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Automation: The Secret Weapon in the Public Sector’s War for Talent

The Problem

Army leaders said it most directly, ‘We are in a war for talent’.

 The Army is not alone in finding it difficult to recruit and retain workers. Over the last 18 months, the economy has recovered from the pandemic, but organizations – both public and private – have struggled hiring as many individuals have abandoned the traditional workforce. The resulting dearth of talent has broken the equilibrium between employee and employer, driving up labor costs and leaving organizations with critical roles unfilled.

 Relief may not be on the way as the unemployment rate held steady at a nearly two-year low of 3.6% in June 2022. According to Forbes, the market should expect war for talent becoming ‘the new normal’ as the great resignation and reshuffle continue to change the employment landscape even against the backdrop of a looming recession.

 Recruiting talent isn’t the only challenge either; retaining talent is getting more expensive. As inflation reaches the highest levels in decades, workers are demanding increased salaries. This is creating a payroll bubble and driving the public sector to rely on higher-cost contractors for roles typically filled by direct hires. To effectively operate the government, leaders must find ways to address recruiting, use their human resources more effectively, and prepare for a prolonged change to retention.

Repetitive, Manual Tasks Must End

 One way to operate more efficiently and effectively is to eliminate humans from engaging in repetitive, manual tasks. Manual processes place validation over analysis, leading to over-investment in low-value tasks, disengaged employees, and delays in decision-making. It’s why the private sector has been integrating automation into its processes for decades. Entry-level employees can find more meaningful work in the private sector, as early career roles have more mission-aligned meaning than what most of the public sector can currently offer.

 This dynamic is due to the public sector’s continued reliance on disaggregated email, spreadsheets, and PowerPoint, frequently turning intelligent entry-level analysts into expensive and disengaged data aggregators.

 Why is dedicating people to conduct manual, repetitive processes so ineffective?

  • Manual input is surprisingly error prone. While error messages are readily apparent, a faulty formula or errant macro could return numbers that look legitimate but lead to the wrong situational assessment.
  • Manual reporting detracts from data analysis. Financial managers are required to spend much of their time validating data and making sure that it is correct instead of providing insights based on their front-line experience.
  • Manual tasks take up too much time and resources. Rising personnel costs dedicated to time consuming, low-value data collection is an undue tax on the system which wastes precious resources.

Automation can save an organization thousands of hours. In terms of human capital, automation eliminates the need to fill many empty roles without hindering operational ability. As difficulty finding talent continues, the public sector would be best served to put the exceptional people it hires to the task of making better informed, data-driven decisions, not deciphering version control issues in a spreadsheet.

Enter Automation

 Beyond delivering the ability to execute at the same or greater levels with fewer workers, automation creates significant advantages for organizations.

  • Added operational agility. Automation introduces the ability to add new capabilities into a process, such as artificial intelligence. Advanced features such as this can deliver proactive insights based on scenario modeling, historical precedence, and expected future performance. Producing these results nearly instantaneously allows for more situationally aware real-time decisions.
  • Faster task completion. Automation delivers data and insight to leaders faster than relying solely on a human workforce.
  • Improved accuracy. When repetitive processes have exacting standards, machines almost always produce fewer errors.

 These benefits are why, according to Entrepreneur Magazine, automation is becoming a business imperative. Getting started is not a Sisyphean task but can commence quickly and efficiently. Here are some simple best practices from the private sector:

  • Identify repetitive, manual processes
  • Evaluate your data ingest workflow to uncover business areas that could benefit from automation
  • Advocate for digital transformation

Example: Automating Project Intake

The key to successful automation is identifying the processes which could benefit. At Decision Lens, our customers often start by redefining how they collect project requests. These come in many forms – unfunded requests, requirements planning, etc. Today, the typical process involves e-mail, spreadsheets, and PowerPoint, resulting in many late nights and inefficient meetings.

However, this process can be vastly improved through automation, making it more efficient and less resource-heavy, all while creating the means to achieve decision superiority. It starts with the Intake Engine. Our Intake Engine allows users to create a holistic, ongoing, automated data collection process mapped to their organizational structure. It includes the following features: 

  • Custom Form to Request Ideas – User friendly collection method with dropdowns, stars, cost-tables, permissions, and links to collect, collate and map data to your framework
  • Auto-Registration – Include registered and unregistered stakeholders with a single link
  • Roles and Permissions – Control who is contributing on individual projects without exposing an entire portfolio
  • Workflows – Review and approve items as they move through the process 

Our customers have reported consolidating down from dozens of spreadsheets and hundreds of hours of work to a single system of record and orders of magnitude fewer hours to collect, organize, and act on the data collected. This approach also allows for continuous planning by engaging the organization in an ongoing way to understand and act on changing needs.

By mapping to a data model, organizations also achieve downstream benefits such as the ability to quickly plan for emerging situations as conditions change or optimize scenarios using artificial intelligence. The result is enhanced productivity from the existing workforce and improved decision-making for senior leaders.

The Next Salvo in the War for Talent

 While saving time/money and doing more with less are meaningful outcomes of automation, one of the biggest benefits is in recruiting Gen-Z and beyond. According to the partnership for public health, just 7% of the federal workforce is under the age of 30 while the 55+ segment represents nearly 30% of employees. An infusion of younger talent is necessary for ongoing innovation, but Gen-Z demands more from their employers.

 According to a recent Deloitte survey, Gen-Z is seeking a different relationship with their employer. This generation wants a better work-life balance, more development opportunities, and derived meaning from their work. According to the study, “Nearly two in five (37% of Gen-Zs) say they have rejected a job and/or assignment based on their personal ethics”.

 Providing this group with meaningful work tied to an organization’s mission demands automation. These innovative young careerists must be challenged with difficult tasks which deliver organizational value, or they won’t take a role and those who do will churn out quickly. Incorporating new technology, eliminating low-value repetitive tasks, and demonstrating a direct line between effort and mission will be essential to recruiting the next generation and maintaining American superiority.

Conclusion

There are several macroeconomic factors which make automation an organizational imperative. However, automation isn’t an activity unto itself but instead must be used to re-engineer and improve inefficient processes. Thinking outside the box is critical to identify ways in which automation can improve operations. Successful implementation requires automation be additive, incorporated into your workstream in a meaningful way, and deliver equal or better outcomes than manual efforts.

 In the war for talent, providing relief from manual tasks and replacing that effort with meaningful work will allow organizations to do more with the same, maximize employees to their highest potential, and recruit talent looking to leverage technology whenever possible for maximum efficiency.

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