Federal Coach

By Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service

Blog archive

Federal Coach: Problems and fixes for the Presidential Management Fellows program

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

The government deeply needs to attract a new generation to federal service as well as groom future leaders, which happens to be the dual purpose of the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program. But this prestigious program, which annually provides two-year paid fellowships at federal agencies to several hundred outstanding young applicants with graduate degrees, could use some fine-tuning.

The Partnership for Public Service, with as­sistance from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), conducted two surveys of members of the PMF class who began work in 2011. The aim was to assess their views and the program’s strengths and weaknesses.

The surveys, conducted at both the beginning and end of the fellowship, revealed some lessons for how managers can better ensure that this important pathway to federal service for high-achieving individuals remains successful.

This is critically important. The young generation can bring fresh and innovative ideas to government, but today only 7 percent of full-time permanent federal employees are under the age of 30. As a comparison, they make up about a quarter of the total U.S. workforce.

One area of concern with the PMF program lies with those who supervise the fellows. In the early stages of the PMF program, nearly 80 percent believed that their supervisors pos­sessed adequate people skills and technical skills. By the end of the two years, those numbers had significantly dropped. Less than half felt their managers were effective “people supervisors,” and only 60 percent said their supervisors were effective “technical supervisors.”

There also was a gap between OPM’s vision of the program and the way supervisors actually implemented it within their agencies.

The OPM Web site says, “What do you want to change about government?” It challenges aspiring fel­lows to bring “fresh, new ideas and a willingness to take on challenges never dreamed possible.” Yet in the second survey, taken after completion of the program, a little less than half of respondents said that they were provided opportunities to be creative in their jobs, that their work assignments provided opportunities to enhance their leadership skills or that their supervisors made good use of their talents.

It may be hard, if not impossible, to fully meet all individual expectations and make sure employees are satisfied with every aspect of their jobs and happy with their bosses. Initial enthusiasm for a job often recedes as times passes. But it is evident that agency leaders can improve the PMF experience — by paying closer attention to those who supervise the fellows, by providing fellows with realistic job descriptions upfront, and by offering more meaningful assignments that match their needs and skill sets.

It will take focusing on these aspects if the PMF program wants to be more effective at inspiring top-notch participants to commit to fed­eral service following their fellowships.

If you have had any experiences with the PMF program or thoughts on how it is working and how it can be improved, please share your stories by posting a comment below or send me an email to fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Nov 11, 2014 at 11:53 AM

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