus area is communication. Communication is probably the most effective tool of the agency’s human resources department — If used properly. Good communication helps the human resource department build an effective employer brand to attract new talent. Then, communication is used to increase employee engagement help employees develop their potential. Finally, communication from agency employees on the social networks helps to educate and engage citizens.

Transforming the Government Agency Starts with Transforming the Human Resources Departments

“It has been clear for some time that the Human Resources function can no longer afford to be purely transactional. Many public sector HR departments lack the support, exposure, and resources to make the transition from transactional to transformational.” IPMA-HR’s three lenses and five focus areas provide the path forward for agency human resources departments to transform themselves and their agencies.


Author: Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Maryland (College Park) and the University of Louisville. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of his employers. You can reach him at http://billbrantley.com.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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