The first thing you notice about Judith Dawson is her enthusiasm for the acquisition

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1 September 2014 INTEGRATED TALENT MANAGEMENT IN THE ACQUISITION WORKFORCE An Inside Look at the Department of Health and Human Services By Frank McNally and Gloria Frieson The first thing you notice about Judith Dawson is her enthusiasm for the acquisition workforce. At a time when ideas for accelerating the acquisition function are in no short supply, she is distinguishing herself by applying creative solutions through her role as director of the Office of Acquisition Workforce and Strategic Initiatives at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Dawson s talent management initiatives are key components of HHS s acquisition human capital plan and emphasize the development of a workforce that can lead change, drive results, leverage business acumen, and build coalitions. We sat down with Dawson this summer to discuss her vision for integrated talent management within the acquisition workforce. What is integrated talent management? Judith Dawson Director, Office of Acquisition Workforce & Strategic Initiatives, Department of Health and Human Services Integrated talent management expands the scope of learning and development to incorporate strategic imperatives while prioritizing business outcomes. Recognizing that workforce development does not stop and start in the classroom, Dawson s philosophy promotes cross-agency collaboration, development of common goals and shared effort, and the use of data to elevate the capabilities of the federal acquisition workforce. The Heartbeat of an Organization It is clear Dawson holds her people in high regard. Human capital is an organization s greatest asset, and managing that talent takes specific focus and energy. As the workplace adapts to retirement trends and job-changing millennials, managing talent is becoming a strategic initiative for acquisition organizations of the future. During her tenure at HHS, Dawson has created a template for positioning integrated talent management as a strategic initiative by focusing on three pillars: Contents 2014 by ASI Government. All rights reserved.

2 Talent management represents an investment in human capital. Investing in the Acquisition Workforce Assessing and Aligning Talent Development Elevating Talent Management to Strategic Enabler Investing in the acquisition workforce The link between talent development and organizational success is difficult to quantify, but for learning leaders like Dawson, the association is strong. Inside HHS, she has introduced a concept she calls transformational learning to evoke its ability to deliver business outcomes. But as with any new movement, she recognizes that transformational learning faces its own adoption curve. Imagine a bell curve, where individuals meet new challenges with vigor and excitement. Change is slow to take hold initially, but as more people buy-in and become engaged, the challenge is lessened, the change becomes the norm, and the organization is propelled into the future. Learning leaders across government would be wise to adopt elements of Dawson s philosophy within their own organizations, primarily the recognition that talent management represents an investment in human capital. She recognizes that such an investment will be met with resistance in an austere fiscal environment, but believes that as learning is heightened in an organization, business processes reap the benefits, which complements doing more with less. When asked how these benefits can be realized, Dawson offers a ready answer: Target investments with outcomes in mind. In other words, learning leaders should have a clear understanding of how their initiatives will be received by the workforce to maximize the impact on business outcomes. According to Dawson, this requires an understanding of what motivates today s government professional. How do we motivate acquisition professionals during an era where business practices are changing rapidly due to the advancements of technology? There is no canned response to this question, because motivators are going to differ across the generations. Assessment and Alignment One initiative that holds particular promise is Dawson s emphasis on assessing the workforce to collect data that can be used to align learning programs with the needs of individual participants. Keenly aware of how adults learn likely obtained during her progression through the Federal Acquisition Certification process Dawson emphasizes the importance of aligning talent management with individual interests and the demands of the job. Doing so requires a degree of formative assessment, the process by which learning programs are continuously monitored to collect data that can be used to tailor learning Get to Know OAWSI The Office of Acquisition Workforce and Strategic Initiatives (OAWSI s) vision is to be the premier HHS acquisition training entity by incorporating excellence into all phases of workforce development. By establishing learning communities, fostering leading-edge policy and procedure, and offering intuitive training solutions, OAWSI delivers on its mission to train, certify, and professionalize the HHS acquisition workforce. 2 An Inside Look ASI Government September 2014

