Virtual Teams and Coaching Difficult Leaders

This research-based essay was written in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Psychology of Consulting class (PSY-834) at Grand Canyon University.

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, virtual teams have become commonplace. There are notable differences between face-to-face teams and virtual teams. Additionally, good leaders are needed to make sure virtual teams are successful. The first section of this paper will describe virtual teams, how they operate, and the best practices and ethics involved. Then, the second section discusses leadership coaching and how coaches deal with difficult leaders. The paper concludes with some final thoughts.

Virtual Teams

Virtual teams have become much more critical in the past 18 months. The COVID-19 pandemic forced most office employees to work from home for the first time (Feitosa & Salas, 2020). As a result, many organizations have formed virtual teams to operate more effectively. Although virtual teams are familiar now, they have existed for many years, and there is much research comparing virtual teams to traditional (face-to-face) teams. This section examines virtual teams by discussing the similarities and differences between virtual and traditional teams, the development stages of teams, the factors that result in success and those that inhibit success, best practices for leading virtual teams, and the ethical challenges of virtual teams. The section begins with a comparison of face-to-face teams and virtual teams.

Comparing and Contrasting Face-to-Face Teams and Virtual Teams

There are several similarities between traditional teams and virtual teams. First, traditional and virtual teams are formed by people who depend on each other to achieve an established goal (Morrison-Smith & Ruiz, 2020; Stratone & VĂTĂMĂNescu, 2019). The interdependency in teams stems from the team trying to achieve a common goal. Additionally, team members usually have different roles that they fill to accomplish intermediate tasks. For example, one employee might be responsible for entering accounts payable invoices in an accounting department, and another employee would issue payments. The second employee depends on the first because the second employee cannot issue payments until the first employee enters the invoices into the accounting system. As this example illustrates, teams usually comprise interdependent members who seek a common goal.

A second similarity is that traditional and virtual teams use synchronous and asynchronous forms of communication to accomplish their goals (Morrison-Smith & Ruiz, 2020; Wilson et al., 2021). For example, traditional teams tend to meet face-to-face to discuss the progress of their work. Additionally, they may have informal meetings—at the water cooler—to review what was discussed at the formal meeting and eliminate misunderstandings (Feitosa & Salas, 2020). Likewise, virtual teams can have formal meetings using videoconferencing technology (e.g., Microsoft Teams). In addition, they can use the chat function or email for informal discussions (Feitosa & Salas, 2020). The synchronous and asynchronous meetings among team members are critical to team success, explaining why such communication exists for traditional and virtual teams.

Although there are several similarities between traditional and virtual teams, there are also some crucial differences. For example, Wilson et al. (2021) found that leadership emergence in virtual teams does not follow the same patterns as in traditional teams. In traditional teams, the more extroverted team members tend to become the team leaders. However, extroversion did not predict that virtual teams chose their leaders this way.

In addition to leadership emergence issues, virtual teams tend to have more communication problems related to diversity and culture. Given the wide geographic dispersion of many virtual teams, some team members may not understand other team members’ language use and culture (Gheni et al., 2017). In traditional teams, diversity is a concern; however, it is less of a concern because team members can respond to nonverbal cues more appropriately (Wilson et al., 2021). These differences are essential to understand, but they are not impossible to overcome.

The Development Stages of Teams

Researchers have suggested that teams progress through a life cycle. For example, Tuckman and Jensen (2010) described five stages of group development: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. During the forming stage, group members get to know each other, which is more difficult for virtual teams who have never met face-to-face because team members may not make an effort to reach out to each other (Stratone & VĂTĂMĂNescu, 2019). Furthermore, Stratone and VĂTĂMĂNescu (2019) point out that when team members are added to or removed from the group, they might regress to the forming stage before progressing with their work.

During the storming and norming stages, team members may experience conflict. In many cases, the conflict involves decision-making processes (Wilson et al., 2021). Furthermore, there may be disagreements about who would be the group leader. As previously noted, this is more of a problem for virtual teams than for traditional teams (Wilson et al., 2021).

The performing stage is when the team operates efficiently and meets its objectives. Stratone and VĂTĂMĂNescu (2019) suggest that teams will not reach this stage unless they have built trust and good relationships during the previous stages. Again, virtual teams have more difficulty building relationships without a high level of communication (Morrison-Smith & Ruiz, 2020). The performing stage occurs when the team moves toward the end of their time together.

Once the team has accomplished its goals, it moves into the adjourning stage. During this stage of group development, the group reflects on their time together and examines how well they achieved their goals and worked together (Tuckman & Jensen, 2010). As the team adjourns, a leader should meet with team members to discuss their experiences.

The Factors in Virtual Teams That Result in Success

Several factors exist within virtual teams that can result in team success. The most critical factor for team success is appropriate information and communication technologies (Stratone & VĂTĂMĂNescu, 2019). Foremost, virtual team members must have stable internet connections to connect to the various web-based services used for virtual team communications. Examples of services include videoconferencing software, email, and calendar software (e.g., Microsoft Outlook), and file server access at their organization. Furthermore, team members should have a way to share sensitive data securely. Without appropriate technology in place, virtual teams have little chance of success.

Another factor that results in team success is proper role assignments. It is essential to assign people to roles that are commensurate with their knowledge, skills, and abilities (Stratone & VĂTĂMĂNescu, 2019). In addition to ensuring team productivity, proper role assignments will allow team members to know who is responsible for each part of a project. That would allow them to communicate with each other when they have problems without figuring out who should answer their questions.

Finally, virtual teams need to hold regular meetings during their tenure. Since they do not meet in person, team members should hold frequent meetings to update each other on their progress (Stratone & VĂTĂMĂNescu, 2019). Furthermore, they should discuss problems openly in meetings to avoid groupthink. Regular team meetings have other benefits as well, including team building.

Many factors affect success in virtual teams. Having appropriate technology systems, correctly assigning roles, and holding frequent update meetings are essential for success. Although having these factors in place can result in team success, other factors could inhibit success, discussed in the next section.

The Factors in Virtual Teams That Inhibit Success

The literature abounds with factors that inhibit the success of virtual teams. The most commonly discussed is geographical distance and cultural diversity (Gheni et al., 2017; Morrison-Smith & Ruiz, 2020; Stratone & VĂTĂMĂNescu, 2019). As mentioned earlier, virtual teams may be spread across state and international borders over great distances. This displacement could lead to cultural misunderstandings and language barriers. An example of a cultural misunderstanding would be power distance among team members. In some eastern cultures, power is shared among team members, whereas Western nations usually give power to few leaders (Gheni et al., 2017). Therefore, in situations where there is a mixture of people from different cultures, there could be resentment among members due to the power structure.

Another problem that could inhibit team success is a lack of commitment from team members. Since virtual team members are not in an office together, they may not always be productive. This lack of commitment could lead to some members doing much more work than others (Stratone & VĂTĂMĂNescu, 2019). Frequent check-ins among team members could resolve this issue.

The size of the virtual team can also inhibit success. Stratone and VĂTĂMĂNescu (2019) noted that teams form subgroups as they get larger. Additionally, communication among larger teams tends to break down. Stratone and VĂTĂMĂNescu (2019) suggest that managers keep teams at a size that allows them to be productive and communicate well.

Thus, several factors could cause virtual teams to be less successful. First, the geographic distance could cause diversity-related cultural problems. Second, virtual teams could experience a lack of commitment among their members. Finally, virtual teams could become so large that productivity and communication break down.

Best Practices for Leading a Virtual Team

Although there are factors that inhibit the success of virtual teams, they can overcome many of these challenges with good leadership. This section will describe some best practices for leading a virtual team. In addition, Feitosa and Salas (2020) note several ways leaders can address the challenges faced by virtual teams.

First, leaders should monitor trust among the virtual team members, which might include having frequent meetings and engaging informally with team members via chat or text to understand how they feel about other members of the team. Mistrust among team members is a common area of the team’s failures.

