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Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity – this is the motto of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and while, for many of us, our knowledge of the FBI is based on Hollywood movies and TV shows featuring car chases, high drama, and a handsome man in cool shades screaming out ‘STOP! FBI!’,  we have decided to show you another side of this important institution.  While we are used to thinking about the FBI as an agency for crime investigation, we rarely stop to think about the processes and people that make it possible. What is the FBI approach to engagement or talent management? What is the employee benefit system like? What platforms are used for Learning & Development? Human Resources is one of the key departments that makes living up to the motto possible, and while we can’t provide you with all the answers about the FBI’s HR workings, we can shed light on some of them. We recently interviewed the FBI’s Human Resources Division Deputy Assistant Director, Timothy P. Groh.

Timothy GrohDue to the nature of its work, we’d imagine that the FBI probably tries to stay on top of technological developments, integrating them into every function, including HR. Yet, it is a government agency, meaning its budgetary restrictions are often more strict than in the private sector. If this is the case, how does your department balance the two?

In the past, we often have not kept pace with technology as evidenced by our 1970’s era human resource information system (HRIS). The FBI is its people. We are now doing a better job of tying the activities of the Human Resources Division to organizational strategy and outcomes. We are making a conscious effort to ensure that HR employees are plugged in to what the FBI is doing operationally. In addition, we are ensuring that the operational components take time to look ahead and discuss the HR implications of the threats they see on the horizon. On the back end, we are ensuring that we can demonstrate the return on investment in HR and evaluate the opportunity cost of each of our activities.


What was the evolution of technology in HR like over the past couple of years? What were the mistakes and what lessons did the HR Division learn from them? What is in the pipeline for 2015?

For the last couple of years, the HR Division (HRD) has been utilizing software tools to automate HR processes. For the most part, the processes were automated “as-is” – one process at a time. Sometimes the processes could be interconnected and some efficiencies were realized. While these efforts have been helpful, HRD is now working to change how the FBI does business by sometimes changing our own automated procedures rather than the other way around. HRD is implementing a comprehensive Human Resources Information System and changing how we do business. Core HR was implemented in 2013. Profiles of employees and positions are being implemented now. Next year will bring a comprehensive talent acquisition system. Performance will be managed in the system the following year. These four major subsystems will replace more than a dozen disparate systems and processes and give the FBI unprecedented agility and situational awareness relative to its workforce.


What is the FBI’s BYOD policy? How do you safeguard against the threats associated with BYOD practices?

The environment that the FBI works in often requires that the FBI not allow employees to have personal electronic devices in the workplace or use them for FBI business outside of the workplace. The FBI has developed and deployed to a large segment of its workforce, its own mobile technology program. A very real consequence of the security environment that the FBI inhabits is that opportunities for employees to work all or even part of their schedule outside of FBI-secured space are extremely limited.


What content management vendor did the FBI choose for the Virtual Academy’s infrastructure and what was the decision based on?

The FBI’s Virtual Academy was originally based on the Meridian Learning Management System. Over the last decade, it has evolved continuously. It is now actually a constellation of related systems, with Meridian still playing a role. The FBI has an incredibly complex mission including more than 400 distinct operational activities. It is both a law enforcement and intelligence agency and has a world-wide presence. To support all of these activities, Virtual Academy has evolved substantially over time thorough the addition of software, and through constant in-house customization. For instance, in the last several years, Blackboard has been integrated to support remote and asynchronous learning. Based on experience, the FBI does not believe that a single product could support the full range of FBI needs. Instead the FBI values the ease of integration of modular capabilities that can function behind the firewalls of the FBI’s internal networks.


How, if at all, does the FBI utilize big data and analytics in its everyday HR operations? Which HR functions do you think benefit the most?

Because the FBI’s HRIS is only now being updated, big data about the FBI workforce has generally been difficult to access on a day-to-day basis. As the new system comes on line, we see talent management, particularly with regard to talent acquisition and internal assignments, as presenting the most immediate opportunity to leverage big data.

What would be your advice to organizations that are implementing new platforms and HR technologies in terms of ensuring successful change management?

For an organization facing the significant challenges that the FBI faced three years ago with outdated, disparate systems and processes, we would recommend that change be contemplated on a large enough scale for silos to be broken down and real efficiencies realized. This takes a large-scale vision and must iclude a complete evaluation of both the current state and future needs. Those future needs must consider the operational purpose of the enterprise and not just the needs of the HR component. Implementation is best achieved in a deliberate, phased approach which introduces, not just change, but mechanisms for coping with, and indeed thriving with, continuous change, adaptation, and improvement.


Why did you choose HR Tech Europe 2014 from the long list of conferences you are probably invited to speak at on a daily basis?

We chose HR Tech Europe because we are interested in the opportunity to hear some different and broader perspectives about HR than those to which we are commonly exposed to domestically.


Don’t miss Timothy Groh’s presentation at HR Tech Europe 2014. He will discuss the ‘Virtual Academy: Developing our Agents‘ on Day 1 in the ‘Future of Workforce Learning‘ track.