American Football's Workforce Problem (And What Transportation Leaders Can Learn from It)

American football has a workforce problem.

The National Football League (NFL) is notoriously bad at hiring quarterbacks. The position, which team leadership and analysts agree is the most important out of the 53 on an NFL roster, has an abysmal hiring performance record. Since 1970, 46 out of the 63 first-round quarterback picks have fizzled in their first season. In their rarity, the first-round success stories—the Payton Manning, John Elway, and Troy Aikman stories—have achieved an almost fairy tale status.

Public sector transportation organizations—think departments of transportation, public transit companies, and tolling agencies—have a workforce problem, too. Some might even call it a crisis.

Citing bloat and cost reduction, the U.K. government plans to cut 91,000 civil servant jobs (one in five) and reduce redundancy pay by 25 percent. These plans came on the heels of a pay raise freeze in fiscal year 2021 and limits in 2022 which capped pay raises at less than half of the current seven percent inflation rate.   

In the U.S., employees have been leaving government administration jobs en masse since the beginning of the pandemic. In the last two years alone, there has been a 15.6 percent decrease in the pace at which workers are starting public sector jobs in the U.S. relative to the level of talent flow leaving government work in favor of private sector jobs. While the U.S. Department of Labor reports a major bounce back of public sector jobs over the summer of 2022, the quantity of positions filled is not necessarily proportional to the quality of those hires.

Public employees in both regions are broadly less satisfied and less engaged with their work than they were pre-pandemic. Those that did jump from public to private over the last few years most commonly cited better pay and greater innovation in everything from remote work options to faster-paced, more challenging work projects, according to LinkedIn.

Our Next Vantage survey of nearly 50 transportation leaders in June 2022 showed that the greatest barriers to successful transformation are lack of organizational readiness (56%) and lack of alignment and resistance among employees (48%).

Unfortunately for public organizations, the employees they’re losing, the ones seeking greater challenge at a faster pace, are exactly the type of employees they need to retain. They’re the Mannings, Elways, and Aikmans of the public sector, needed at scale to accomplish the innovative transformation projects at hand.

Public sector transportation organizations and the NFL must rethink their workforce strategies. They both need to find a way to hire smarter, and not just retain talent, but create the capabilities to enable continued growth for all players.

Conventional workforce sourcing models won’t work in the long term. They perpetuate dependency and aren’t designed to quickly conform to shifting forces and constraints, internal or external. They build capacity without capability. They’re designed to generate "one worker in, one worker out” inputs, not sustainable outcomes.  

Today’s complex workforce climate demands an adaptive workforce solution that builds capacity and capability. The solution for public sector transportation organizations? Managed Services.

We are redefining Managed Services. We don’t see it as a staffing solution. Instead, it’s a flexible, outcomes-focused workforce solution that helps you keep pace with your strategic priorities. Each engagement is custom designed to meet our client’s long- and short-term capability needs through real-time recruiting, performance management, continuous improvement, and knowledge transfer. Our best-in-class talent is prepared and deployed dynamically, led by a seasoned service delivery management team. This team delivers on two parallel missions: immediate transformation progress and long-term capability development.

Here are the main players:

The quarterback: After the Kansas City Chiefs selected Patrick Mahomes out of Texas Tech in the 2017 draft, the team’s incumbent starting quarterback, Alex Smith, was told he would be the starter for the season as Mahomes learned what it meant to be a professional football player. Mahomes sat behind Smith that year and was strategically surrounded by Pro Bowl-caliber skill players. Head coach Andy Reid even adjusted his offense to include more of the concepts Mahomes thrived with at Texas Tech.

Heading into the 2022 football season Mahomes was named the league’s best player by a panel of more than 50 NFL experts after throwing for 4,839 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2021. Facing the abysmal fizzle rate of first-season QBs, the Chiefs’ flexible, capability-building operating model was a game changer.

