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How civil service transformation benefits public employees

Having a civil service that is highly motivated and empowered is more important than ever.

In brief
  • The timing is right for entities to begin transforming civil service.
  • Organizations can take varying approaches.
  • Agencies can decide on the appropriate initiatives to help them transform.

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasing number of government organizations are realizing a resilient civil service workforce can help them address key challenges while continuing to fulfill their mission. In addition, they also recognize that building a more resilient workforce also requires a significant investment in strengthening their civil service. Public sector organizations that have engaged in civil service transformation are already taking the proactive steps to prepare for tomorrow’s challenges by making key investments in their people today.

One state government is taking this opportunity to transform its Health and Human Services workforce as it prepares for the next major health crisis. Recognizing the stress the pandemic placed on the organization, they are seeking to reimagine their employee value proposition, revamping compensation and rewards and upskilling employees so they can provide a rapid response in a future crisis. They are also taking this opportunity to align their workforce with the future priorities of their organization and using it as a catalyst to transform their civil service for the future.

This is one reason why the timing is right for organizations to begin transforming and building the civil service of the future. The competition for talent will all but certainly intensify in the years ahead, and public sector organizations need to take steps now to create a more compelling value proposition that can help them attract the best and brightest. Given that governments are often limited in their ability to match private sector salaries, creating a strong employee value proposition – one that champions the civil servant while remaining firmly grounded in its mission – is one of the best ways for them to compete for talent with private entities.


Chapter 1

Success in state government transformation

Organizations can take multiple approaches to build the civil service organization of the future.

Organizations can seek to revamp their entire infrastructure or take a more piecemeal approach focusing on one department at a time. Ernst & Young LLP is currently working with a state government as it transforms its entire civil service organization after a severe financial crisis. While the government has taken steps toward achieving a sounder financial footing, it quickly realized it needed to fully engage employees, many of whom went without pay increases for years and faced the uncertainty of an unfunded pension, among other trials. They realized that just getting back on their feet financially would not be enough if they wanted to truly rebound from the crisis.

Engaged in summer 2021, EY teams recently completed two pilots for selected key financial agencies and are now working with the state government to scale the project and begin rolling out the reform to more than 60 government agencies and a workforce of more than 20,000 employees in January 2023.

The pilots focused on four strategic components: organizational design, compensation, recruitment, and evaluation and development of employees as they seek to transform human capital capabilities and resources. With much of the design work finished, an EY team now stands ready to help them deploy the transformation along five workstreams: organization design, compensation, employee evaluation, recruitment, and change management.

1. Organizational design

As a first step, the team sought to understand and redesign the organizational structure for each agency to make sure employees with the right skills and competencies were assigned to the right area and job. A skills and competency survey found, for example, that administrative tasks consumed 40% of the overall workload, which meant that employees were not focusing on value-added areas. To address this, the EY team and the government consolidated many of those tasks into a centralized shared services team. This resulted in pilot employees being able to focus on more strategic tasks that advanced the agency’s priorities, eliminating their backlogs because they could focus on critical activities.

2. Compensation

The team also conducted an extensive review of the salary scales against market rates in an effort to align and adjust compensation so employees would be paid competitively. This was a significant undertaking and the initial study indicated that the two departments were significantly below scale: in one agency, 73% of the employees were paid below market rates, while the other revealed that 80% were below. Addressing this discrepancy became one of the main tasks for the oversight board and now no employee in either agency is working below market rates. A survey conducted after the salary adjustment showed that this has significantly improved employee satisfaction and engagement.

3. Recruitment

After identifying a number of skills gaps in the organizational design phase, the team realized that in addition to upskilling employees they would need to address these gaps by seeking external talent who could support the government’s digitization efforts and further drive operational efficiency. Recruitment had been a point of contention in the past, so the team designed a digitized, optimized and candidate-focused recruitment process that utilized a single digital platform, with built-in safeguards for transparency in the recruitment process. As they assessed both agencies, they identified the need for more than 100 positions in the areas of accounting, data science, project management and technology to bring into the state’s government.

