December 17, 2012

Under 5, Engaging HUD’s New Employees

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Starting a new job is full of excitement — an opportunity to change the world. This is especially true at HUD. We have a unique and important mission that attracts employees who have amazing talents and a deep commitment to making a difference in the lives of our fellow Americans.  However, after their honeymoon period ended many of the employees who had arrived a few months ago with commitment to serve were looking for other opportunities. What happened? How can we better engage employees that are dedicated to HUD’s mission to help them see a long-term future within the organization?

Under the leadership of Pat Hoban Moore, a group of employees formed a group called “Under 5” to focus on these questions. Shortly after, The Partnership for Public Service released a report based on 2010 Employee Viewpoint Survey data that named HUD, “The Worst Place to Launch a Federal Career.” We weren’t the only ones who realized there was a problem.

More than a year later, Under 5 has devoted itself to improving the experience of employees who have been at HUD for less than 5 years. Rather than just identifying gaps or processes that aren’t working, we are striving to improve the agency for its employees and clients and develop our future leaders.

We began shaping our research into suggestions for HUD’s senior leadership and were invited to present at HUDStat meetings, where we were well-received. It became clear, however, that even good ideas couldn’t be implemented through executive decision alone. Someone had to volunteer to do the work. Because we know how important engaging new talent is for the future of HUD and because we didn’t want to see more of our friends leave a life of public service, we decided to find the time around our regular duties to do what needed to be done.

One of our first projects was to create a policy that allowed any employee to rotate to another position in the agency for a few months. Many of us joined the government as Presidential Management Fellows and knew the benefits of a rotation on our professional development, skills, and understanding of agency operations. A team of Under 5 volunteers worked with HUDLearn to research other agency’s policies, draft a clear and appropriate policy for HUD, and develop a SharePoint-based tracking system to manage the program. After nearly a year of work, the new policy is in place and people have begun rotating around the Department.

To help engage even more HUD employees in projects like this, Under 5 has developed Switchboard, a system to connect HUD employees with projects that matter. Projects include documenting the Department’s response to disasters and climate change, proposing to implement Innovation Time and a more progressive parental leave policy, drafting a survey for senior leadership to identify the agency’s most effective managers, and creating a peer program for new hires.

While some of our efforts require task forces to drive policy changes, others are simple efforts at community building. It can be very difficult to be the first new employee your office has hired in the last 5 years. We try to find and welcome new employees into the HUD community and help connect them to other new employees. This has been particularly important in the field, where at least 6 chapters have been set up. We also host a weekly department wide open meeting called “Take 5 with Under 5” where employees have a chance to learn from one another on topics such as improving a skill, specific programs or the role of individuals offices, or potential rotations.

Under 5 only works because more than 300 HUD employees have volunteered to find the time to build community and do the work. We are always looking for more!

Michael Lawyer, Program Analyst, Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control, Laura Kunkel, Special Assistant to the Acting Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development and Charles Francis, Portfolio Management Specialist, Office of Public and Indian Housing, HUD’s Boston Regional office contributed to this blog post.

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