Second, Feitosa and Salas (2020) recommend that leaders recognize success. For example, when a team meets a goal, the leader can announce the team’s good work at a company-wide meeting. These types of positive reinforcement can build relationships and ensure future success.

Third, leaders should ensure that the virtual team is a safe space for discussion of ideas. All team members should be encouraged to bring up their ideas without fear of harsh criticisms and personal attacks. Instead, the team should consider ideas genuinely, even if the team doesn’t accept the idea in the end. Furthermore, Feitosa and Salas (2020) explain that team members should be encouraged to understand the personal challenges faced by other team members.

Finally, leaders should assess the levels of teamwork among team members. Feitosa and Salas (2020) recommend that leaders provide frequent feedback to team members to know how they are doing. Furthermore, leaders should focus on results and team output instead of the number of hours each team member works. Additionally, leaders should hold debriefing sessions to understand how team members felt the team operated (part of the adjourning phase of group development).

Leadership is critical to ensuring team success, and there are best practices available to help give leaders some direction. These best practices include monitoring trust, increasing process gains, ensuring inclusion and safe spaces for team members, and assessing teamwork frequently. In addition, part of good leadership is understanding the ethical challenges faced by virtual teams. The following section presents a discussion of these ethical matters.

Ethical Challenges of Virtual Teams

Leadership in any domain requires consideration of ethics and morals. For virtual teams, there are unique ethical considerations. Ethical behavior among team members and team leaders is essential to the success of virtual teams. This section describes some of the ethical challenges of virtual teams.

A primary ethical concern arises from virtual team members working from remote locations instead of a central office location. Warren and Shaw (2021) note that team members may be distracted or lack commitment while working remotely. Feitosa and Salas (2020) noted that this problem was exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing most workers to work at home while caring for children. Therefore, leaders of virtual teams need to set an example for the team members and demonstrate their commitment to the team.

A second ethical concern is the possibility of team members communicating in inappropriate ways. People who do not have face-to-face interactions are more likely to exhibit inappropriate or aggressive language in their electronic communications with others (Warren & Shaw, 2021). Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence because people have gotten used to social media communications. However, leaders need to reinforce proper communication and etiquette in the workplace.

Finally, virtual team members may misuse organizational resources. For example, given the blurred lines between home and work life, employees may use the organization’s computer hardware or software for personal needs (Warren & Shaw, 2021). This misconduct could be especially problematic for government employees because they could mingle sensitive and classified information with personal information. The result could be catastrophic. Therefore, leaders must communicate the organization’s expectations regarding using organizational resources to team members.

As with all professional environments, ethical considerations are essential for virtual teams. Some of the ethical challenges virtual teams face include work-life balance issues, inappropriate communications, and misuse of organizational resources. The team leader needs to address all of these ethical issues to ensure that team members understand what would happen if they violate ethical norms.

Concluding Remarks About Virtual Teams

Virtual teams have become much more critical to organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, researchers have been comparing traditional and virtual teams for many years to determine ways to improve the performance of virtual teams. This paper has discussed some similarities and differences between traditional and virtual teams, the development stages of teams, the factors in virtual teams that result in success and those that inhibit success, best practices for leading a virtual team, and some of the ethical challenges of virtual teams.

Studying the last five years of research in the virtual team space has resulted in several conclusions about what makes virtual teams operate effectively. The most important theme in the literature is leadership. Proper guidance from team leaders will help virtual team members be successful, move through the stages of group development, and act ethically. A future consultant should understand how leadership affects virtual teams and be able to coach leaders to guide them towards success.

Coaching Difficult Leaders

This section of the paper discusses the coaching of difficult leaders. A difficult leader is one who challenges the coach or resists coaching (Taylor et al., 2019; Wasylyshyn, 2020). Leaders might resent the fact that a coach was hired to help the leader improve their performance or make some other kind of change (Wasylyshyn, 2020). To deal with difficult leaders, coaches should possess certain competencies and execute best practices (Wise & Hammack, 2011). This section of the paper discusses these competencies, three types of difficult leaders, how a leader’s style influences the handling of challenges, and how the coaching of a difficult leader might occur in a virtual environment. The key to dealing with difficult leaders is building a trusting relationship between the coach and the leader and supporting the leader’s basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. These ideas are threaded throughout this section.

Competencies of a Leadership Coach

Several competencies are needed for leadership coach success. Wise and Hammack (2011) grouped these competencies into three categories: establishing the coaching relationship, communicating effectively, and facilitating learning and performance. Although there are many competencies within these categories, Wise and Hammack (2011) found that certain competencies are more important to leaders’ success than others. Additionally, self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985) can be applied to the leadership coaching competencies to enhance understanding of their effectiveness (Taylor et al., 2019). The following discussion will synthesize the required competencies of leadership coaches and concepts of self-determination theory.

Establishing the coaching relationship

Establish trust with the client. Building a trusting relationship is a critical competency for a leadership coach to possess. Wise and Hammack (2011) consider this competency to be the most important for coaching success. Without trust between the coach and the coachee, the coachee may not be willing to answer the coach’s questions. The coach can build trust with the coachee by clarifying the roles, expectations, and responsibilities of both sides (Wise & Hammack, 2011).

Develop a coaching plan. Once trust has been established in the coaching relationship, the coach must be able to develop a coaching plan with the coachee leader. The coaching plan should include the steps needed to meet the objectives of the coaching engagement (Wise & Hammack, 2011). This competency is important because the coach needs to demonstrate to the coachee leader how the coaching engagement will proceed.

Relationship coaching. Wise and Hammack (2011) found that leadership coaches need to follow up with their coachee leaders frequently to understand how the engagement is going. For example, a leadership coach might have a weekly check-in session to determine how well the coaching plan is progressing. In addition to keeping the plan on track, relationship coaching also helps establish trust in the relationship.

Establishing trust within the coaching relationship meets the psychological need of relatedness described by Deci and Ryan (1985). Relatedness describes the psychological need to socialize and relate to other people. Failing to establish trust in the relationship would mean that the psychological need has not been met (Taylor et al., 2019), and the coaching engagement would more likely be terminated. Developing a coaching plan meets the need for autonomy because the coach can give the coachee leader tasks to perform on their own. In addition to establishing the coaching relationship, there are competencies related to communicating effectively, discussed in the next section.

Communicating effectively

Active listening. It is important that the coach give their coachees undivided attention. Paying attention is more than simply listening; the coach should pay attention to nonverbal cues as well (Wise & Hammack, 2011). Actively listening will meet the coachee leader’s psychological need for relatedness (Taylor et al., 2019) because the coach would show that they genuinely care for the coachee leader.

Provide honest feedback. Providing honest and open feedback is an essential competency. Wise and Hammack (2011) discussed the need to understand how to properly give negative feedback to coachee leaders. Negative feedback should be given in a way that challenges the leader to be better. This meets the psychological need for autonomy (Deci & Ryan, 1985) because it is up to the leader to take what the coach gives them and work with it to improve their performance.

Facilitating learning and performance

Goal setting and monitoring. Coaches need to set goals and monitor the success of the coaching engagement. Wise and Hammack (2011) suggest that goals relate to the best practices of the industry. For example, the executive director of a nonprofit might have goals involving fundraising and resource development. Additionally, coaches should monitor the coachee’s ability to meet the agreed-upon goals. Facilitating learning and performance meets all three psychological needs in self-determination theory (autonomy, competence, and relatedness). All the competencies operate together to ensure a successful coaching engagement.

Difficult Leaders

There are many types of difficult leaders that coaches might encounter. This section presents a discussion of three types of difficult leaders and how a coach should handle them. Wasylyshyn (2020) describes difficult leaders as “fakers” (p. 34) because they do not want to be coached. The three types of difficult leaders discussed here and described by Wasylyshyn (2020) are lack of intention to participate, excessive narcissism, and lack of emotional intelligence (EQ).

