Three weeks ago, we closed out another successful summer internship experience with a young woman who has aspirations to work in the area of strategic human capital management, when she graduates from college next year.
Practice Makes Perfect
Our intern, who for the purpose of this story, I’ll call Rachel (because that’s her name), did some good work during the just over 100 days she was with us this summer. Likewise, I think Rachel obtained an appreciation, both of what working in a large organization, and what a career in human resources might be like.
We try to ensure we have meaningful projects that our interns can work on, which they can bring to completion during their time with us. I’ve always been impressed at how motivated all of our interns have been, and what they’ve been able to produce for us – in such a short period of time, and Rachel was no exception.
Quiet Side HR - Evaluation and Assessment
We selected Rachel for her stated interest in “strategic HR” and because our office’s principal focus is strategic HR initiatives.
One function we perform is the periodic assessment of some of the human capital programs that fall under pay, recognition and total rewards. I’m frequently chagrined to admit that evaluation and assessment of human capital programs is an area that the federal government is famously notoriously remiss about – mostly because programs are implemented, to a particular purpose, and then perhaps naively, we assume that they’re effective forever.
Consequently, among Rachel’s 2-3 projects, one was a review of a special vacation accrual for new employees, that was originally implemented almost ten years ago, but which has never been reviewed since then (this is where that chagrined “thing” kicks-in ...).
Running the Research and Analysis Playbook
Rachel began the assessment with some very thorough, initial data-gathering about the program, its initial legislative origins, including the early “intent of Congress” – when the law was first framed, as well as the implementation history in our organization.
A review of the current internal practice and processes used to execute the program followed, including interviews with front-line HR responsible for operationalizing the actual practice.
Rachel then drafted a preliminary written summary, which I reviewed. Her work was quite good, and objective, but I spotted two problems.
Out of the Classroom and Into the Real World
First, the assessment lacked solid conclusions regarding the program’s effectiveness or recommendations for any changes. When I discussed this with Rachel, she seemed surprised that we wanted her recommendations about the program. I told Rachel that at that particular moment, she may have been the one person in the entire organization who was most knowledgeable about this particular program. Likewise, I explained that while this part of her assignment was substantially abstract, this is oftentimes what strategy – at least partly, is all about.
Secondly, Rachel’s narrative cited that this increased vacation accrual was not originally intended to be applied broadly, but used more selectively. Its use is ostensibly targeted to attracting mid-career applicants, as an incentive to replace a higher vacation accrual, if they were to leave a current employer to join the federal government. Our current practice provides this increased accrual to every employee we hire. When I questioned this apparent contradiction, Rachel indicated that her co-workers had impressed upon her that fairness in government requires providing the same benefits to everyone. Without any other frame of reference, Rachel apparently accepted this at face value. I explained to Rachel that differentiating the treatment of employees, under the appropriate circumstances, to achieve a specific business purpose, is both acceptable, and critical.
With the benefit of this new framing and direction, Rachel’s final assessment was quite good, and included a number of recommendations and changes – including narrowing the application of this vacation accrual, all of which we’re now evaluating.
Internships are Learning Experiences for Everyone
I’ve recently heard a new phrase that puts appreciating differences in perspective, “where you sit, is where you stand”. So, whether you’re deeper into your career, or just on the early threshold, remember that the chair you’re sitting in, will influence your perspective. Awareness therefore, is key.
Everyone probably has a different perspective. What's yours?
Chris Dobyns, CCP, CBP, is Manager of the Office of Human Resource Strategies for one of the largest U.S. intelligence agencies. The Office of Human Resource Strategies is responsible for compensation and incentives, occupational structure, recognition and rewards, HR policy, and human capital program evaluation and assessment for his Agency. Chris has worked in the area of compensation for more than 30 years, and has been employed in various compensation-related positions by a number of large, private sector companies including, Sears, Roebuck, Arizona Public Service and Westinghouse Savannah River Company.