By Ronda Capeles

People first. Successful organizations focus on integrating all aspects of employee satisfaction into business-related processes, and the Bureau of Overseas Business Operations (OBO) is doing just that through its modernized talent management initiatives. According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), talent management is a “system that promotes a high-performing workforce, identifies and closes skills gaps, and implements and maintains programs to attract, acquire, develop, promote, and retain quality and diverse talent.” In recent years, taking care of our people has progressed from simply being good practice to serving as a significant framework for OBO. The goals of increasing employee engagement, enhancing professional development, boosting retention, improving recognition, modernizing recruitment, and strengthening diversity, equity, and inclusion drive talent management in OBO. 

During March’s onboard Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) course, new OBO employees had the opportunity to network and learn about OBO’s mission, culture, and areas of focus. The new course helps to ensure all new employees feel connected and welcomed by OBO leadership during their first six months on the team. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations
During March’s onboard Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) course, new OBO employees had the opportunity to network and learn about OBO’s mission, culture, and areas of focus. The new course helps to ensure all new employees feel connected and welcomed by OBO leadership during their first six months on the team. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations

When OBO announced talent management as one of the bureau’s five focus areas, many questioned the scope of leadership commitment to this effort. 

 “We have to do more than just sit in a briefing to check a box,” said an employee after a “Critical Conversation” regarding unconscious bias in the workplace. “We have to be able to apply the disciplines in order to improve the work atmosphere.”  

OBO prioritized amplifying the voices of their employees and allowed them to become directly involved in talent management initiatives with the establishment of the Talent Management Sub-Committees and Council, August 2020.

Each Talent Management Sub-Committee and Council is focused on one of six key objectives: recruitment, retention, professional development, employee engagement, recognition, and diversity, equity, and inclusion and is led by an OBO managing director, also known as the senior champion of the respective Sub-Committee or Council. With members from across all of OBO’s directorates worldwide, Talent Management boasts more than 100 employee volunteers collaborating to help OBO make the best use of its diverse and wide-ranging talent pool. Through the work of the Talent Management Sub-Committees and Council, OBO is implementing continuous organizational improvements, such as the Voyager Program, out-processing assessment, and exit interviews that create a culture of optimizing people, processes, and technology. These organizational improvements continue to allow the bureau to serve the U.S. diplomatic community better with vision, purpose, and value. 

Putting people first and executing strategies that focus on enhancing the bureau’s culture drives all of OBO’s talent management work. To ensure the Talent Management team is focused on what its people need, the team is engaging OBO employees through focus groups and design thinking sessions to brainstorm and develop solutions for common pain points. Additionally, employee-led working groups have been established to continue to promote collaboration, common priorities, streamlined processes, and employee feedback and empowerment. 

In February, Bureau of Overseas Buildings Opersations’s (OBO) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council celebrated Black History Month by hosting a Critical Conversation titled “Unconscious Bias in the Workplace.” Post Management Officer Acquania Escarne shared her experiences and educated OBO employees on how they can recognize and mitigate their unconscious biases. Illustration courtesy of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations
In February, Bureau of Overseas Buildings Opersations’s (OBO) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council celebrated Black History Month by hosting a Critical Conversation titled “Unconscious Bias in the Workplace.” Post Management Officer Acquania Escarne shared her experiences and educated OBO employees on how they can recognize and mitigate their unconscious biases. Illustration courtesy of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations

Another important initiative is ensuring that all of OBO’s people, regardless of their differences, are included and treated equally. Knowing that this is one of the most important areas of improvement for the bureau, Acting Director Henry Jardine, and Deputy Executive Director Ronda Capeles, co-chairs of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council, developed the OBO Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan (DISP) 2020–2024. The DISP emphasizes embracing thought, improving performance and a diverse workforce through inclusion, and recognizing diversity and inclusion as mission-critical priorities to OBO.

The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council has launched monthly “Critical Conversations” that highlight the diverse communities within OBO to put the DISP’s words into action. Hearing from OBO’s people is a recurring theme. Employees volunteer as panel speakers to express their perspectives and engage in candid conversations with their colleagues on topics such as LGBTQ+ ride, Race in the Workplace, Women in Construction, and Unconscious Bias. The most recent, “Critical Conversation on Unconscious Bias,” was met with overwhelmingly positive feedback, with one OBO employee remarking that she wished “this presentation [had been] presented years ago,” adding that “it is never too late to educate employees about the unconscious biases.”

Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) Acting Director Henry Jardine and OBO managing directors host the virtual Summer 2021 Awards Ceremony, recognizing OBO employees nominated for bureau awards. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations
Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) Acting Director Henry Jardine and OBO managing directors host the virtual Summer 2021 Awards Ceremony, recognizing OBO employees nominated for bureau awards. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations

Improving processes and embracing new methods of operating is another priority for the Talent Management team. The Recruitment Sub-Committee ensures the bureau is efficiently and effectively recruiting and hiring the right people by revamping outreach surveys and event materials to modernize the recruiting process. Once employees are hired, the Professional Development Sub-Committee is improving the employee’s journey starting from day one by creating a customized onboarding experience known as the Voyager Program. The program aims to make employees feel connected and supported and serves as a simple and centralized overview of OBO resources. 

To supplement the enhanced recruiting process, the Retention Sub-Committee aims to reduce OBO staff turnover. They have launched an Employee Out-Processing Assessment and are conducting bureau-wide exit surveys and standardized exit interviews led by supervisors and human resources specialists to identify growth opportunities. 

The third pillar of OBO’s talent management work is innovation and technology implementation that promotes transparency into talent management. The Recognition Sub-Committee is leading the way by making it easy for supervisors and human resources staff to nominate, approve, and track all OBO awards nominations. To streamline this process, OBO has created its own ServiceNow portal, rOBO, that auto-populates nomination information, provides real-time visibility into awards status, and allows awards approvers to sign key documents with one click. rOBO also houses awards dashboards that make it effortless to analyze awards demographics year-over-year and identify trends to facilitate an equitable awards process.

The Talent Management team plans to continue using rOBO to advance and automate common processes and recently launched the OBO Out-Processing Checklist in rOBO. This checklist guides OBO employees and their supervisors on the necessary actions needed for the employee to leave the bureau, thus creating a more beneficial exit experience. 

To emphasize OBO’s commitment to its people and expand the outreach of talent management, the Employee Engagement Sub-Committee recently hosted an OBO-wide webinar, presented by Jardine and Talent Management Senior Champion Ronda Capeles. More than 200 OBO employees attended and were given updates on accomplishments and milestones of the six talent management objectives.

In February, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations participated in the National Peace Corps Association’s Virtual Career Fair for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers as part of the Recruitment Sub-Committee’s expansion of recruitment activities. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations
In February, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations participated in the National Peace Corps Association’s Virtual Career Fair for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers as part of the Recruitment Sub-Committee’s expansion of recruitment activities. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations

“I enjoyed hearing about the various sub-committees and their goals,” said an OBO employee in response to the event. “This presentation was very helpful to understanding OBO’s commitment to its team members.”

In the future, the OBO Talent Management team aims to expand its reach by engaging employees assigned overseas. A three-part “Talent Management Spotlight Series” is currently  ongoing, and each virtual session is focused on specific overseas regions. Eventually the team would like to travel abroad to allow all OBO employees, especially those stationed outside of Washington, to feel supported and included in the talent management initiatives, which are imperative for creating a more cohesive and connected OBO workforce. 

Ronda Capeles is deputy executive director in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations.

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