Much like Mahomes and Smith, you need the right program and project managers, change managers, business analysts, and process engineers to set the tone, call the shots, and drive your business transformation strategy forward. These individuals are the force multipliers of effort, innovation, and growth team-wide. And they can be strategically sourced and developed for optimal output with a Managed Services approach. With access to a diverse blend of cross-discipline expertise, we help public sector transportation organizations accelerate value creation and build the capability to fulfill strategic initiatives in the long term.​

The coach: Adaptive workforce management isn’t modus operandi in the public sector. Capability-building must occur through both top-down and bottom-up engagement in order to access its full value potential. It requires leaders and coaches to move from a reactive stance—“I need 10 scrum masters by Friday!”—to looking three to six months ahead with a flexible plan designed to deliver the greatest value and outcomes. It needs a completely new operating model, one that promotes growth, culture, retention, and productivity.

“One thing you have to keep in mind working for [Chiefs] Coach Reid is to remain flexible. Just because we know things a certain way, they aren’t etched in stone around here. It’s also about being creative and forward-thinking. We want to stay two steps ahead.” - Eric Bieniemy, the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator, to the Star Tribune, Jan. 30, 2022

The North Highland service delivery manager and their team of capacity- and capability-building experts establish that new operating model through a framework that keeps day-to-day work aligned with strategic objectives through:

  • Proactive demand planning: Effective resource pipelines are proactively designed to meet the value and strategic objectives for not just today’s project, but for those in the future, too.
  • Practitioner recruiting: Recruiting cannot happen in a bubble. Our Managed Services engagements make recruiting a strategic piece of your long-term demand planning, sourcing, and assessing candidates based on current and future-state needs.
  • Onboarding: Onboarding is important, but it’s also costly and time-consuming. Managed Services unlocks efficiencies and frees your talent to higher-level tasks by incorporating onboarding into a cohesive operating model that perpetuates high performance and cost savings. And perhaps even more critical than efficiency is culture transfer. Our Managed Services team authentically centers onboarding activities around our client's organizational culture, processes, and key stakeholders, imprinting new hires with the cultural modes and methods to deliver value immediately.
  • Performance, Quality, and Value Management: Transportation leaders cannot transform at the rate of societal need and legislative inquiry without a robust performance, quality, and value management model. Yet just 15 percent of transportation leaders told North Highland they were using analytics as a technique in transformation delivery. This low adoption rate may be the fault of inadequate data capabilities, which 44 percent of leaders cite as a barrier to successful transformation delivery. A Managed Services engagement establishes “Moneyball”-esque assessments for precise course correction and long-range direction-setting.
  • Knowledge Management: Our Managed Services engagements establish the framework for capturing, storing, sharing, and managing the knowledge and experience of employees to increase the overall organizational IQ and prevent it from walking out the door.

The team: Mahomes needed a blueprint and a mentor to reach his full potential in the NFL. Smith provided both.

Managed Services engagements establish a Smith-like team of experts, pre-built and carefully constructed to achieve immediate efficiencies and long-term skill growth.

Say you need to propel innovation and improve alignment on a large system implementation. Traditional workforce models would plug in an outsourced team of agile workers to accomplish the project at hand. A Managed Services approach generates greater value with a co-sourced approach: Our teams tackle the project at hand and embed agile capabilities for the future. It’s an approach that targets short- and long-term gains, all while avoiding the high, fixed costs and risks associated with hiring full-time employees.

In large transformation projects, a fixed set of employees is a risk in and of itself. The resources you need now are not what you’ll need in 12 months. Our Managed Services engagements can scale team resources quickly to best support the current demands of your transformation efforts, all while preparing your talent for what lies ahead.

When considering how Managed Services plays in the team space, adoption is a critical differentiator. What if Smith chose not to help Mahomes, or even worse, to sabotage his success? Smith got on board, adopted the organizational change, and supported its implementation. But what if he hadn’t? In large-scale transformation projects, all the money and experts in the world can’t ensure your team’s adoption of said change once the project is complete. We turn your transformations into a cultural growth driver, creating active supporters—at the leadership and team levels—who are invested in and motivated to support the change.  

From inputs to outcomes: The Managed Services differentiator

Managed Services provides a blueprint for adaptive workforce management that works for public transportation organizations. We evolve and innovate alongside you, establishing value above and beyond traditional outsourcing models. It’s a co-sourced approach that strategically matches expert coaching and team resources to establish and develop your own winning program.