Some leaders may not want to participate in the coaching engagement. It is possible that the coach was hired by a board of directors or some other person or body superior to the leader that wishes to see a change in the leader. When leaders fail to understand how they can benefit from coaching or resent the fact that a coach was hired, they may challenge the coaching relationship (Wasylyshyn, 2020). Coaches should build trust with such leaders before continuing with the engagement. If the leader truly will not cooperate, they should be considered a candidate for removal from their position. The leader’s participation in the coaching engagement is crucial to its success.

The second type of difficult leader is one who displays excessive narcissism. Excessive narcissism results when leaders fail to maintain objectivity about their own leadership behaviors and abilities (Wasylyshyn, 2020). For example, a leader may think they know everything about marketing but in reality, that area is a weakness for them. The best way to handle this type of difficult leader is to ask them probing questions until they provide honest answers. This may be time-consuming, but it would help the leader admit what their weaknesses are.

The third type of difficult leader is one who lacks emotional intelligence (EQ). Such leaders have difficulty controlling their emotions and lack self-awareness (Wasylyshyn, 2020). Furthermore, they lack empathy for other people around them. Low EQ results in poor relationships with colleagues and employees who should follow the leader. A coach can handle this in a similar fashion—by asking probing questions until the leader admits that there is a problem with their emotions. Once the leader is aware of the problem, the coach can provide tools that the leader can use to control their emotions or use them in a good way.

The Influence of a Leader’s Style on How They Should Be Coached

Leadership style can affect how a coach handles coaching challenges. There are three broad management styles—autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire (Gandolfi & Stone, 2018). An autocratic leader might not participate in the coaching engagement due to excessive narcissism (Wasylyshyn, 2020). The coach should explain the benefits of the coaching engagement to the autocratic leader and give the leader more autonomy over how the coaching engagement proceeds. A democratic leader would be participative and any challenges that arise should be discussed with the leader and a decision that satisfies all parties should be made. The laissez-faire leader would likely allow the coach to tell them how to deal with the challenge. The three types of leadership styles noted here would affect which approach a coach would take to handle challenges that arise during the engagement.

Coaching Difficult Leaders in a Virtual Environment

Online coaching is more likely now that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many businesses to operate in the virtual environment. Online coaching may have both synchronous and asynchronous components (Jackson & Bourne, 2020). Coaching difficult leaders in the virtual pandemic may present special challenges. For example, leaders may not appear for their online meetings (Wasylyshyn, 2020). Furthermore, the leaders might not participate in the meetings or meet other objectives. Coaches should focus on establishing a trusting relationship with the leaders (Wise & Hammack, 2011). In the virtual environment, trust-building would occur by sending a welcome email at the beginning of the engagement. Overall, there would need to be a higher level of communication for coaching success (Jackson & Bourne, 2020). Online coaching can be just as successful as in-person coaching if the coach has the competencies discussed in a prior section.

Concluding Remarks About Coaching Difficult Leaders

This section discussed the competencies required of leadership coaches when dealing with difficult leaders. There are three categories of competencies—establishing the coaching relationship, communicating effectively, and facilitating learning and performance—that are critical for a leadership coach to possess (Wise & Hammack, 2011). Furthermore, difficult leaders might be unwilling to participate in the coaching engagement, excessively narcissistic, and lack emotional intelligence. Coaches should focus on building trust in the coaching relationship to help resolve these issues.

In addition to actions the coach can take, a leader’s style influences how challenges are handled. For example, an autocratic leader may need to feel like they are in control of the engagement and require additional autonomy support (Taylor et al., 2019). Alternatively, a democratic leader may seek participatory solutions. Conversely, a lassaiz-faire leader would be willing to take direction from the coach without question. Building trust will help the coach have a better working relationship with the client.

Finally, coaching difficult leaders in a virtual environment presents its own challenges. Coaches should focus on communicating effectively and building trust by sending frequent emails to check in on the client. Additionally, they should use videoconferencing technology to check on their clients in real time.

The key to coaching difficult leaders is to build a trusting relationship with the leader (Wise & Hammack, 2011) and ensure the psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are met (Taylor et al., 2019). When given the proper support, coaches can give difficult leaders the tools they need to change their behaviors and become successful leaders. Although some leaders are so difficult that no coach could ever help them, most leaders would be willing to accept the help of a professional coach.

Final Thoughts

Virtual teams are a normal part of the business culture, given the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, organizational and team leaders may require coaching to improve their performance or transition through company changes. Occasionally, coaches will encounter difficult leaders who may resist coaching and resent the fact that their managers hired a coach. This paper established that building trust and satisfying the three basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness will motivate difficult leaders to work with coaches to improve their performance.


Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. Plenum.

Feitosa, J., & Salas, E. (2020). Today’s virtual teams: Adapting lessons learned to the pandemic context. Organizational dynamics.

Gandolfi, F., & Stone, S. (2018). Leadership, leadership styles, and servant leadership. Journal of Management Research, 18(4), 261-269.

Gheni, A. Y., Jusoh, Y. Y., Jabar, M. A., Ali, N. M., Abdullah, R. H., Abdullah, S., & Khalefa, M. S. (2017). The virtual teams: E-leaders challenges.

Jackson, S., & Bourne, D. J. (2020). Can an online coaching programme facilitate behavioural change in women working in stem fields? International Coaching Psychology Review, 15(1), 20-36.

Morrison-Smith, S., & Ruiz, J. (2020). Challenges and barriers in virtual teams: A literature review. SN Applied Sciences, 2, 1-33.

Stratone, M. E., & VĂTĂMĂNescu, E.-M. (2019). The human capital dimension within the organizational equation. Gliding between virtual and traditional teams [Article]. Management Dynamics in the Knowledge Economy, 7(4), 447-467.

Taylor, S. N., Passarelli, A. M., & Van Oosten, E. B. (2019). Leadership coach effectiveness as fostering self-determined, sustained change. The Leadership Quarterly, 30(6), 101313.

Tuckman, B. W., & Jensen, M. A. C. (2010). Stages of small-group development revisited [Article]. Group Facilitation: A Research & Applications Journal, 10, 43-48.

Warren, C., & Shaw, S. (2021). Developing a framework for ethical leadership in virtual environments Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2021, Online, United States.

Wasylyshyn, K. M. (2020). A road resisted: ‘Fakers’ in executive coaching and how to avoid wasting company resources on them. Coaching Psychologist, 16(1), 34-40.

Wilson, J. M., Fletcher, T. D., Pescosolido, T., & Major, D. A. (2021). Extraversion and leadership emergence: Differences in virtual and face-to-face teams [Article]. Small Group Research, 52(5), 535-564.

Wise, D., & Hammack, M. (2011). Leadership coaching: Coaching competencies and best practices. Journal of School Leadership, 21(3), 449-477.

Ethical Misconduct at the Department of the Interior

On January 28, 2017, President Trump signed Executive Order 13770: Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees. This order requires all appointed personnel of the executive branch to sign an ethical pledge that has the force of law. The sixth clause of the rule requires appointees to not “participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that are directly and substantially related to [their] former employer.” Doing so would create an opportunity for a perceived or actual conflict of interest because public managers are expected to act with the interest of the public in mind. Participating in agency matters that involve a former employer would introduce personal interests into a public agency’s operations and corruption is likely to result. As we saw in this module’s suggested video (“Integrity: Why is it Important?”), corruption is defined as mixing personal interests with one’s professional responsibilities to the public. A simple Google search revealed a current event that we can examine in this context.

In February 2019, the not-for-profit Campaign Legal Center issued a letter to the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior requesting that he open an ethics investigation into the alleged breach of EO 13770 for several high-ranking Department appointees. One of them is Doug Domenech, Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs and former Senior White House Advisor to President Trump. Mr. Domenech signed his ethics pledge twice: initially after the order was issued and again upon his appointment to his current position in September 2017. Before his appointment, Mr. Domenech was employed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which is currently involved in litigation with the Interior Department. The Campaign Legal Center alleges that Mr. Domenech had several meetings with Texas Public Policy Foundation officials in his capacity as Assistant Secretary to discuss the issues being litigated, a clear violation of EO 13770.

