Introduction: Government's talent factor Enabling the mission of government through its people

Government leaders trying to attract, develop, and retain talent find they have to adapt to a rapidly evolving landscape, where many rules that applied in the traditional workplace no longer work.

A solid budget, a strong technology foundation, political support—all sorts of factors help to determine how well an organization succeeds in its mission. But for most organizations, human capital remains the most important asset. That’s especially true for government.

To generate great ideas and transform them into effective action, government requires talented, well-trained employees who care deeply about achieving the goals of their organizations. It doesn’t matter which side of the political aisle you’re on: Without effective execution (typically performed by career employees), even the most brilliant policy ideas may fail. Those employees doing the execution must feel motivated to do their best, and they have to gain enough from their work—in compensation and personal satisfaction—to want to stay around long enough to see the initiatives through.

Government leaders working to attract, develop, and retain the best talent available are finding that many of the rules that applied in the traditional workplace have changed. Consider some of the new forces that have come into play:

  • The rise of the free-agent worker: Few employees today expect to stick with the same job throughout a career. Talent is currency, and the most valuable workers stand ever ready to trade theirs for higher pay or more rewarding employment.
  • Changing expectations at work: Employees, especially Millennials, value flexibility and abjure bureaucracy and hierarchy. So it follows that many of them are not much inclined to work for government without a different value proposition being offered.
  • The influence of technology: Wireless computing, cloud computing, and other advances have helped to create new models for work, such as talent clouds and crowdsoucing. They have also enabled new ways of working—telecommuting and the mobile office, for instance.
  • The rise of automation: As drones and other unmanned systems start to make their mark in both defense and civilian agencies, these systems will eliminate some traditional jobs and create new ones that require entire new constellations of skills.
  • The emergence of an army of new problem solvers: The advent of a burgeoning new economy where players from across the spectrum of business, government, philanthropy, and social enterprise converge to solve big problems and create public value likely means a radically changed role for many government employees, from problem solver to network integrator.

In this changing environment, leaders face several major questions about the government workforce. For example, what is the future of government work? Given the ongoing changes in the nature and culture of work in society, does it still make sense for government to define jobs within traditional organizational silos? How will new technologies influence the way employees do their jobs? How will the personalized learning movement affect training and development for government employees?

Government executives trying to improve performance in their organizations will have to find new ways to spark positive change. They’ll also need to look inward, determining, for example, what new skills they’ll need to lead their organizations in the digital era.

In addition, the public sector will wrestle with changing workforce demographics. How is the makeup of the workforce changing, and how will that influence the ways in which government recruits, cultivates, motivates, and compensates employees? Will today’s diversity initiatives meet future needs, or will whole new dimensions of diversity, such as diversity of thought, become more important? Finally, what’s happening with older government workers? Has the retirement crisis—the one we’ve been hearing about for years—finally arrived in the public sector?

This collection of studies and articles examines all those questions. It offers a tour of the terrain and outlines changes that government should make in the way it organizes employees, the types of people it recruits, the kind of work employees do, and how they perform that work. To cultivate the next-generation workforce, governments will have to adapt to a rapidly evolving landscape.