Making Federal Leaders Future Ready

Whether you are a leader in the market for new talent or one of the people tasked with developing leaders; if you develop and implement Success Profiles, you are on the way to building, developing and deploying the leaders who will make a difference.


"In the next two years, we will see more change than we have in the last ten. How we work. How we connect. What is important to us. How we define meaning in our lives. It will be a rollercoaster through every emotion imaginable. Scary and disruptive. But also, transformative”. -- Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn Ferry

Never has the requirement for identifying and developing high quality leaders been more critical than now. Amplified in the federal government where persistent challenges exist in creating and communicating a high-performance roadmap against which leaders can be measured and developed adds to the complexity of understanding “what good looks like”.  Even more critical today…“what good behaves like”.

Multiple competency models are currently in use across the federal government, yet few have allowed agencies to establish metrics that track and describe the highest performing leaders in a way that can be leveraged across the sector. Instead, the competency model approach often results in "Wish Lists" that describe ideal performance without completing the necessary follow-up work to evaluate whether the mere possession of the desired competencies differentiates leadership performance. Additionally, this approach misses the opportunity to look at the full picture of human performance, which was considered a cutting-edge key performance indicator prior to the pandemic but is emerging as an essential metric in selecting and promoting leaders today.

COVID-19 and the work-related changes it has forced will long be remembered as the event that expedited not only digital transformation, but more importantly how we assess talent.  Federal agencies will continue to face significant near and longer-term challenges related to acquiring, retaining, assessing and developing the leaders of the future who will drive organizational success if focus isn’t shifted to this matter now. In many cases, departments have limited means to know what will define future leadership excellence and will continue to lose future-ready talent to commercial firms who are setting the pace.

“Even those candidates who are motivated by mission rather than money will trend toward the private sector if government agencies are not keeping up with the pace of transformation, and high-performing employees who are currently in the federal ranks with the desire to move into leadership roles will turnover if development opportunities aren’t available.” – Wendy Monsen, President of Korn Ferry’s U.S. Government Practice.

Korn Ferry is a global organizational consulting firm that enables our clients to synchronize their strategy and talent to drive superior results. Our operating model is unique in the industry because it focuses on the radically human aspects of organizational performance.  We are well-positioned to develop current teams and simultaneously fill the talent gaps from the C-Suite to individual contributors.

“The true differentiator for Korn Ferry resides in the daily application of our intellectual property and consulting best practices across our three search organizations to secure the talent our clients need for their most critical leadership roles. Our organizational structure enables us to prove the validity of our approach in a way no other organization can match.” – Michael Dwyer, Vice President of Korn Ferry’s U.S. Government Practice.

The insight of our research, empowered by over 7 million assessments and our experience placing individuals in new professional roles every three minutes, is leverageable across the federal government, and we want to share what we have learned.

Our analysis has determined that human performance in the workplace is governed by four factors: competencies, experiences, traits and drivers. Research shows these four areas to be highly predictive of performance differences and correlated with all key talent variables: engagement, retention, productivity, leadership effectiveness and leadership potential.

We recently conducted a study of over 200 newly promoted Senior Executive Service (SES) members. Our team administered a measure of leadership potential and compared the results to a national population of high potential private sector senior leaders. The results detailed that the federal leaders were found to be “as good” and sometimes “better” than their private sector counterparts based on the selected criteria. The assessed SES population was technically sound, consisting of quick learners in their area of specialization who demonstrated a willingness to do whatever is required to achieve current organizational needs. However, there were several areas where the SES sample was significantly lower than their private sector counterparts.

Recent research has stressed that as organizations plan to return to work during and after the pandemic, several leadership qualities will be critical for organizational success. These traits include resilience, tolerance of ambiguity, persistence, and optimism. In our study, SES leaders rated lower than their commercial counterparts in these areas.

Many federal sector competency models stress the importance of leading employees as one of the most critical senior leader competencies. However, this competency has been reported as one of the lowest rated when compared to senior private sector civilian leaders.

Awareness of what competencies leaders possess is no longer enough. Successfully advancing a federal agency's mission and vision requires an understanding of the critical leadership attributes needed to drive the mission forward. However, defining success for these vital roles is not easy. Skills that lead to success in one position do not always translate to success in a different role. In fact, according to Manchester Inc., 40% of employees fail when moving to new roles. The Korn Ferry Four-Dimensional (KF4D) framework can reduce your risk in this area and accelerate your talent development efforts. Constant uncertainty and rapid change make it even more difficult to forecast exactly which skills and attributes will be most critical in the future, and while this complexity has always been with us, it is now accelerating.

So how do federal agencies catch up?  Our KF4D approach is implemented via our Success Profile model. Our research shows that leaders who were a close fit with traits and drivers in Korn Ferry’s customized and unique target profiles were up to 13 times more likely to be highly engaged in their jobs, making them more likely to be highly satisfied, emotionally invested, and willing to expend considerable discretionary effort.

The Korn Ferry Success Profile serves as the blueprint for developing better leaders. They are comprised of role accountabilities, competencies, experiences, traits and drivers that bring consensus to what “good leadership" looks like. This knowledge enables organizations to start identifying, evaluating and preparing future leaders years ahead of time. Additionally, it empowers individuals to drive their personal development and knowledge into what experiences are critical to be successful in their current and desired future roles.

In the federal sector, Success Profiles help align each department’s mission and strategy with specific leadership attributes. Armed with this knowledge, the organization can leverage talent requirements, not just for a single purpose but for a broad range of talent development applications including; assessment, on-boarding, development, organization design, career maps, rewards and more.

Organizations attempting to develop future leaders and identify the most meaningful talent development initiatives without a clear and measurable way to identify the things that contribute most to mission success are likely on the road to disorder or failure. Leaders need to excel at delivering on their organizational mission. "Being a leader in these disruptive times demands empathy, compassion, and understanding. It requires you to meet others where they are with humility and authenticity," writes Burnison. “Promoting conscious inclusion by bringing everyone to the table so that you can listen, learn, and then lead to a place not entirely visible today. A better place.” The Success Profile removes the ambiguity and enables every employee to understand what success looks like and provides the opportunity to opt-in to the development journey necessary to achieve their career goals.

Whether you are a leader in the market for new talent or one of the people tasked with developing leaders; if you develop and implement Success Profiles, you are on the way to building, developing and deploying the leaders who will make a difference. If you do not yet have the insight derived from Success Profiles, let us help you become more Future Ready.

About Korn Ferry

Korn Ferry is a global organizational consulting firm. We work with clients to design their organizational structures, roles, and responsibilities with a focus on the human aspects of performance. We help clients hire the right people and advise them on how to reward, develop and motivate their workforce, and we help professionals navigate and advance their careers.