Using Cooper’s (2012) responsible administrator framework, we can understand why Mr. Domenech’s actions were examples of ethical misconduct. A responsible administrator must have both “objective accountability for conduct and subjective congruence with one’s professional values” (Cooper, 2012, p. 6). In other words, responsibility means holding oneself accountable for their professional actions and must be able to explain them to stakeholders upon questioning. If Mr. Domenech is guilty of meeting with his former employer, he has not acted responsibly. By accepting his appointment (or his role, as Cooper describes it), Domenech has also taken the responsibility of behaving within ethical norms for that role. The public expects government officials to act in the public interest and not to further their own interests at the public’s expense.


Cooper, T. L. (2012). The Responsible Administrator: An Approach to Ethics for the Administrative Role (6th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Originally posted as a discussion assignment in the “Administrative Ethics” course at the Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration.

Report: An Overview of Workforce Planning in the Public Sector

Workforce planning is commonly cited as the most challenging area of human resources for an organization. The problem has been exacerbated by the large volume of retirements and loss of knowledge as baby boomers reach retirement age. Organizations must analyze their current workforce and plan for future labor needs.

The public sector has known about the theoretical benefits of workforce planning since at least the 1990s (Johnson & Brown, 2004). However, all levels of government have had difficulty implementing workforce plans for various reasons. The research presented here was conducted to determine the status of workforce planning in the public sector. The paper begins by defining workforce planning. Then it proceeds to discuss the economic, demographic, and organizational barriers to workforce planning. It concludes with a review of how successful the three levels of government have been in implementing workforce planning.

Defining Workforce Planning

It is important to begin with the definition of workforce planning to provide a framework in which to evaluate it in public organizations. Several authors have developed definitions of workforce planning in their scholarly work. Pynes (2013) defined workforce planning as “[T]he process of analyzing and identifying the need for and availability of human resources to meet the organization’s objectives” (p. 45). This suggests a two-step process. First, organizations must analyze their current human capital in terms of the number of employees and the competencies and skill they must possess. This paper will look at ways of public organizations are analyzing their workforce and best practices suggested by scholars and government authorities. Once organizations have analyzed their workforce, they need to identify what skills and competencies are needed to meet their strategic goals and mission. Then they must determine if there are people available to meet these needs.

Taking that definition a little further, Naff, Riccucci, and Freyss (2014) defined workforce planning as “a set of procedures designed to ensure that the organization has, and will continue to have, the people and places needs to accomplish its organizational mission and goals” (p. 101). The key difference in their definition is the use of the phrase “will continue to have” because organizations not only need to evaluate their workforce in the process of paying also must continue to do it in the future. Workforce planning needs to be continuous process as both the internal and external environment in which organizations operate is constantly changing and requires adaptation.

In Getha-Taylor’s (2018) analysis of workforce planning, she refers to Pynes’ definition that I gave above. However, she is careful to make the distinction between workforce planning and succession planning. She holds that succession planning is simply planning for the replacement of leadership with existing employees. Workforce planning, on the other hand, is “a broader effort to restructure work, capture knowledge, and focus on the needs of remaining employees in the workforce sheet efforts, including reductions in force and hiring freeze” (p. 165). This definition widens the scope of workforce planning beyond just counting heads and looking at the skills of the workforce. It includes examining job positions as well as the need to focus on knowledge management and retention. Organizations must also evaluate the effects of having a smaller workforce while still be expected to provide the same levels of service. This would result in significant changes to how workforces are planned.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) gives the best and most succinct definition of workforce planning: “workforce planning is a systematic process for identifying and addressing gaps between the workforces today human capital needs” (U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 2005). This definition focuses on the idea of “filling the gap” between what is now what organization needs in the future. Another section this paper will demonstrate the importance of going further than simply identifying planning necessary activity. Organizations must take tangible action to get from where they are now to where they want to be.

All definitions outlined above are forward-looking and see sustainability as the organization Pynes (2013) and Naff et al. (2014) focus on the organizational. This is a needs-based approach to defining human resource afterwards people will organizations future goals? There (2018) casework approach to workforce planning. She suggests that there are many variables that affect the human resource management function. These variables include both internal and external forces, which will be outlined in a later section. The Office of Personnel Management emphasizes the need to fill the gap between what organizations have now in terms of human capital and what they will be in the future.

The Economics of Workforce Development

Supply and Demand

When there is a variance between supply and demand of human resources, corrective decisions must be planned for (Pynes, 2013). The demand for human resources increases the demand for services. Changes in demand can also occur when there are changes in workforce demographics, technology, globalization, society, and energy resources (as cited in Naff et al., 2014). The supply for human resources can increase for many reasons. Typically, supply increases for certain job types and organizations as opposed to changes at the macroeconomic level. Some reasons that the supply of human resources increase include delayed retirements, reductions in programs or elimination of departments, or when improvements in technology render position obsolete. To develop a workforce plan, a variance analysis is performed when comparing supply and demand. Variance analysis will reveal either a gap or a surplus.

A gap occurs when human resources demand exceeds supply. Gaps can occur when employees retire or terminated, resulting in a reduction of the supply. Additionally, gaps may occur when an agency services are spent because of an increase in demand. Workforce gaps can occur on a short-term or long-term basis. For example, if a high-level employee is going on vacation for a month the baby possible to hire temporary staff person to fill the gap. Several people retire in one year, there would have to be more planning done to ensure that service goals and objectives so much. Some solutions to filling gaps include hiring new staff, trading existing staff to take on additional work succession planning, and outsourcing.

Surplus occurs when human resources supply exceeds demand. Again, the situation is much more likely to occur at the microeconomic level. Surpluses occur when demand decreases due to reductions and programs or when staff does not retire as planned. Surpluses may also result when improvements in technology render position obsolete. Surpluses occurred after the severe economic recession experienced by the United States in 2008. Many public organizations faced budget reductions and decreased consumer spending, leading to decreased demand for certain services. To cure a surplus, organizations have few options. They can retrain existing staff for other positions if they are available. They could transfer people to other agencies or departments. Finally, they can terminate staff. Unfortunately, termination is costly. But in some cases, it may be less expensive to keep an employee on payroll who has nothing to do.

Forecasting and Planning

With the concept of human resources supply and demand firmly grasped, we can understand how organizations use it for forecasting and planning their workforce needs. According to Pynes (2014), “forecasting and planning are complementary in that forecasts identify expectations, while plans establish concrete goals and objectives” (p.46). Organizations can forecast demand to determine future staffing needs. For example, if Congress recently passed legislation that creates a new department within an agency, agencies managers will need to determine how many people will be required to run the department. Furthermore, they will need to know where these employees will be needed. It is possible that the new department will have regional offices in several states. If that’s the case, the demand for staff will be high. In addition to headcounts, managers must analyze what work will be done and how it will be performed.

Demand forecasts can also be used in existing organizations. Pynes (2014) recommends using a SWOT analysis of existing staff competencies and what future employees’ resumes should look like for given positions. This allows managers to determine where future problems may lie in workforce planning. They can also determine what strengths employees currently have that may be underutilized. It is possible that employees may not require training to move to a different position to take on more work.

The supply of candidates for employment in public organizations come from two sources. Internal candidates are those that are already employed by the organization. It is easy to project the supply of internal candidates using human resource information systems (Naff et al., 2014). Training and development programs can focus on the skills and competencies needed to meet the organization’s strategic goals. Training can either be internal or off-site. Indeed, training and development lead to higher job satisfaction and enable organizations to better meet their strategic goals (Nigro & Kellough, 2008).

External candidates come from outside the organization. It is much more difficult to get candidates externally and internally, especially for public organizations. Recruitment and selection procedures for public organizations must be compliant merit systems protections. Testing and selecting individuals based on merit is a long process, which may discourage organizations from seeking external candidates. On the positive side, organizations can better manage diversity by looking for new candidates outside of the organization (Goodman, French, & Battaglio, 2015; Riccucci, 2002).

