[IPAC-List] I love it when data tells a story

Mark Hammer Mark.Hammer at psc-cfp.gc.ca
Wed Feb 9 16:51:05 EST 2011

Since I began my job, and probably for ages before I ever got here,
managers have kvetched about how long staffing took. You can imagine
that, as a federal central agency concerned with oversight of the merit
system, we are concerned about the time it takes to staff.

But what slows things down? Lots. People in some quarters have made a
fairly cogent case that effective HR planning would necessarily expedite
things, and assure that managers get the legendary "right people in the
right place at the right time".

I've tried to make the case that while this is probably somewhat true
(better planning is more effective than no planning), there is a whole
stinking big heap of factors that you have precious little control over,
and that effective planning can only partially overcome.

So, with that in mind, a little over a year ago, I decided to ask our
managers in the annual survey (where they tell us about one staffing
process) whether they were filling a brand new position, simply ramping
up capacity in an area, or backfilling a vacancy.

If they were backfilling a vacancy, we asked them how far in advance of
the incumbent's departure they were notified. Not surprisingly,
somewhere around 60% of managers reporting indicated that they has 2
months or less advance warning that the incumbent was leaving. A
significant proportion of those involved less than a month's notice.
T'was ever thus.

We asked those same managers how long the position remained vacant for
before being filled. The working assumption was that the more advance
notice you had, and the less you had to scramble, the greater the
likelihood that the job would not sit idle for very long. As one of our
recently retired directors said to me once, what matters to the average
citizen is not how long the manager had to spend in hiring someone, but
how long the job sits there with no one doing it.

As you might expect, when managers had more advance warning (and often
this would be impending retirements), a much larger share of those
vacancies were filled in a timely manner such that the position was
either never vacant or only vacant for a brief period. Makes perfect
sense, just as it makes sense that when managers were faced with "I've
accepted a position at XX and I start there in 2 weeks. Have a nice
life.", those positions could often sit vacant for months until all the
paperwork was done, the poster posted, candidates assessed, etc.

So far so good.

Last year, I noticed a number of managers who provided comments at the
end of the survey complaining about being shuffled from one HR advisor
to another during the course of the same process, often receiving
contradictory advice about policies, regulations, or optimal strategies.
The record was 6 (!!) consecutive HR people for the same process. I
wondered whether there was something to this or not. It was clear that,
being situated in the capitol, and in the midst of both a wave of boomer
retirements and frenzied "PS renewal", folks working in HR were
extremely mobile, and were hopping from job to job at an alarming rate.
But still, you can't rely on what people decide to volunteer in their
comments. So I decided to ask managers in our recently concluded survey
just how many HR advisors they had for the process they were reporting
on, and see just how common this was.

I was somewhat surprised to see that an estimated 45% or so (we're
still cleaning data so that could be off by a few % points) reported
having more than one HR advisor advising them during the course of the
competitive process they were overseeing. About 10% or so reported 3 or

In the interests of clarity and simplicity, I collapsed our data so
that I had the following 2 x 2 x 2 matrix:

How much notice?: 2 mos or less / More than 2 mos

How long vacant?: 2 mos or less / More than 2 mos

How many advisors?: One / 2 or more

As previously observed, if you had more lead time before the position
became vacant, a larger share of positions only remained vacant for a
short period (understanding that 2 months may not be "short" where you
work). As anxiously anticipated, the impact of only having short notice
was much greater when the manager reporting not having the same singular
HR person connected to the process throughout. In sum, if HR in your
organization was moving around (with many of them new), and your
employee took off suddenly for a new job, you were likely going to have
to wait a while before there was someone to do that employee's work

That has helped to make sense of other things managers were reporting,
such as low satisfaction with staffing services provided the more HR
advisors were involved. Given how historically constant their
aggravation over slow staffing has been, small wonder that when there
are more HR cooks passing through the kitchen, managers complain more.
Of course, in the realm of "surprises" that even the best of planning
cannot completely offset, we need to include churn and sudden departures
within the HR community itself. Hopefully, once all those blasted
boomers have retired and things simmer down to more traditional
departure rates, things might be expected to improve. But for now,
instability makes things grind to a halt.

More to come in the months ahead.

Mark Hammer


This e-mail message is intended for the named recipient(s) and may
contain information that is privileged, confidential and/or exempt from
disclosure under applicable law. Unauthorized disclosure, copying or
re-transmission is prohibited. If you are not a named recipient or not
authorized by the named recipient(s), or if you have received this
e-mail in error, then please notify the sender immediately and delete
the message and any copies.
Ce courriel est destiné exclusivement au destinataire mentionné en titre
et peut contenir de l'information privilégiée, confidentielle ou
soustraite à la communication aux termes des lois applicables. Toute
divulgation non autorisée, toute reproduction ou réacheminement est
interdit. Si vous n'êtes pas le destinataire de ce courriel, ou n'êtes
pas autorisé par le destinataire visé, ou encore, si vous l'avez reçu
par erreur, veuillez le mentionner immédiatement à l'expéditeur et
supprimer le courriel et les copies.

More information about the IPAC-List mailing list