4. Employee evaluation (performance management)

The final strategic component of the transformation effort was to develop an employee evaluation system that measured proficiency and key skills and competencies that would set the stage for fair, impartial evaluations. As part of the assessment, the team realized that both agencies had created a complex job classification system, which they sought to simplify by trimming 176 job classifications down into 2. This allowed leaders and employees to clearly understand their classification, providing a clearer pathway for promotions and advancement. Overall, the team reduced 24,000 job classifications to 1,500.

5. Change management

Given that they were working with two agencies, with two separate leadership teams, the EY People Advisory Services team needed to develop a strategic change management approach that would serve to effectively engage with the various stakeholders, gain employee buy-in for the transformation efforts, and manage impacts on roles and operations. Rather than follow the traditional approach of relying on a top-down communication program marked by frequent communications from leadership, the team created a change network of key influencers within each agency. This approach helped to deliver key information to the right people, from people they were more likely to know personally or professionally.

With the successful completion of the pilots, EY professionals and the government are now determining the additional priority agencies to turn their focus as they move to deploy the project through the full civil service organization of more than 20,000 employees, starting in January. The transformation effort has the potential continue for several years, but it is certainly off to a strong start and serves as a beacon for other organizations considering similar transformations.


Chapter 2

Beginning the transformation journey

Lack of funds or political willpower should not be a deterrent.

While not every government may have the available funds or political willpower to pursue such an ambitious transformation, this should not serve a deterrent for organizations seeking to invest in the future of civil service employees. Many entities may be able to start small, selecting one department, a single function, or one key priority (such as organization design) at a time to begin the transformation.


Using a civil service ambition design process can also serve as a powerful way for governments or agencies to begin their civil service transformation journey, This process starts by asking the question, “Who is the future civil servant?” and uses that as a starting point to create a multi-dimensional portrait of tomorrow’s employee that looks at their skills, compensation, relationship to mission, interaction with culture, and other key traits. These attributes are informed by the future threats and opportunities that the organization anticipates over the short to medium term, along with leading practices that support workforce resiliency. These questions help form portrait(s) of the future civil servant that serve as a north star for charting the path forward.


Once they have defined their civil service ambition, agencies can decide on the appropriate people-focused initiatives that will help them achieve this ambition. These initiatives could include competency and skill development; culture and diversity, equity and inclusion; performance management; employee learning and career path planning; workforce planning; compensation and rewards; recruitment; and organization design. All of these initiatives should be supported by a carefully crafted change management strategy to support the change and engage stakeholders throughout the organization. When prioritizing the right initiatives for transformation (from those outlined above), organizations should assess each initiative for contribution to future ambition as well as ease of implementation – considering the effort and resources needed to bridge current gaps in these areas – to select those components that are the best candidates for transformation and will have the largest impact in achieving the future ambition.


Governments also need to recognize that civil service transformation is not done in a silo. Workforce changes will have a downstream impact on multiple other areas of the organization. Understanding the potential impacts, dependencies, and risks of workforce transformation initiatives will be key to any successful and lasting transformation. To that end, public sector organizations must consider the impact of their civil service initiatives on the areas of public policy and regulation, budget, technology and data, and labor relations. While these areas are sometimes seen as barriers for beginning a transformation effort, a number of quick wins can be implemented to realize immediate success, while planning a longer-term engagement strategy to successfully and sustainably overcome barriers.


The path to civil service transformation is never an easy one, but it will pay dividends not only to the organization’s people, but ultimately to the constituents they serve. Organizations that define their future ambition and embark on transformation to build a prepared and resilient workforce will establish themselves as a civilian employer of choice, build a reputation of excellence with the public, and create greater workforce predictability in the face of tomorrow’s challenges.

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