Demographics greatly affect the supply of human resources for public organizations. For example, different age groups have different expectations about how work should be done and even what types of jobs they should hold (Naff et al., 2014). Since demographics are so important to workforce planning, a review of the demographics seems prudent.

The Multigenerational Workforce

Much has been written about the multigenerational workforce and the different characteristics of each generation and how those characteristics impact their views on society and employment. Furthermore, each generation interacts with other generations differently (Sandeen, 2009). Much of the research discusses older generations known as “the silent generation” and “veterans.” However, few people from those generations are still in the workforce, since they are all over 75 years old. Therefore, I will only review three generations: the baby boomers, generation X, and generation Y.

Baby Boomers. Baby boomers were born between 1945 and 1965 (Naff et al., 2014). They represent the largest generation in the workforce. They were born during the prosperous time that followed World War II. They tend to focus on individual achievement and seek instant gratification. Their desire for instant gratification has led them to buy much on credit and not save for retirement (Sandeen, 2009). Their lack of retirement savings has led to delayed retirements for many boomers (Jacobson, 2010). Public organizations are facing a surplus of employees due to these delayed retirements. Some states have offered early retirement packages, but many of these have proven to be ineffective (Wagner, 2017). Even though the pace of retirements has slowed since 2014 (Center for State and Local Government Excellence, 2017), more than half of public employers surveyed have either accelerated their retirement date or will retire as planned. Furthermore, plans must be made to transfer the institutional knowledge of retiring employees to others in the organization. Knowledge management is a piece of HR planning may also be called “succession planning.” The focus of succession planning is on the grooming of internal candidates to fill positions of retiring employees. A “pipeline” of development would allow for all positions to be filled in a hierarchical line when someone at the top leaves the organization

Generation X. This cohort was born between 1961 and 1981. They tend to be more career-oriented than their baby boomer parents. This is because many of them watch their parents lose their jobs and lose their secure pensions. They saw no benefit of working for single-employer for their entire lives just to get nothing in the end. This generation tends to save more for retirement and are savvy shoppers, always looking for savings (Sandeen, 2009). This generation may not be as well educated as their parents because they did not go to college in his great numbers as previous generation. However, they have excellent people skills and know-how to negotiate (Sandeen, 2009).

Generation Y. The generation Y cohort was born between 1981 and 2000. There was a focus on educating this generation. Boomer and generation X parents of generation Y children started preparing them for college at a young age. They are team-oriented and only want to own the best of everything. They received recognition for everything as children and expect to be promoted and receive perks and bonuses in the workplace as adults. Many have attended graduate school. They are career-oriented and will leave a job if they are not catered to, presenting difficulty in workforce planning (Sandeen, 2009). Many public organizations reward employees much further from the rewarded behavior than they would like (Naff et al., 2014). Many boomers and generation Xers criticize this generation for not understanding the harsh realities of “the real world” (Sandeen, 2009). This may lead to conflict in the workplace that must be managed (Riccucci, 2002).

Summary of the Economics of Workforce Development

The concept of supply and demand is critical to the development of workforce plans in public organizations. Governments must be able to analyze their current workforce and determine whether supply meets demand. If there is a variance between supply and demand, the organization must take corrective action or face negative consequences. Forecasting demand is important so organizations can determine future staffing needs, determine where employees are needed, and analyze what work needs to be done and how it will be performed. The multigenerational workforce must be managed to ensure diversity in the workforce now and in the future.

Governments have faced many challenges in human resource planning. As the economy contracts, governments must find ways to cut costs as revenues decrease due to unemployment and lower consumer spending. This usually leads to austerity measures such as furloughs, hiring freezes, and reductions in force. As technology advances, many jobs lost during economic recessions are lost permanently. In many instances, the staff left behind must take on additional responsibilities and must receive training to that end. Economic expansions may lead to additional demand for government services and therefore additional staffing requirements. Furthermore, local governments have found it more difficult than the federal or state governments to recruit people into public service positions (Goodman, French, and Battaglio, 2015). These economic challenges will continue for the foreseeable future. Workforce planning is a necessity in this time of uncertainty (Getha-Taylor, 2018).

Competitive Government and Privatization

One solution to the workforce planning challenges faced by public organizations is to outsource government services to private companies. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued Circular A-76, which requires agencies to determine which activities are not “inherently governmental” and to give private enterprises an opportunity to compete with government for provision of such services (Naff et. al, 2014). A service is inherently governmental if it can only be done exclusively by the government. Some examples of jobs that are not inherently governmental are accountants, policy analysts, and ICT professionals. White (2009) stated “an inherently governmental activity is one that is intimately tied to the public interest and requires considerable public policy discretion on the part of the jobholder in making decisions that bind the federal government to a commitment of funds or a new course of action” (p. 14). White points out that the hermeneutics of the phrase “inherently governmental” in Circular A-76 are a fine point. It is easy to say that a police officer can be employed commercially. However, should a police captain or commander be outsourced as well? After all they can make decisions that change the level of service provided to a community.

The federal government has not seen much benefit from privatization and outsourcing. State and local governments have seen more success in contracting social service work to nonprofits (Naff et al., 2014). Better workforce planning is needed to ensure that appropriate staffing levels are maintained.

Organizational Barriers to Workforce Planning

In addition to the economic and demographic barriers described above, Getha-Taylor (2018) described organizational barriers to effective workforce planning. These include lack of executive support, improper time management, insufficient financial resources, insufficient staffing to develop and implement plans, merit system constraints, and changes in executive administrations. These organizational barriers prevent effective workforce planning in public organizations.

Unless executive leadership understands the benefits of HR planning, they may be unwilling to integrate human resource concerns into the organization’s strategic plans (Getha-Taylor, 2018). Obviously, without top-level support in the organization resources will not be directed to implementing a workforce plan. As we will see, the first phase of any workforce planning model is obtaining executive support for workforce planning development.

The second organizational barrier to workforce planning is the lack of time that managers have to deal with planning (Jacobson, 2010; Selden, Ingraham, & Jacobson, 2001). Much more time is spent on immediate concerns. This is typical of most public and private organizations. Planning takes a back seat to the more pressing concerns of the day. If workforce planning is integrated into the organization’s strategic plan, it is more likely that managers will held accountable for workforce planning.

Another related concern is insufficient funding and staffing of human resource departments (Getha-Taylor, 2018; Jacobson, 2010). Public organizations have faced reductions in budgets since the 2008 recession. As a result, they do not have the resources to hire additional staff to develop human resource plans. Ironically, human resource departments have suffered along with the rest of the organization, losing staff and productivity.

The Human Resource Planning Process

Many government agencies, state and local governments, and scholars have developed models for human resource planning. Many of these models are like other problem-solving models in that they seek to analyze the problem, develop alternatives, select a solution, implement the solution, and evaluate results. These models are cyclical in nature because problem-solving is continuous. As stated earlier, workforce planning is continuous cycle because workforce needs should be constantly monitored in the always-changing environment.

Step One: Determine Strategy

It is important for the agency to align the support everyone in the organization with the strategic goals and objectives (Getha-Taylor, 2018; Helton & Jackson, 2007; Naff et al., 2014; Selden et al., 2001). A thorough understanding of the organization’s mission, services, and customer profiles will ensure that management can properly assess future needs and determine where the challenges lie. This is the foundation for the remaining steps in the model.

Step Two: Workforce/Gap Analysis

This is also a critical step in the workforce planning model. This is the analysis of the supply and demand of human resources discussed earlier. By developing supply and demand profiles, a variance analysis can be performed to determine whether gaps or surpluses exist in the workforce (Fadairo, Williams, & Maggio, 2013; Getha-Taylor, 2018; Naff et al., 2014). Due to the voluminous amounts of information collected by government agencies, the only barrier to this step is lack of priority setting by management. Once this step is complete, the workforce plan can be developed.

Step Three: Develop the Workforce Plan

Using the workforce analysis from step two, the agency can determine which gaps and surpluses are most urgent and address them accordingly. A plan should be developed to fill the gap using solutions such as those described in the “forecasting and planning” section above. After the plan is developed, it must be implemented.

