Transforming Talent Development

A Cal-ICMA initiative is developing tomorrow’s leaders. 
[PM Magazine, April 2019]

Apr 1, 2019 | ARTICLE
By Nat Rojanasathira and Dominic Lazzaretto


Finding and acquiring talented team members—let alone hanging onto them—is one of the major responsibilities of managers and department heads.

In recent years, we have noted that California agencies are experiencing many vacancies in key positions, with fewer seasoned department heads and other senior managers to recruit from other local governments.

Cal-ICMA launched the Talent Initiative in late 2016 with the goal of engaging chief executives, human resources (HR) professionals, and emerging leaders in a conversation about effective local government talent strategies. We started with these three questions:

  1. What are the talent challenges that confront cities, counties, and special districts in California?
  2. What obstacles hinder our efforts to address talent challenges?
  3. What are strong examples from public and private sectors, culture-building strategies, and other resources we can use to better attract, retain, and grow talent?

Following a year of research, focus groups, and surveys of California’s local government executives, the Cal-ICMA Talent Development Team released Talent 2.0 (, a report to help managers and their organizations better attract, retain, and grow talent in today’s environment and into the future.

Here are key findings from the report:

  • Employees of all ages seek meaning and purpose in their work. This is one area where local government has a major advantage over the private sector.
  • Public agencies can no longer rely on “stealing” talent from other agencies; we need to grow our own talent.
  • Successfully attracting and retaining talent is more about culture than money. Traditionally stodgy governmental culture inhibits innovation, discourages experimentation, and turns away the best talent.
  • Recruitment efforts are often outdated and involve a lengthy hiring process that can inhibit applicants.
  • Longer commutes, housing costs, and child care needs mean that employees have a desire for flexible work schedules; local governments have an opportunity to meet those needs without compromising service delivery expectations.

Six Steps to Get Started

The Cal-ICMA Talent Development Team judged the following as the most important development steps:

1. Commit the time to making talent efforts a priority. 

Your plate is full. You’re trying to manage council relationships, budget challenges, special projects, and much more. Make the time. It’s imperative to your organization’s future survival and long-term health.

Employee expectations are constantly changing, and organizations must adapt. Take the first step by working with your HR team to assess your agency’s current efforts and develop a list of changes to implement over time. Recognize that transformative change may take a few years, not months.

2. Form an employee engagement team.

Many agencies have had success with having a team, representing a cross section of employees across departments, play a role in shaping employee engagement efforts.

These engagement initiatives often result in employee retention and development efforts that are unique and personalized to the organization, not just cookie-cutter approaches.

3. Reinvent recruitment efforts.

Posting job descriptions on your organization’s website is insufficient. Hunt for talent by updating job descriptions and employment opportunities Web pages so that they highlight the community, the organizational culture, and the benefits of working for your agency.

Then take advantage of all available communication channels, including your agency’s Twitter, Nextdoor, and Facebook feeds, to promote employment opportunities in your community.

4. Foster a culture of coaching.

Consider retooling the employee evaluation system (or eliminate it altogether) so that it emphasizes employee growth, development, and a culture of coaching, not just discipline and ratings. Train managers how to effectively coach and grow staff members.

5. Develop a workplace flexibility plan.

It’s understood that employees in front counter, public safety, and other positions must have a set work schedule. With the right tools—laptops, webcams, cloud-based services—and expectations on how employees can stay connected by phone or virtually, employees in many positions can be just as productive working from home as working in the office.

Other examples of workplace flexibility include adaptable and varying arrival and departure times, along with compressed work schedules, flextime, and even job splitting. It’s not about working less; it’s about working differently to adapt to the changing needs of your workforce.

6. Follow-up with team members, stress the importance of talent efforts, and keep it up.

Sometimes, we hear about chief executives and HR managers who stress the importance of modern Talent 2.0 practices but find out that their managers and employees have reverted back to business as usual. Model the change and follow-up with team members.

Transforming how local governments attract, retain, and grow talent is like maintaining a garden; these efforts can’t just be set up and left alone. While outcomes of these efforts take time, the results are incredibly rewarding.

You’ll likely find employees more engaged, happy, productive, and inspired to serve their organization and community.

For resources on the Cal-ICMA Talent Initiative, including the Talent 2.0 Report and a compendium of best practices from local governments, visit

Nat Rojanasathira is administrative services director, Danville, California, (


Dominic Lazzaretto is city manager, Arcadia, California ( Both are Cal-ICMA Talent Initiative co-chairs.


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