OPM's onboarding framework to ease SES' new-job jitters

Tuesday - 11/22/2011, 2:15pm EST

Emily Kopp, reporter, Federal News Radio

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Even the boss can have doubts about their new job. To relieve the jitters, the Office of Personnel Management has published a guide to onboarding members of the Senior Executive Service.

But the orientation plan could have a more prolonged impact, said OPM Deputy Associate Director Steve Shih in an interview with Federal News Radio.

He said he expected the onboarding program to produce "a better engaged SES corps who report that they were immediately able to get up to speed in their jobs, who are able to demonstrate very successful performance reports both individually and organizationally, and who have better morale and end up staying in their jobs." One in every six SES members leaves the job within a year.

This is the first attempt to align federal onboarding for senior executives. Agency orientation programs vary widely, said Shih. While some agencies have robust programs that last a year, others don't have any formal onboarding program at all.

OPM worked with agencies, the Partnership for Public Service, the Senior Executives Association and private organizations to draft the framework. Shih said they tried to learn from failed plans.

"Overall, we found that organizations that did not have a strategic, formal process tailored to organizational need and individual need, with metrics and the ability to assess for improvement, did not succeed as well in assimilating executives into the organization," he said. Common pitfalls included failing to include the executive in teambuilding activities and networking opportunities, and to clarify the organization's expectations of the employee.

The onboarding framework is "a list of tasks, activities and milestones involving consistent practices, solutions, strategies and tools that we at OPM believe are successful to any type of onboarding," he said.

For example, it suggests that new executives be given a formal, written development program with clearly defined expectations for the job.

During the first month, they should have the opportunity to network with senior leaders, devise a 90-day action plan and understand the agency's priorities and culture. A mentor or sponsor would provide tips to succeed in the agency.

Agencies should tailor the OPM framework to meet their specific needs, he said. Seven agencies are piloting it and are at various stages of implementation, he said. Some are starting from scratch. Others are tweaking their current onboarding programs.

"We will use those efforts to inform how we improve our product and provide those results to federal agencies so they can use those results in how they implement the programs," he said, adding that the framework is online and available for all agencies to use.

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