Step Four: Implementation

Implementing the workforce plan is much like implementing a service change or new product. It requires proper staffing and training and (again) management support. Unfortunately, while many governments have acknowledged the importance and benefits of workforce planning, they have not implemented their plans (Goodman et al., 2015; Selden et al., 2001). The key to implementation is ensuring that resources are dedicated to the plan.

Step Five: Evaluation

As in any problem-solving model, the final step is to evaluate the outcomes of the plan’s implementation. Management must determine what parts of the plan worked and where it could be improved. This is another type of variance analysis, with the workforce plan as the normative standard compared to the program results. After program evaluation, the cycle starts over to determine next steps in human resource planning.

Have Public Organizations Effectively Implemented Workforce Planning?

As stated in the previous sections, many public organizations recognize the need for workforce planning. However, governments at all levels have had varying success. After performing a broad scan of the literature, there is a large gap between where organizations are today versus where they should be in terms of workforce planning. At this point, specific cases of governments that have used workforce planning or have made personnel policy changes in efforts to meet workforce planning goals will be evaluated. First, the federal government’s policy on workforce planning is reviewed. Then examples of state and municipal level workforce planning strategies will be examined to determine whether workforce planning has been successful and is worth pursuing.

The Federal Government

The executive branch of government has made workforce planning priority for many years. The President’s Management Agenda for fiscal year 2018 devotes several pages to workforce planning. The Government Accounting Office regularly issues reports on the workforce planning efforts of federal agencies with recommendations for improvement. Unfortunately, federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have not fully implemented the OPM standards for workforce planning (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2017). The GAO found:

EPA partially follows leading practices of strategic workforce planning for its grants personnel by identifying critical skills and competencies, primarily for grant specialists; developing strategies to address skill and competency gaps by updating training courses as EPA issues new regulations; and taking some steps to monitor and evaluate progress by developing some performance measures for its 2016-2020 Grants Management Plan. However, according to agency officials, EPA has not reviewed project officer critical skills and competencies because of competing priorities (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2017).

The report goes on to say that EPA managers should receive better training and development and that core competencies should be evaluated gaps identified. The organizational barriers that led to these findings were related to management not prioritizing workforce planning as well as pressure to handle day-to-day tasks. The EPA seems to only have partially completed each of these steps in the human resource planning process outlined in the previous section. To that end, we learned that it is important to ensure that all steps are completely and thoroughly followed to ensure success. This is especially true of the workforce and gap analysis step.

State Governments

The original research question that was proposed to be answered in this report asked how successful various states were in implementing workforce plans. Furthermore, the proposal asked how states compared with each other and if there were any learning experiences shared by states. Unfortunately, research on the specific questions is scarce. Most of the literature about workforce planning at the state level is academic and theoretical (Goodman et al., 2015). However, it is still wise to review the information that is available and determine whether future research is needed. Since state governments are considered “laboratories of democracy,” states should be testing workforce planning models to determine what works and what does not. Diffusion of such testing throughout the states would only serve to benefit public employees.

Pennsylvania. As one of our nation’s largest states, Pennsylvania employs 80,000 state employees (Helton & Soubik, 2004). According to Helton and Soubik (2004), most employees are covered by merit system and 83% are covered by unions. A large portion of these employees were set to retire by 2014. Unfortunately, a follow-up study was not performed to evaluate the outcomes of Pennsylvania’s workforce planning efforts. However, worth reviewing purposes of answering the research question posed here.

Pennsylvania developed a nine-step workforce planning model. The steps were: 1. Analyze agency mission, goals and initiatives; 2. Determine future work requirements: 3. Analyze resources and projections; 4. Perform high level workforce gap analysis; 5. Develop close organizational plan: 6. Perform detailed gap analysis; 7. Create workforce solutions action plan; 8. Implement workforce solutions action; 9. Many workforce planning results recommend improvements (Helton & Soubik, 2004). The Pennsylvania model is basically an extended model of the workforce planning model that is outlined earlier section of this report. The workforce and gap analysis are broken out into two steps. And set one of the model from this report is for reception of little. The level of detail the Pennsylvania model demonstrates the fault of all and their desire to properly implement workforce.

Pennsylvania have a transfer of success in workforce planning even before the smallest of. For example, they were able to mitigate for those of employees at state that listeners and they developed a workforce planning website to help decentralize their workforce planning efforts (Helton & Soubik, 2004). These milestones, among others, set the stage for development of the workforce planning model. Even with their success, Pennsylvania learned some valuable lessons. For example, some solutions were constrained by legislation:  retirees are not eligible for reemployment and those for receiving annual pension payments also preventing the rehiring of retirees (Helton & Jackson, 2007).

Georgia and Florida. Both Georgia and Florida implemented drastic personal reforms in the early 21st century. Many of these reforms converted the merit system a bureaucracy to at will employment. The goal was to decentralize a personal demonstration of state-sponsored make it easier to fire. Unfortunately, many of these actions will make the workforce more volatile and more difficult to plan. For the most part, states seem to not be following best practices in human resource planning as outlined by the Winter Commission in 1993, resulting in a loss of trust and confidence in the government (Nigro & Kellough, 2008).

Local Government

Much like state government, local governments are finding it challenging to implement workforce plan. However, they are aware of the need for workforce planning. As shown in the figures at the end of this report, local governments have not been able to successfully implement workforce planning even though they understand the impact of not having a workforce planning process.

Goodman et al. (2015) found several determinants of municipalities that have implemented workforce planning. First, they found that municipalities that emphasize professional development and training for their employees have greater workforce planning success. It seems likely that proper training and development provides a pipeline of potential employees that will be available to fill a vacancy shall one arise.

Another interesting finding in their study was that the presence of unions positively influenced the results of workforce planning. This was the opposite of the researchers’ hypothesis that there would be an inverse relationship between workforce planning and union membership. It appears that cities are viewing unions as partners in workforce planning. Such relationships can also increase motivation among workers when they see management and unions working together instead of fighting over wages and benefits.

Goodman et al. (2015) also found that municipalities with a council-manager form of government were more likely to engage in workforce planning. They suggest that professional management of a city is more likely to result in better workforce planning. The authors also concluded that diversity plays a role in workforce planning. Finally, they found that cities with human resource information systems were more likely to have workforce planning in place. Of course, since these systems provide much data to managers, they can better analyze and forecast the city’s labor supply and demand.

Human resources or workforce planning is an important part of the strategic plan of a public-sector organization.


Workforce planning is used to fill projected future gaps between labor supply and demand. As greater numbers of baby boomers reach retirement age, public sector organizations must plan for the demographic changes in the workforce. Furthermore, they must overcome economic and organizational barriers to workforce planning.

Local governments have had the most success implementing workforce planning. However, only less than half of these organizations have a comprehensive workforce plan in place. More research is needed to determine the success of workforce planning at the state level. Training and development, the use of HR information systems, partnership with unions, and diversity management are positive indicators of successful workforce planning.


Fadairo, S. A., Williams, R., Dba, C., & Maggio, E. (2013). Workforce Planning and Management The Need for Workforce Planning and Management Practice. Journal of Government Financial Management, 62(4), 34–39.

Getha-Taylor, H. (2018). Workforce Planning in Turbulent Times. In N. M. Riccucci (Ed.), Public Personnel Management: Current Concerns, Future Challenges (6th ed., pp. 165–174). New York: Routledge.

Goodman, D., French, P. E., & Battaglio, R. P. (2015). Determinants of Local Government Workforce Planning. American Review of Public Administration, 45(2), 135–152.

Helton, K. A., & Jackson, R. D. (2007). Navigating Pennsylvania’s Dynamic Workforce: Succession Planning in a Complex Environment. Public Personnel Management, 36(4), 335–347.

Helton, K. A., & Soubik, J. A. (2004). Case Study: Pennsylvania’s Changing Workforce: Planning Today with Tomorrow. Public Personnel Management, 33(4), 459–473.

