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RFC 001 - TTS Supervisors should be permanent

The problem / situation / context

TTS does not have a consistent practice about whether supervisory roles should be permanent or term positions.[1] Roughly half of supervisors in TTS are on term appointments, and half are on career appointments. Currently, whenever a new supervisory role is established, or a supervisory role needs to be filled, TTS Talent must determine anew whether that role should be permanent.

Supervisors play a crucial role in TTS’s success. They provide direction for the organization and teams they lead. They provide career guidance, mentorship, and support to those whom they supervise and their peers. They make choices daily that affect our partners and the public.

Due to the fact that we are government employees, supervisors have an additional role: helping their teams and direct reports with support and guidance in navigating the federal regulatory landscape. As any government supervisor can confirm, the obligations of government supervisors involves a steep learning curve. Furthermore, given that many employees are term employees, it is essential that supervisors are able to immediately contribute to the growth and performance of those they supervise.

Although term supervisors can bring new ideas and fresh perspectives, the practical reality is that novelty is generally less important than stability, experience, and demonstrated commitment and contributions to the organization’s values and work.

Some may argue that terms can limit the negative effect of bad supervisors or potentially stale visions. Terms should not, however, be an excuse for inadequate performance management.[2] And whatever the length of appointment, all TTS employees must maintain a commitment to our values of inclusion, integrity, and impact. Any supervisor – term or permanent – should be held to high performance standards and expectations.

The bottom line is that TTS should establish a default rule for permanence in supervisory roles.

And yet, classifying a role as a permanent role does not ensure that the role is sustainable or that the individual needs to stay in that role to remain at TTS. Within TTS, for a number of reasons (including unclear expectations and limited support), supervisor roles have led to burnout. We need to change how we support and invest in supervisors to improve outcomes for the supervisors and their teams. And for those who choose to return to individual-contributor roles, there needs to be a clear path for them to do so.

The proposed path forward

TTS MUST readdress how it approaches supervisory roles, including stronger training, more space and support, and clearer connections between a supervisor and their direct reports. As part of this, all supervisory roles in TTS SHOULD be classified as permanent positions and all vacancies in supervisory roles MUST be competed. Additionally, all supervisory roles must be evaluated and measured for competencies related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility. TTS MUST develop a clearer set of performance expectations and support structures for new and existing supervisors so that they can better provide mentoring, direction, and support to their direct reports. And, finally, TTS MUST establish policies (likely, through a new RFC or a handbook page) documenting supervisory “offboarding” for individuals who transition to individual-contributor roles in TTS.

Although there will be exceptions (e.g., a political appointment or the establishment of a temporary office), such exceptions MUST be approved by the Director and only apply to the specific personnel action. In other words, even if an exception is made for a particular role, a new exception would be required upon a subsequent vacancy.

Alternatives considered

  1. Evaluate supervisory positions on a case by case basis. This is the status quo. TTS evaluates each position and determines whether that position should be temporary or permanent.

  2. Allow each operational unit to decide for itself. This alternative exposes the organization to all of the risks of the status quo (e.g., inadequate performance management, lack of attention to DEIA goals), without any of the benefits of consistency, stability, or experience.

Equity and Inclusion

Creating a permanent supervisory cohort presents two unique risks and several advantages for diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) goals.

First, if we hire permanent supervisors and fail to evaluate their commitment to DEIA, it can embed a culture that does not embrace DEIA goals. Second, permanence limits the number of opportunities for career growth for all individuals in the organization, which creates a premium on leadership development.

Nevertheless, a permanent supervisory cohort also presents unique opportunities for DEIA goals. First, if we are intentional about evaluating and measuring supervisors’ commitment to DEIA, we are more likely to embed DEIA goals across the entire organization. Second, by investing in training for a permanent supervisory cohort, we can level up TTS’s commitment to currently undersupported efforts (e.g., reasonable accommodations or sponsorship). Third, by reducing the churn associated with supervisory roles, there is greater opportunity to clarify career progression opportunities, which benefits all TTS employees but minimizes inequity associated with a lack of transparency or accountability.

Ultimately, a permanent supervisory cohort presents risks and opportunities that must be intentionally managed and considered to promote DEIA goals.

Premortem / Review

The hypothesis of this RFC is that a permanent supervisory cohort will lead to improved employee satisfaction and development, improved DEIA outcomes, and less uncertainty around career growth opportunities in the organization.

To measure these goals, TTS should examine results from the FEVS (for career employees), the TTS Inclusion and Belonging Survey, feedback through informal channels through the TTS Leadership Survey, and employee retention/attrition rates.

TTS should revisit this policy in 18 months after adoption to review its impact on those goals.


[1]: Not all management or leadership roles are “supervisory” roles. By statute, a supervisor is “an individual employed by an agency having authority in the interest of the agency to hire, direct, assign, promote, reward, transfer, furlough, layoff, recall, suspend, discipline, or remove employees, to adjust their grievances, or to effectively recommend such action, if the exercise of the authority is not merely routine or clerical in nature but requires the consistent exercise of independent judgment.” For purposes of this RFC, “supervisors” are limited to those roles that meet the minimum requirements for application of the OPM General Schedule Supervisory Guide. There are other recognized leadership roles in government, including CSRA Supervisors, Leaders, Team Leaders, and Management Official (CSRA).

[2] In some cases, term appointments have been an excuse to keep low-performing supervisors in roles of responsibility and supervision because it’s easier for their supervisors to just “wait it out.” This practice is unacceptable; term appointments should not be an excuse for ignoring performance management.