Talent Management

Successfully Implementing Talent Management Systems in the Federal Government: Best Practices

William McElrath

William McElrath is a Senior Consultant at Educe supporting the implementation and administration of Cornerstone OnDemand across multiple industries,…

Federal organizations operate in a world of evolving needs and constant oversight. While policies serve to direct and support employees in achieving each agency’s mission and goals, the climate created by the deep focus and adherence to policy can lead to a culture that is resistant to change, particularly when it comes to the adoption of new technology.

This hesitancy can impede new software initiatives, resulting in failed implementations and continued use of outdated legacy systems and antiquated processes. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in Federal HR.

In this blog, we will outline best practices for implementing new talent technology and process improvements focused on supporting Federal HR stakeholders – the Federal workforce. We will also provide high-level user adoption recommendations to improve the chances of a successful implementation of any talent management system in the Federal government.

Talent Management System – A Definition

A talent management system is defined as the technology that supports core HR business processes, including recruitment, employee onboarding, performance management, learning and professional development, compensation management, and succession planning. Each agency is different in its use (or lack) of technology to support these activities, and must abide by specific requirements and policies that do not necessarily apply consistently across individual organizations or different departments. Below are general best practices for successfully navigating a new workforce technology implementation.

Set the Stage

Start with a defined scope and realistic timeline to ensure your internal team knows what the focus should be. Budget and timing constraints within a given fiscal year play a huge role in determining the timing and feasibility of these initiatives. Also remember, you don’t have to do everything at once – consider a phased roll-out of new systems, processes, or changes. This can be an effective way to balance workload and aid in successful adoption.

When it comes to leveraging technology, understand how you’re tracking your data and make sure this is aligned with your strategy to best support end goals and reporting. If it isn’t, now is the time to understand what changes need to be made.

Begin change management steps and communications early to get ahead of your audience and manage expectations. Have your identified change agents engaged early and often so they can drive better communications with the broader agency in later stages of the project. For quick tips on change management strategies, check out this blog post. Don’t be surprised when change is difficult – plan and prepare for it!

Get Buy-In

Paint a picture of the strategic and tactical challenges faced by the organization and the goals your talent technology initiative strives to achieve. Seek input and buy-in from both high-level leadership and boots-on-the-ground team members. Remember that people need time and convincing to adjust their expectations and get on board with a change.

The scrutiny federal agencies are under affects everyone, particularly those responsible for steering the organization, leading to greater reliance on system oversight and audit records. Emphasize the audit tracking and controls modern technology systems provide to help win valuable backing from key agency stakeholders.

Answer the question: “What’s in it for me?” for all affected populations. Consider providing demos to illustrate how the new “normal” will look and preempt stakeholder questions and concerns. Emphasize the benefits in the context of the Federal workplace and reinforce the efficiencies that can be gained by moving away from multiple outdated platforms to a consolidated, or at least integrated, talent management system.

Get Ready to Adapt

Ensure you engage senior leadership for sponsorship and escalation that you can rely on to help push initiatives forward. Their input and backing are invaluable in getting projects off the ground and tackling any speedbumps along the way.

Look for opportunities to integrate systems or adapt processes. Remember, processes should serve the end goals of the agency, and the talent management system is the tool. Leverage change management resources to communicate these points and demonstrate how the new technology system streamlines and improves processes, whether in-person or offline, that were previously manual and tedious.

Test to Succeed

When implementing a new talent management system in the Federal government, remember that you’ll need to verify and provide feedback on the change. Identify your testing team in advance and include them in project conversations, so they have more context and understanding when validating new processes. Many Federal agencies place too low of a priority on this component of technology implementations and given the oversight and scrutiny public sector organizations face, validating solutions before they go out the door is especially important.

Plan for governance over the new system or process. Determine whether changes or adjustments need to go through a governing body or what versioning may need to be applied to documentation. Set up controls that safeguard and support the initiative long-term. The right amount of information to be maintained will vary across different agencies, but this is a crucial step to safeguarding long-term use of new talent management systems or processes through audit records and controls.


When it comes to talent technology initiatives, Federal agencies face unique requirements and challenges. Therefore, it is critical that when agencies find themselves in a position to innovate and implement new technology, it is viewed as an opportunity to not only update, consolidate, and integrate systems, but also to modernize business processes around those systems. In the end, the way to ensure successful implementations of talent management systems in the Federal government is to clearly define success, get stakeholder buy-in from all levels, plan for risk and be adaptable, and get people onboard early.

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