[IPAC-List] IPAC-List Digest, Vol 3, Issue 23

Mark Hammer Mark.Hammer at psc-cfp.gc.ca
Thu May 13 10:11:10 EDT 2010

Looking at this from Canada, in some respects, it seems that OPM is
moving more in our (federal) direction. Our Public Service Employment
Act, that came into full effect at the beginning of 2006 (well, Dec 31,
2005 to be precise), adopts a different notion of "merit", switching
from relative to individual. So, the appointed individual has to be
demonstrably and defensibly qualified (i.e., there is, and will always
be, a short list of candidates who pass muster), but the selection is
made based on "best fit", rather than top-down use of test-scores.

"Best fit", can include things that we refer to as "asset
qualifications" ("Qualifications that are not essential to perform the
work, but that would benefit the organization or enhance the work to be
performed. Asset qualifications may include experience, education,
knowledge, skills, personal suitability or any other qualification, with
the exception of official language requirements."), "operational
requirements" ("Current or future requirements to ensure that the work
to be performed can be completed. For operations that run 24 hours a
day, shift work might be an example of an operational requirement."),
and organizational needs ("Current or future needs that are not
essential to perform the work but that could enhance the way in which
the organization operates or fulfills its mandate. Organizational needs
could include the consideration of employment equity designated group

So, not quite banding. Not quite what was identified in the White
House memo, either, but the memo was clearly moving more in that
direction by abandoning insistence on rule of 3. I might point out that
while our current law does not require people to go top-down, neither
does it prohibit top-down. And I imagine some managers still take that
approach if they regularly have to hire a slew of people that are not
easily differentiated based on those other factors. I.E., there are
occasions where managers prefer to let the test scores do the heavy
lifting when it comes to selection decisions, and the Act lets them do
that, even if it doesn't encourage it.

A second trend in the memo that seems to be moving more in our
direction is use of what they refer to as "registers", and what we refer
to as "pools". The orthodox approach to the creation of such pools is
that a bunch of managers with common staffing needs get together, and
co-ordinate one poster, with a set of qualifications ("merit criteria")
that apply to all positions that the pool is intended to serve. They
then draw from the pool, once created, as positions come up. Access to
the pool is not restricted to those who were involved in its creation,
though. Hiring managers with positions to fill that require the same
qualifications as entry to the pool are eligible to come along later and
draw from it, though usually there are time limits on how long the pool
is valid for.

Based on several thousand manager comments I've ploughed through, such
pools/registers can work well or not so well, depending on local
practices. Even though, from the manager's perspective, it can be
expedient to simply draw from the pool and fill a position right away,
sometimes it can take a VERY long time to create a pool. I don't know
about your context, but in ours, if there is any extensive security
checking to be done, it can be the case that nobody is able to draw from
the pool until security clearance has been obtained for everybody who is
supposed to be in the pool, and that can take up to an additional year.
You heard me, a year.

As well, there is a tradeoff between the suitability of what's in the
pool and size of pool. In some respects, you would think that a big
pool would be great, but the more types of positions the pool is
intended to serve, the less adequately the qualfications for entry to
the pool match any specific job. Then you get those weird cases. My
wife works in a science-based micro-agency (<50 employees) whose HR
services are provided by a much much larger science-based agency. My
wife's organization is obliged to draw from the pools established by
their service-provider until the pool is empty, and cannot initiate a
unique staffing process until that pool is empty. What ends up is that
they keep hiring people who leave them, because they were hoping for
something in the larger agency, where there is more mobility.

The upshot is that use of registers is not a panacea for fast efficient
and effective staffing. It works well in some contexts (I imagine every
large bureaucracy used to have a "secretarial pool" at some point), but
not in every context, and you need to use good judgment about applying
it as a potential solution.

Which leads us to the third manner in which OPM is moving towards the
Canadian approach: obsession with time-to-staff, and central monitoring
thereof. There is no denying that federal hiring takes a long time, and
many are interested in identifying ways to shorten that time. In early
2007, we received a request from the head of our public service to see
whether staffing was faster under the new law (one of the primary
intents of the revised Act), and unfortunately we have had to disappoint
him consistently since early 2007. The ongoing challenge has been to
distinguish what stems purely from the changes in the law and
regulations, from what is going on in the background at the same time.

Consider...Like everyone else, we cut back our PS in the 90's, and are
now faced with doing a mountain of hiring to compensate for the current
wave of retirements. Some of those retirements are in management and in
HR. So, we have new managers trying to hire with the assistance of
inexperienced HR, and especially an HR cadré that is unbelievably mobile
in the capital region, such that managers regularly report being handed
off to 3, 4, 5 consecutive HR advisors for the same process, none of who
impresses the manager with their knowledge of what should be done, and
all of whom offer contradictory advice, or at least leave the hiring
manager baffled. That the management community has to do a LOT of
hiring only makes that scenario worse, and I am sure contributes to
folks in HR thinking that maybe they could get a better, less stressful,
job in another agency. Use of poorly-managed pools/registers to cope
with the heavy recruitment needs also results in processes taking a
longer time, and we have noted a steady progression from just under a
third of managers telling us they used a pool a few years ago to around
half this past year.

Now, how much of this is a direct outcome of what new laws and
regulations permit? You tell me. There are two-way, three-way, and
6-way interactions in there. Plus, there are sources of slowing that
may well dissipate in a year or two, afer the recruitment blitz dies
down, sources of slowing that will dissipate once the promotion
opportunities for HR settle down and HR staff decides to stay where they
are and learn a little more about their organization, and so on. Not
the sort of thing that legislators anxious to see government hire faster
readily understand in a report brief enough for them to fit in with the
rest of their obligatory reading. Our challenge has been to get a
deeper understanding of the many lasting, and short-term, influences on
time to staff such that the process can be improved in ways which can
work out as well as people hope, and don't elicit costly efforts in the
wrong direction. the adjunct to that challenge is that the efficiencies
to be gained, and the means for gaining them, will NOT be the same for
every kind of job and in every context.

I hope Washington and OPM can avoid all of that heartache, but am
doubtful they will. I'm still honoured and vindicated that they see
some substance in what we are doing here. Plus I'm glad Mitch didn't
wash down the Cumberland. But mostly I'm glad the Habs won last night.
Allons Canadiens, allons.

Mark Hammer

>>> "Mitch Stein" <Mitch.Stein at tn.gov> 5/12/2010 4:46 pm >>>


>>But it does need a competent professional to manage the process.

So the good news is we'll all still have jobs!<<

Not where I am. With budget and staff cutbacks but increasing
workloads and zillions of applications pouring in, the push here has
been to constantly streamline what we do, make it faster, more
efficient, but not necessarily better or more valid. In fact the push
now is that any HR generalist can do examination development.

Oddly, we did anticipate the President by a year on one point. More
than a year ago I had recommended that we start doing a banded or
categorical rating system instead of a typical point based T&E rating
system for some job classes, and I have already converted several job
classes to a two-category method of scoring. This was not done because
it was better or more valid, but out of simple survival because it is
faster and takes less time.

Mitch Stein

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