3 When adults believe their learning programs are more in line with their actual needs, their satisfaction with talent management programs will increase. to individual needs. The outcome of the assessment is a formative learning program that fosters intrinsic motivation and increases return on investment. A key tool in Dawson s formative assessment toolkit is the Assessment Readiness Tool (ART). This tool is currently under development, but when it is complete, the data collected from ART will be used to target learning programs to an individual s unique development needs. The results, which would demonstrate individual competency across a range of acquisition techniques, would optimize learning environments by enabling individuals to take only those courses where skill and competency gaps are weakest. With declining budgets for training and development, this will no doubt resonate within the federal acquisition system. Taxpayer dollars could be saved by streamlining the training and development process. More important, when adults believe their learning programs are more in line with their actual needs, their satisfaction with talent management programs will increase. Summarizing the importance of this alignment, Dawson quips, Happy people are productive people. Elevating Talent Management The fundamental traits in Dawson s talent management initiatives emphasize developing a workforce that can lead change, cultivate talent, drive results, demonstrate business acumen, and build coalitions, and these must be a part of early career development. This is why Dawson and her team have successfully launched several new programs for training and developing the acquisition workforce within HHS, all with the goal of positioning learning and development as a strategic enabler (see sidebar on page 4). HHS program manager Ali Pourghassemi leads the HHS mentoring and talent exchange programs, which are rooted in the understanding that collaboration and cross-functional development are keys to positioning talent management as a strategic imperative. The Acquisition Leadership Development Program, led by Michaela Link-Brown, couples technical qualifications with advanced leadership competencies earlier in an acquisition professional s career, which Dawson describes as having the benefit of fostering the concept of gradual grooming versus sink-or-swim grooming. Each integrated talent management program provides individuals with opportunities for training and development that they may not otherwise have. Application is a key element of these programs, according to Dawson, because individuals need the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to lead projects and programs over a period of time and before they assume the role. Increasing the Stickiness of Change To make these programs stick, Dawson and her team emphasize the importance of flexibility. You have to make these programs so flexible and efficient that managers can t say no. So they create opportunities for virtual learning and keep in-person meetings as limited as possible, making the time commitment small but the return on investment high. The use of technology in talent management enhances sharing and collaboration and supports the identification of patterns and relationships within acquisition workforce data that can be used to sustain and improve workforce capabilities. As with all visionaries, Dawson has aspirational goals as well, speaking of avatar learning environments where competency gaps are converted to data points for real time visualization. Imagine an application for developing acquisition professionals where individual metrics are captured in the same manner as health and wellness data, and you get a sense for her capacity for out-of-the-box thinking. And it is clear she has fostered September 2014 An Inside Look ASI Government 3

4 Not only should the [acquisition career manager] role be a dedicated position, it should be professionalized, elevated, and highly regarded. this same visionary ethos within her team. People are looking for change. They are tired of being stuck in a box, says Pourghassemi when describing his programs. Professionalizing the acquisition career manager There are no one-size fits all solutions for integrated talent management, so it is up to learning leaders to determine what works best for their organizations. This is why Dawson advocates for the elevation of the acquisition career manager (ACM) role. According to the Federal Acquisition Institute, ACMs are responsible for ensuring an agency s acquisition workforce meets the requirements of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) Policy Letter and related guidance. The ACM is appointed by the agency chief acquisition officer, but Dawson recognizes that some organizations view the ACM as an ancillary function that is performed in conjunction with other occupations. Not only should the ACM role be a dedicated position, it should be professionalized, elevated, and highly regarded. These individuals are the bonding agents that foster a shared community across the Big A spectrum. ACMs should be seated at the right hand of the head of the contracting activity, Dawson says. Her organization is leading the charge by calling for a career plan to professionalize the position. ACMs need a career path just like any other profession to move them from ancillary clerical duty to strategic enabler and unlock the potential of the entire acquisition workforce, Dawson explains. One component of this envisioned career path is a focus on training and developing mentors through executive coaching and leadership training. We must align the skills and abilities of potential mentors with the needs of their prospective mentees to foster long-term and productive relationships, Dawson notes. One way to accomplish this is the aforementioned Talent Exchange, which she has incorporated not just for contract specialists but for all roles within Big A acquisition, including everyone from program managers to contracting officer representatives. Dawson envisions 120-day rotations within HHS components and potentially into industry as well. To align these rotations with integrated talent management and increase their salience, she suggests that those who complete rotations should earn continuous learning points to qualify them for more diverse and higher level certifications. HHS Programs for Developing the Acquisition Workforce Acquisition Professionals Mentoring Program The mentoring program allows junior staff the opportunity to build relationships and avoid common obstacles by learning from experiences of senior staff. The program supports knowledge transfer and skills enrichment through mentor mentee relationships. Talent Exchange Program (TALEX) TALEX is designed to broaden the skills and experiences of acquisition professionals by exposing them to other staff division and operating division acquisition activities. Acquisition Leadership Development Program The leadership program recruits and grooms professionals to fill key acquisition roles. Leadership development enhances individual skill sets for preparation to advance into these roles, which often carry greater responsibility. See: 4 An Inside Look ASI Government September 2014

5 Dawson s programs accelerate opportunities for individuals to develop skills and abilities before new roles are assumed. A portfolio-based acquisition system Integrated talent management solutions, such as those implemented by Dawson and her team, are designed to support a portfolio-based acquisition system. Similar to category management in private-sector procurement, portfolio-based acquisition organizations prioritize sector knowledge, spend management, and an earlier incorporation of business acumen. Dawson s vision is more functional specification so that acquisition professionals can gain expertise in their contracting portfolio. Combating the sink or swim notion, where newly promoted employees gain access to talent development opportunities once they assume new positions, Dawson s programs accelerate opportunities for individuals to develop skills and abilities before new roles are assumed. With fast-changing workplace dynamics and a government-wide need to develop the next generation of leaders, HHS s integrated talent management solutions are well positioned to support other departmental innovations, such as the HHS IDEA Lab and its Buyer s Club initiative. Dawson s appreciation for talent management as a strategic enabler proves that austerity cannot be an excuse for inactivity. Her execution of ideas provides a great example to other learning leaders wishing to elevate talent management. Her trailblazing efforts and desire to incorporate cross-agency collaboration are proof positive innovation is alive and well in federal workforce development. September 2014 An Inside Look ASI Government 5

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