Cecelia Evans is senior vice president and federal practice leader for Aon Hewitt, where she represents three lines of business: retirement, health and benefits and human capital.
Government agencies and companies always face challenges finding the right talent and retaining them, she recently said to ExecutiveBiz.
She spoke with us about the persistent challenges agencies face in maintaining their workforce, technologies that differentiate the company from others and Aon Hewitt's recent philanthropic event for wounded warriors in the Washington area.
ExecutiveBiz: What are some challenges agencies face today when trying to first build and then retain a federal workforce?
Cecelia Evans: It comes down to employee engagement. That's particularly important when you think about retaining top talent, but it also has to do with the recruitment of employees. Right now, the federal workforce is under a lot of pressure because of media scrutiny of whether they are providing the right value. With the federal workforce feeling a bit under the gun, agencies have to look at how they're recruiting and how they're retaining. The best way to do that is to look at the employee engagement. We have an engagement tool that is backed by 15 years of research and data showing the link between engagement and organizational performance.
Our engagement model surveys employees and looks at three primary factors: say, stay and strive -what are the employees saying about their organization when they go to a party or they meet with friends? Are they saying good things about the agency that they're working with and that they would recommend it to friends and family members? Stay is the second component ““ are employees intending to stay at their agency or are they looking to leave? We want employees that they are not looking to leave, they believe in the mission of the organization, and they are committed to staying there. The third component is strive. That is the area where employees are not just coming to work every day, but they're really committed to the organization at such a level that they are going above and beyond on an everyday basis. Looking at all three components, say, stay, and strive is what differentiates employee engagement from employee job satisfaction.
We use that survey within our own company, and we've seen the results. When you look at the survey results and you see what your levels are for say, stay and strive there are things that each agency can do to move the dial and get improvements so employee engagement across the board goes up. When employee engagement goes up it's a lot easier to retain employees and also to recruit new hires.
ExecutiveBiz: How have you positioned Aon Hewitt as a federal human resources specialist to help meet the differing needs of individual agencies?
Cecelia Evans: Aon Hewitt has been in the HR business for a long time, and because of the work that we do in the commercial sector, we have a tremendous amount of benchmarking data and best practices from fortune 50 and fortune 500 clients. In talking with a federal agency, we're able to look at different aspects of the agency regardless of the size and scope of the challenges they're facing and provide comparisons not just to other government agencies, but looking at the commercial sector and best practices – what are fortune 50 or fortune 500 organizations of the same size how are they handling different issues.
There aren't a lot of companies that have 15 years of engagement data and research that is behind our engagement models, and that enables us to compare with the results from federal agencies with those of the commercial sector. I think that gives them a chance to see how other organizations have handled those issues and challenges and how they've come out of it.
ExecutiveBiz: Would you say that the issues that the federal and commercial space face are more similar than they are different in terms of hiring and retaining talent?
Cecelia Evans: Yes, absolutely. Different people, but they're the same challenges. In fact, there were two global surveys of CEOs, and the question was asked, “What are your five biggest challenges?“ In the large majority of these global organizations, retaining talent and recruiting talent were their biggest risk factors, because without the right talent they're not able to perform the work that needs to be done. Recruiting and retention, it doesn't matter what country you're in, whether you're government, public sector, private sector, non-profit, the challenges are the same.
ExecutiveBiz What new advances in technology are you working with to improve Aon Hewitt’s HR, training, development and other offerings?
Cecelia Evans: As just one example of several technology tools we use, we have an IT platform called the Global Assessment and Talent Engine. It's used to assess candidates on mobile devices, their PDAs, their phones, their laptop computers. Last year we assessed over seven million candidates around the world for very large clients, including the International Revenue Service. Right now we're the only firm that has assessments that are delivered via these technologies, which makes it really easy.
Before, if you were an agency recruiting and you wanted to do some assessments, the employee or the candidate would have to be at a computer. Now they can do it on their mobile phone as they're walking down the street. It just makes it so much more conducive to the way people are operating these days. That's probably one of the most foremost areas where we've developed our technology and used it for one of the two critical needs that everybody is facing.
ExecutiveBiz: Aon Hewitt’s federal practice seen a large percentage of growth over the past five years – how will evolving technology and the budget affect how you will need to continue to operate your business to stay one step ahead of the federal workplace demand?
Cecelia Evans: The growth that we've experienced has a lot to do with staying focused on strategic challenges. We'll continue to grow as long as we remain focused in the strategic areas. Federal agencies go through changes every election cycle. The political appointees change. The parties may or may not change, but every year there are budget challenges, there are political challenges. Federal agencies, very unlike the commercial sector, really do have unique challenges that they are up against, and they have much shorter timeframes to fix those problems.
Our focus remains on working with them on a strategic level, to keep focused on those issues that are causing the greatest pain, and often that has to do with their workforce. We look at all aspects, whether thinking about retention or recruiting or looking at workforce analytics to help an agency plan long-term if they know their budget will be declining over the next few years and they know they have to make significant changes. Using the workforce analytics, they're able to get an understanding of what is the skill base of their workforce and where do they need to train additional people or develop leaders so that as people retire and as they have to make cuts, that they've got the right people in place. So, our focus remains in these strategic areas, and I think that's going to probably continue to experience tremendous growth.
ExecutiveBiz: Has the company been involved in any activities recently?
Cecelia Evans: Aon just recently hosted an event in Arlington called Aon's Salute to America's Wounded Warriors. It's a pro bono event that we do. Our company is very committed to working with wounded warriors. There were about 80 companies, federal agencies and state government groups that attended and spent the day with these wounded warriors. We had the morning with the wounded warriors and talked to them about job searching. Specifically we spoke with them about how to change their language from military language, such as, “I'm an infantry man,“ to something that would make sense in the commercial sector.
We had a recognition ceremony and appreciation to recognize each of the wounded warriors that were there. There were about 65 wounded warriors. General Richard B. Myers, he's the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and served on the company board, spoke to the wounded warriors and the employers who were there. He talked to the wounded warriors about what it is to transition, and he congratulated them for all that they've done. He talked to the employers about why it's so good to hire our veterans.
Afterwards, it turned into a reverse job fair. Rather than employers having booths, what you usually see at a job fair, the wounded warriors each had their own table, and the employers went table to table to talk to the candidates. It was a huge success, and it's something we hope to do a lot more of in the D.C. area.
We've had these programs for the last three years. We started in 2009 with the first one in Chicago. We've done several in Chicago, in New York and in Pittsburg. It's really taken off, and it's something our CIO is very committed to and very much support the offices doing this and using our board member General Myers in this way to participant in the events. This summer we'll go to San Diego and in the fall, we're going to go to Dallas. I'm hoping that we'll do another one in the fall in the DC area since there are so many wounded warriors in the D.C. area. There's such a desire by employers to hire them because of their ethics and their values. We love to be in a position to facilitate that process.