These Are the Skills You Should Learn that Will Pay Off Forever

The act of learning is every bit as important as what you learn. Believing that you can improve yourself and do things in the future that are beyond your current possibilities is exciting and fulfilling.

Still, your time is finite, and you should dedicate yourself to learning skills that will yield the greatest benefit. There are nine skills that I believe fit the bill because they never stop paying dividends. These are the skills that deliver the biggest payoff, both in terms of what they teach you and their tendency to keep the learning alive. (For more, click here.)

Do you agree with the author? Which skills would you add to the list? Which will you be working on over the next year?

10-Minute Training Evaluation for Busy Supervisors

You are a harried supervisor with papers piled high on your desk. Along with managing and rewarding your team—and helping with their technical work—you try to get them the training they need. Evaluating that training is part of your job too, but you find this frustrating. Any evaluation done at the end of training is only rarely passed on to you. Even then, it does not consider whether the training had any effect in the workplace.

Good news—there’s something you can do. Use 10- minute training evaluation with each team member to get the job done. Here’s how it works:

The first five minutes. Have a chat about the training soon after your team member returns. Ask these four questions:

1. What did you think of the training? This gives your team members an unprompted opportunity to evaluate their experience. Listen carefully to understand what was good and not-so-good.

2. How much could you get from just the manual? Sometimes the essentials of training—especially technical training—don’t require class attendance. Knowing this can save resources in the future.

3. How much did you already know? Some training addresses mostly basic or introductory information that those on the job already know.

4. What will you do differently on the job? Your team member has the newly-learned information in mind and is in a good position to predict how it can be used. Jot some notes from this conversation on the top half of a sheet of paper or a generated form. Your notes from the fourth question will help you decide when to plan your second five minutes.

The second five minutes. Have another chat after your team member has had the time and opportunity to put the training to use. Ask these two questions:

1. How did you use what you learned? Listen carefully to learn about barriers that prevented use of the training and for any misinformation or mismatch with your work setting.

2. Would you go again or do something else? Your team member is in a good position to see how well the training supports the job and perhaps suggest a better alternative.

Take more notes on the bottom half of your paper. Use your judgment about the team’s work habits and environment to add your own perspective as to whether this training would be useful for other team members. As you talk to others about these training episodes, be sure to refer to these notes and emphasize the perspective of your other team members. A folder of these notes will help when your agency “rolls up” data to meet its yearly training evaluation responsibilities under the recent revision of 5 CFR 410. This training evaluation can help the voice from a single training instance to be heard—and make a difference.

Reprinted from Issues of Merit, a publication of the Office of Policy and Evaluation, U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board.


Federal HR Skills Gaps

On Human Resources Executive Online, Julie Donaldson of cyberFEDS, writes that human resources has been identified as one of five mission-critical occupations in the government with skills gaps. In her article, Ms. Donaldson reports on how Federal officials describe various “high return and low financial investment” programs they have instituted to increase access to training and enhance career-development opportunities for employees.

Addressing Federal HR Skills Gaps

In another article on, Robert Dietrich states that, “The patient is federal human resources where the necessary investment in training for new and existing employees is not taking place, and the ability to hire and retain excellent new employees is being severely hampered…”

An Ever-Widening Skills Gap

Do you believe that the skills gaps that these authors identify still exist within the federal HR community? Are there any ideas discussed in these articles that you believe would help close the HR skills gaps at your agency? Why? Are you aware of any other creative methods by which federal HR practitioners are receiving the training they need to be successful on the job?

Improving First-Level Supervision of Federal Employees

MSPB examined the effectiveness of Federal first-level supervisors and how well agencies select, develop, and manage them. They concluded that although there has been some overall improvement in employee’s perceptions of their supervisors’ performance, many supervisors continue to demonstrate levels of supervisory skill substantially lower than what is needed to effectively engage employees and manage their performance.

Current selection of first-level supervisors is heavily based on technical expertise. The problems in supervisory selection reported over the past 30 years appear to persist. Supervisory selection is often based more heavily on technical expertise than on leadership competencies. Technical skills appear to be much more strongly emphasized than are supervisory skills in both job announcements and assessments.

Technical experts without an interest or aptitude in leadership are often selected for supervisory roles. Because most Federal career paths do not provide technical expert roles in which highly proficient and experienced employees are recognized with organizational status and increased compensation, technically proficient employees who have minimal interest or aptitude in managing people apply for supervisory positions. And, because the selection criteria are heavily weighted toward technical expertise, they often are selected for these positions.

The supervisory probationary period is not consistently being used as the final step in the selection process. Federal managers are not consistently using the probationary period as the final step in the selection process for first-level supervisors. Very few new supervisors were reassigned or separated for failure to complete probation. Only 64% of supervisors had been informed of the probationary period while fewer than half  indicated that their performance during their probationary period had been used to decide if they should retain a supervisory role.

Supervisors need substantially more training and development. Many new supervisors are not receiving the training and development opportunities they need both to understand the agency’s expectations for supervisors and to manage their employees effectively. Less than two-thirds of supervisors said that they received training prior to or during their first year as a supervisor. Of those who received training, almost half received one week or less. Overall, most of new supervisors did not receive training in each of the basic areas of performance management, including developing performance goals and standards; assigning, reviewing, and documenting employees’ work; providing feedback; developing employees; evaluating employee performance; and managing poor performers.

Many supervisors do not receive the information they need. Only two-thirds of first-level supervisors believe they are receiving information about the goals and priorities of their organization; half said they are satisfied with the information they receive from management about what is going on in their organization. Less than two-thirds agree that their supervisor adequately explains the reasons for work changes before they take place or were satisfied with their involvement in decisions that affect their work.

Supervisors receive assistance from their managers, but many need more information and specific guidance. Although most supervisors reported that their supervisor talks with them or assists them when they need help, fewer stated that they receive all the information and guidance needed to do a good job. One reason a substantial number of supervisors say their managers do not provide the specific information or guidance they need may be that the managers themselves are not receiving enough information about the organization to provide adequate guidance and information to supervisors.

Supervisors need more coaching and feedback. Receiving frequent feedback is a vital component of effective supervisory performance. Yet just under half of supervisors are receiving feedback from their managers at least every two weeks, 13 percent receive feedback monthly, 38 percent receive feedback only quarterly or even less often, and 10 percent receive feedback once a year or less. There were wide gaps between supervisors’ perceptions of their behavior and performance and employees’ perceptions. For example, while most supervisors said they explain work changes to employees before they take place, only half of employees agreed that their supervisors do so.

Only about half reported that when they were new supervisors their manager provided them with coaching or feedback that helped them develop supervisory competencies. By not providing feedback and coaching, managers are sending a strong message to first-level supervisors that feedback and coaching are not important functions of supervision.

Supervisory and managerial accountability need to be strengthened. Stronger cultures of accountability need to be developed in many Federal agencies so that each supervisor and manager demonstrates a personal commitment to serving the public through effectively managing the performance of his or her employees. Several studies over the past 30 years have documented the need for improvement, especially in the area of managing poor performers.

Excerpted from the MSPB report, A Call to Action: Improving First-Level Supervision of Federal Employees, May 2010.

Do you agree with MSPB’s findings? Which of the findings do you think most contribute to the problems with first-level supervision in the federal government? Do you have any ideas to deal with the issues MSPB has identified?