The hierarchy of accountability within a company


Strategic human resources management...strategic alignment...alignment with mission accom­plishment. These are just a few of the terms being used to describe the new, evolving role of Federal human resources management (HRM). What do these terms really mean? If you were to ask agency personnelists, managers, or employees, you would probably get a wide range of answers. So, it's important to establish from the beginning what we are really talking about.

Human resources management alignment means to integrate decisions about people with decisions about the results an organization is trying to obtain. Our research indicates that agencies that successfully align human resources management with agency mission accomplishment do so by integrating HRM into the agency planning process, emphasizing HR activities that support mission goals, and building strong HR/management relationships.'

In addition to being a vital contributor to agency mission accomplishment, HRM alignment is the ultimate level of HRM accountability, as demonstrated in the Hierarchy of Accountability. While HRM accountability must begin with basic legal compliance, it ultimately encompasses all four levels of the pyramid, including demonstrating how HRM supports achievement of the agency strategic goals.

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Why the sudden emphasis on aligning HRM activities with agency mission accomplishment? Basically, it comes down to demonstrating the value of human resources management to the

1 For consistency's sake, this report uses the term "agency" when referring to the broadest form of the Federal organization. For instance, the Department of Agriculture, along with all its components, is an "agency." When addressing specific components within an agency, the report will refer to them as "sub-components."

U.S. Office of Personnel Management

U.S. Office of Personnel Management


agency. In the past, one of HR' s primary roles has been to ensure compliance with laws, rules, and regulations. Although this is still, and will always be, a necessary function, many recent developments have led to a strong emphasis on results.

The National Performance Review (NPR)2 took on the task of reinventing government to make it work better, cost less, and get results. NPR mandated many initiatives that changed the focus of HR from just compliance toward results, including downsizing the HR function, delegating HR authorities to line managers, calling for HR to demonstrate its business value, and enhancing customer service. Through these initiatives, management of human resources would become more responsive to mission-related needs because it would take place at the line level, and the HR staff would be able to expend more of its energy on broader organizational issues.

The Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) of 1993 has also played a large part in focusing agencies on results. The purpose of GPRA is to improve Federal program effective­ness, accountability, service delivery, decision-making, and internal management, thereby improving confidence in the Federal Government. This is achieved by demonstrating organiza­tional results through strategic planning and performance measures. Although the primary focus of GPRA is on programmatic functions, agencies are also required to describe how administra­tive resources, such as HR, are being used to achieve strategic goals. Further, the General Accounting Office (GAO) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have evaluated many of these efforts, and are calling for agencies to improve their discussions of HRM alignment in strategic and annual plans. Therefore, the human resources function is increasingly being aligned to the agency strategic plan, which requires HR to show how it is supporting mission accomplishment.

Alignment has already occurred in other key administrative functions. When Congress devel-oped a statutory framework to introduce performance-based management into the Federal Government, it initiated financial, information technology, and procurement reforms through such mandates as the Chief Financial Officer Act and Information Technology Management Reform Act. Human resources management is the administrative missing link to this comprehensive package?

The private sector has recognized that it is not just financial and technological capital that provide companies with the competitive edge, but people, or human capital. Without attracting and retaining the right people, in the right jobs, with the right skills and training, an organization cannot succeed. Therefore, people have been recognized as companies' most important asset. As the Federal Government moves toward a performance-based management approach, we, too, need to realize the importance of our human resources. A huge percentage of agencies' budgets

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2Now known as the National Partnership for Reinventing Government.

3u.S. General Accounting Office. Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: A Governmentwide Perspective.

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is spent on human resources -- salaries, benefits, training, work life programs, etc. Nowhere else do you make that substantial an investment and not measure the return.

Not only do human resources provide the competitive edge, but several recent studies have confirmed that the quality and innovation of HR practices impact business results. These studies were able to draw a correlation between increased quality of HR practices and increased business success. Among other benefits, HR alignment with mission accomplishment increases HR's ability to anticipate its customers' needs, increases the agency's ability to implement strategic business goals, and provides decision-makers with critical resource allocation information.

Finally, HR alignment is a vital process to advance agency accountability. By defining, main­taining, and assessing HRM goals and measures, communicating them throughout the agency, and using the information to make management decisions, agencies are able to ensure that the management of human resources contributes to mission accomplishment and that managers are held accountable for their HRM decisions in support of mission accomplishment.

The Study

Once we defined what alignment means and why it is important, we wanted to find out where agencies currently stand in terms of aligning their human resources management with agency mission accomplishment. Therefore, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) embarked on a special study designed to explore the following objectives:

~ Assess how well human resources management is linked to agency mission accomplishment;

~ Explore the role played by the HR staff in agency strategic planning;

~ Determine how the HR service providers work with line managers to carry out agency strategic goals; and

~ Identify best practices aligning HRM with the agency strategic plan and goals.

In order to obtain information pertaining to these objectives, we did the following:

~ Reviewed 31 agency strategic and 28 annual performance plans;

~ Conducted an extensive literature and Internet search;

~ Gathered information from agency HR professionals, supervisors, and employees at 17 agencies of various size through the fiscal year 1998 and 1999 OPM Oversight reviews;

U.S. Office of Personnel Management

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~ Interviewed nine additional leading agency HR Directors.

Str ategic Plan High level agency goals, strategies, and needed resources


You got to be careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there. - Yogi Berra

Agencywide Planning

To some agencies, strategic planning is a way of life. To others, it's an exercise. To almost all, it's a requirement. As part of GPRA, agencies, unless specifically exempted, follow a continuous, three step strategic planning process:

GPRA Strategic Planning Process - Simplified

Annual Performance Plan Operational level strategies, measures, and time frames to support strategic goals

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Performance Reports Status report on achievement of agency goals



~ L ~

Strategic planning allows agencies to map out where they are, where they want to go, and how they plan to get there. Some agencies adopted the idea of strategic planning even before GPRA was enacted, whereas others are just beginning to understand its potential benefits. The results of the fiscal year 1999 Merit System Principles Questionnaire (MSPQ), an OPM Govemmentwide survey of supervisors and employees, show that agencies are beginning to embrace not only the concept, but also the practice, of strategic planning.

U.S. Office of Personnel Management

Strategic Planning

Typical Agency Planning Process

MSPQ Results

62% agree that their agency has a process for developing strategic, long-range plans and updating them periodically.

65% agree that operational goals and objectives are set to help the agency meet strategic, long -range plans.

• 54% agree that progress toward goals is measured.

• 61% agree that information is collected for assessing performance.

The strategic planning process varies from agency to agency. On one end of the spectrum are the agencies which have very collaborative processes involving senior management, line supervisors and employees, and stakeholders throughout the entire process. On the other end are the agen­cies which develop plans at the top management level with little input from the line or stake­holders or that plan functionally, having each program office submit its own goals and strategies with little to no collaboration among offices. The typical strategic planning process is a mixture of these:

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Agency Head Sets strategic direction WIthin defined mission

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Top Management Develops top level goals, strategies, measures

Line Develops programmatic implementation plans

Planning Office Coordinates tracking of agency goals and measures

HRM Integration in Agency Strategic Plans

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U.S. Office of Personnel Management

The table can be somewhat misleading, however. Although some agencies are clearly ahead of the pack, integration of HRM in agency plans is still evolving. When looking at the actual placement of strategic plan HRM discussions, they are generally segregated from the program-