Jacobson, W. S. (2010). Preparing for tomorrow: A case study of workforce planning in North Carolina municipal governments. Public Personnel Management, 39(4), 353–377.

Johnson, G. L., & Brown, J. (2004). Workforce planning not a common practice, IPMA-HR study finds. Public Personnel Management, 33(4), 379–388.

Naff, K. C., Riccucci, N. M., & Freyss, S. F. (2014). Personnel Management in Government: Politics and Process (7th ed.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Nigro, L. G., & Kellough, J. E. (2008). Personnel reform in the states: A look at progress fifteen years after the Winter Commission. Public Administration Review, 68(SUPPL. 1).

Pynes, J. E. (2013). Human Resources Management for Public and Nonprofit Organizations : A Strategic Approach. Somerset, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. Retrieved from

Riccucci, N. M. (2002). Managing Diversity in Public Sector Workforces. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Sandeen, C. (2009). Boomers, Xers, and Millennials: Who are They and What Do They Really Want from Continuing Higher Education? Continuing Education, 73, 93–113.

Selden, S. C., Ingraham, P. W., & Jacobson, W. (2001). Human resource practices in state government: Findings from a national survey. Public Administration Review, 61(5), 598–607.

U.S. Government Accountability Office. (2017). EPA Partially Follows Leading Practices of Strategic Workforce Planning and Could Take Additional Steps.

U.S. Office of Personnel Management. (2005). OPM’s Workforce Planning Model. Retrieved from

Wagner, E. (2017). Ineffective Use of Early Retirement Offers, FEHBP for All and More. Government Executive. Retrieved from

White, J. D. (2009). The Hermeneutics of Government Contracting. Administrative Theory & Praxis, 31(3), 302–321.


identification of workforce planning as a need

Figure 1. Identification of workforce planning as a need (n=29).

Source: Jacobson, W. S. (2010). Preparing for tomorrow: A case study of workforce planning in North Carolina municipal governments. Public Personnel Management, 39(4), 353–377.

Nature of NC workforce planning efforts

Figure 2. The nature of workforce planning efforts in North Carolina municipalities (n=30).

Source: Jacobson, W. S. (2010). Preparing for tomorrow: A case study of workforce planning in North Carolina municipal governments. Public Personnel Management, 39(4), 353–377.

Note: This report was completed for the graduate course “Human Resources Administration” at Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration, Fall 2018.

E-government and Citizen Engagement

Technology has been a fundamental aspect of public administration since before public administration became a field of study (Shark, 2015). Electronic government, or e-government, has extended this technological tradition into the 21st century. Just as technology is a rapidly changing concept, the definition of e-government has expanded over time. Shark (2015) calls e-government “the business or administrative processes between government to government as well as government to business and all the relationships that transpire among each other” (p. 54) Shark’s discussion, regardless of his addition of electronic communication technology to this definition, is inadequate.

Searching for a more precise definition of e-government helps us focus on information and communication technologies (ICTs). Brown (2005) offers a much better definition:

[Originally] online delivery of public services… [and later] the entire range of government roles and activities, shaped by and making use of information and communication technologies (p. 242).

Exact definitions of e-government elude us because the “entire range of government roles and activities” encompasses many different types of services provided to constituents and various ways that governments interact with employees and each other. E-government has allowed governments to use the internet and other modern, digital technologies to perform their duties.

With a good definition of e-government in hand, we can begin to discuss the areas researchers are focusing on within the e-government space. Bolívar et al. (2012) found several research areas in their analysis of journal articles related to e-government. They included legal aspects, budgeting and fiscal management and information, government transparency, the implementation of e-government, intergovernmental relations, program evaluation and planning, trust in government and citizen satisfaction, e-participation, and e-democracy (Bolívar et al., 2012). The authors also discussed the importance of e-government in developing engaged, actively participating citizens, which leads to the research question addressed here:

Q1:      How are governments using e-government to increase citizen engagement?

The question is significant because citizen engagement increases trust in government and citizen satisfaction (Bolívar et al., 2012). It is essential that the government not waste the limited resources provided by taxpayers. Citizens should be aware of what their government is doing and how government actions impact their lives. An informed public is necessary for a “government by the people, for the people” (Lincoln, 1863). Citizen engagement is critical to the public policy process. The development of information and communication technologies has allowed citizens to engage in the process electronically, which forms the following hypothesis:

H1:      E-government improves citizen engagement through e-participation and e-democracy.

This report will examine how citizen engagement and political participation have changed with the evolution of technology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. First, e-participation and e-democracy will be defined. Second, it explores the rulemaking provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act of 1946 as an example of how e-government has been used to increase citizen engagement with the executive branch of the United States government. Following this example, it looks at the potential of e-voting through a comparative analysis. Finally, the paper will conclude with a discussion of whether the governments have successfully implemented e-government and where future research should be focused.

E-participation and E-democracy

Information and communication technologies affect citizen engagement in three different ways. First, government websites provide information about its functions, finances, and services. For example, a New York City resident can visit the city Comptroller’s web page to see how the city is performing in meeting its budget goals for the year. Second, information and communication technologies provide enhanced consultation opportunities in the public policy process. Many governments accept electronic comments on proposed legislation and rules, including the federal government (as will be discussed in a later section). Finally, ICT’s allow the public to actively participate in democracy by making their proposals to the government. Some governments, for example, have participatory budgeting schemes that allow citizens to make direct decisions on how they will spend tax revenues (OECD, 2001; OECD, 2003).

Citizen engagement depends on citizens being not only active but informed. Fishkin (cited in OECD, 2003) “argue[d] the need for ‘mass’ deliberation by citizens instead of ‘elite’ deliberation by elected representatives” (p. 28). Failure to properly take the time to deliberate issues results in poor decision-making because citizens may not have all of the information they need to make good decisions. Furthermore, if elected representatives are making all of the decisions, they may be perceived as being “out of touch” with their constituents.

In 2003, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development opined that technology did not exist to allow for mass deliberation by citizens. OECD felt that citizens should play a more significant role in producing policy instead of merely consuming it (2003). Of course, with the advent of Web 2.0 and social media sites like Facebook, citizens are much more actively debating issues and coming to a better understanding of the details involved in policymaking. Furthermore, citizens can mobilize through social media and take political actions. These actions could range from demonstrations against hate in the United States to a full revolution like Egypt experienced in 2011 that was the result of social media activism.

E-government in action: E-rulemaking

America’s founders designed its democracy with checks on power to ensure that no one branch of government had too much control. Sometimes, Congress gives this power to the people. In 1946, Congress passed the Administrative Procedures Act, placing a check on the executive branch’s power to make rules and regulations. Whenever a government agency makes a rule, they are required to post a notice to the Federal Register and provide the public with time to make comments on proposed rules.

The purpose of the comment period was to “[provide] for citizen consultation with all agency rulemaking activities” (Noveck, 2009, p. 130). However, in practice, commentary has mostly been made by corporate and special interests, as well as other government agencies. Regular citizens have historically made few comments except in highly sensationalized instances. The introduction of e-government changed how government agencies create rules and regulations.

The E-government Act of 2002 established “e-rulemaking” procedures, allowing the public to post comments on proposed agency rules on the internet via a government website dedicated to that purpose. The user interface for making comments is a straightforward text box where people enter their comments and submit them by clicking a submit button. This initiative has not increased citizen engagement or participation. Corporate and special interest groups still make many of the comments on proposed rules and regulations. Furthermore, automated computer programs called “bots” can submit thousands of comments, flooding the system. Agencies do not have the resources to sift through the thousands of comments they receive (Noveck, 2009).

It is unfortunate that this implementation of e-government has not been successful regarding outcomes. Citizens will not be willing to submit their genuine concerns about the rules that affect them if they do not have faith that the agencies will listen to them (OECD, 2003). They will instead turn to social media outlets to organize for political change. To improve e-rulemaking, legislation may be required to limit the number of comments from any one entity. Furthermore, Congress must allocate additional resources to this vital form of citizen engagement by providing additional staff to review and interpret citizen comments.


