Connecting state and local government leaders
Retaining top talent isn’t just about salary. It can also hinge on excitement and boredom.
SAN DIEGO — At many government management association conferences, it’s hard avoid discussions about workforce development. Compared to the private sector, public-sector organizations face big challenges when recruiting and retaining top talent.
That challenge is especially pronounced with information technology jobs. Private-sector employers can often pay top dollar for the tech employees they need—in most cases, state and local government pay grades can’t compete. There’s often more red tape to deal with in the hiring process, too, which doesn’t help matters.
These workforce dynamics have been a regular theme for groups like the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, which is hosting its annual conference in San Diego this week. While budget constraints and complicated job classifications can frustrate the leaders of public-sector organizations, there are some management fundamentals that transcend traditional public-private structural differences.
That includes this observation from Ramona Gomoll, the chief people officer for the Colorado governor’s Office of Information Technology: “If you’re not exciting people in your workplace, they’re not going to stick around.”
With the public sector, that means risking the departures of employees for more stimulating and higher-paying jobs in the private sector.
Gomoll was part of a NASCIO conference session on Monday afternoon about the development of effective leadership skills that allows teams and organizations to flourish, solve problems and support an organization's mission.
For public-sector organizations, a lack of excitement or energy doesn’t always lead to departures but can lead to something worse: Complacency.
“In government, people stay and then they stay forever and they get locked in and they don’t really grow,” Gomoll said, noting that developing skills isn’t a one-time need, it’s something that should be an ongoing process. “From a change management perspective, are we training people to be current?”
Good managers, she said, also empower their teams to lead and solve problems instead of barking orders and unilaterally making decisions for their employees.
When presented with a problem to solve, “it’s amazing what employees will come up with,” Gomoll said. “They’re in the trenches, they know what works and what doesn’t work.”
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.