One of the primary forms of political participation and citizen engagement is voting. In the United States, voter turnout is historically meager compared to the number of eligible voters. The reasons for low turnout include voter apathy, distance from polling locations, the weather, and myriad others. After the 2000 presidential election in the United States, there was greater concern about manual election systems, and there was a push for reform to use information and communication technologies to improve the accuracy of voting counts (Kenski, n.d.).

Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002 to modernize the voting systems. The implementation of the act met with little success. There are still problems in polling places nationwide. Computers break down, scanning systems do not always work, and voting systems are not consistent between states. States administer election procedures and processes and therefore have little incentive to change their systems, even with government funding assistance.

In addition to updating voting systems at polling places with modern Information and communication technologies, some places have implemented internet voting. There are many obvious reasons why people would prefer to vote online. For example, voting from home is just more convenient. Some citizens, especially senior citizens and voters with disabilities, may not be able to travel to polling locations far from their homes. The media have accused many boards of elections of voter suppression by creating a single polling place for thousands of voters, who must wait in line for hours to place their vote. They also cite voter suppression as a reason for placing polling locations far from minority neighborhoods. Internet voting could potentially solve these problems.

Some places have already implemented internet voting. The only nation to hold national elections with the ability to vote online is Estonia (Lust, 2015). In the 2015 election, 31% of voters voted online. In order to vote online, voters had to follow a procedure (detailed in Lust, 2015) that included using a national ID card in combination with a card reader they purchased and attached to their computer. The ID card is one that all citizens have already that contains a “smart chip.” They use this ID when making purchases online to secure those transactions as well. Voters also received a unique one-time use password for the voting system. The system sends to one server, then consolidated and transferred to another server that counts the votes.

Lust (2015) found that there were many problems with the internet voting system in Estonia. During controlled tests, viruses easily infected systems that could change people’s votes. Viruses could also infect servers that counted votes in order to manipulate vote counts and results. Furthermore, voters were able to change their votes due to constitutional restrictions and laws. There was no way to ensure that the person submitting the vote was the same person who used the ID card during the voting transaction.

In addition to the significant security concerns that were outlined in Lust’s report (2015) on Estonia, there are other concerns about implementing internet voting in the United States. First, each state runs its election system, which means that each state would develop different e-voting systems with potentially many different vendors. With so many different systems across the United States, it would be challenging to ensure that officials adequately tested all the systems for susceptibility to intrusion and hacking.

Another issue that Lust (2015) discovered was that most of the people who voted online were wealthier, urban Estonians; agrarian and poor voters were not well represented among internet voters. Many of these voters simply lacked internet access in addition to living very far from a physical polling place, causing many voters not to vote at all, increasing the weight of the votes of wealthy people. The United States also has a broadband access issue in remote areas of the country (Shark, 2015). This problem compounds existing voter suppression problems because it affects many of the same areas.

Just one of these problems with internet voting would be enough to shake the confidence of voters. One of the basic tenets of democracy is that citizens trust the outcomes of elections. In other nations, people have murdered presidents and started wars because they perceived unfairness in the election process. Many authoritarian leaders pretend to have democratic elections but tamper with votes or even lie about the results. It is critical to a democratic society that voting systems remain secure. Until we eliminate the possibility of hacking, internet voting will have to wait.


The rapid changes in technology in the 20th and 21st centuries have resulted in incredible advances in how the government interacts with its citizens. Many governments have turned to information and communication technologies to streamline services, save costs, and increase citizen engagement. E-government is the use of Information and communication technologies to deliver government services and engage with citizens in the public policy process.

Many areas of e-government have been researched, such as the legal aspects of e-government, its implementation, trust in government, and citizen engagement, e-participation, e-rulemaking, and e-democracy. While many areas of research have been explored in the numerous journal articles examined by Bolívar et al. (2012), it seems that academics have not reached a consensus about how information and communication technologies can best be used to increase citizen engagement with their governments.

The examples given in this paper of using information and communication technologies to improve service and citizen engagement have had mixed results. Social media has been very successful at being a “marketplace of ideas” where people can debate and deliberate the details of political issues. Social movements and revolutions have started on social media. Social media was targeted with fake news stories to influence voters in the 2016 presidential election (Goodwin-Ortiz de Leon, 2017). These events demonstrate the need for politicians and public administrators to pay attention to what people are saying and doing on social media. If people know their governments are listening and acting on their concerns, they will be more likely to engage in the public policy process.

Social media has been a success, but some e-government initiatives have had troubles or even failed. As discussed, citizen participation has been thwarted by bots and corporate interests in e-rulemaking. The world is not ready for e-voting because internet security is not yet foolproof, and it may never be. For e-government to be successful at improving citizen engagement, we must address the pressing security concerns. Much more research is needed, and better project management needs to happen before public agencies can implement ICTs in critical citizen engagement infrastructure.


Bolívar, R., Pedro, M., Muñoz, A., Hernández, L., Antonio, M., Bolívar, M. P. R., … López Hernández, A. M. (2012). Studying E-Government: Research Methodologies, Data Compilation Techniques And Future Outlook. Academia, 51(51), 79. Retrieved from

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Selected Factors That Influence Public Policy Development in the U.S.: A Civil Rights Case Study

Selected Factors That Influence Public Policy Development in the U.S.: A Civil Rights Case Study

by Craig Goodwin-Ortiz de Leon

The history of the fight for equality of civil rights in the United States reaches back to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in the late eighteenth century (Birkland, 2016). The idea of giving African-Americans equal access to the rights and accessibility enjoyed by white men divided the nation enough to lead to the Civil War in 1861. After the Civil War, amendments to the U.S. Constitution were passed to ensure equal treatment of all citizens. However, it took 99 years after the end of the Civil War to pass meaningful civil rights legislation. Several factors influence the slow and deliberate nature of policy change, described by Birkland (2016).  Three of these factors are the “basic rules and norms” (Birkland, 2016, p. 93) followed by Congress, the fragmented structure of American politics set up by the U.S. Constitution, and pressure from citizens and the media. The civil rights movement is an excellent case study that illustrates how these factors set the pace of policy change and development.

As discussed by Birkland (2016), the U.S. Congress has various “basic rules and norms” (p. 93) that can constrain sudden policy changes. For example, during the debate in the Senate over the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Democratic Senators from Southern states used the filibuster technique to attempt to stop passage of the legislation which lasted for nearly three months and finally stopped by a rare act of cloture, the result of hard work by Senate Republicans (National Constitution Center, n.d.).  Had the filibuster been successful, the policy change would have been delayed, possibly for many years. Even though one could say that civil rights were an “idea whose time had come,” people were working hard to squash equal rights for African-Americans.

In addition to rules and norms in Congress, the U.S. Constitution designed the American government structure and political system to ensure that policy change happened slowly. James Madison emphatically advocated the idea that policy should not change at the whims of factions and that stability in government would allow only the most significant changes to take place (Madison, 1787). The Constitution set up a fragmented system whereby power is separated among the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government; and further divided between the states and the federal government (Birkland, 2016). Even though the Supreme Court struck down segregated schools in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), states fought the decision by using state resources to maintain segregated schools for several more years, yet another example of how policy change can be slow to occur.

Media and grassroots action can expedite a change in government policy. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would not have passed without the publicity of activism appearing on nightly television news broadcasts and in print media.  Mildred Bond Roxborough, former NAACP Secretary, acknowledged the importance of activism in a 2010 interview. She said that “pressure [from grassroots activists] on all levels and branches of government” contributed to the success of the civil rights movement (Civil Rights History Project, 2010). Grassroots movements are the foundation of a democratic society and will continue to ensure that policy change happens when needed.

Policy change and development move in a deliberately slow manner, as designed by the nation’s founders. The civil rights movement is an example of how policy change can take centuries to be effective. Three factors that influence policy change are congressional rules and norms, the fragmented power structure set up by the Constitution, and the activism of grassroots organizations.


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