12/14/2012 03:48 pm ET Updated Feb 13, 2013

Managing the Presidential Management Fellows

You might think that the roughly 400 workers each year who enter the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program, the government's premier initiative for recruiting and developing top talent from U.S. graduate schools, would have the most prestige and support--and therefore the highest satisfaction with their federal jobs.

Not so.

With assistance from the Office of Personnel Management, we at the Partnership for Public Service recently completed the first phase of a study tracking the early experiences of PMFs. We found that, overall, fellows' job satisfaction is almost identical to that of new federal employees under the age of 30.

Their responses raise an early warning flag. Given the prestigious nature of the program and the qualifications and motivations of PMF participants, this group should be experiencing the best of what the federal workplace has to offer. So what does it say if their impressions don't necessarily reflect that?

Our analysis found that there were three key factors that influenced fellows' job satisfaction. These are: a fellow's first work assignment, the expectations for professional development, and how engaged supervisors are in the orientation and onboarding process. For federal leaders who want to ensure the success of their PMFs, here is some advice:

Send them to training camp. Early prep provides a key opportunity for PMF participants to receive guidance and learn how to work with their future federal teammates. PMF supervisors need to provide clear direction to fellows on their roles and responsibilities as well as on agency processes and procedures. It's also important to help fellows' set appropriate expectations up front by talking through the opportunities that will be available during their two-year assignments.

Assign them a mentor. Assigning fellows a mentor during their orientation session will help them better acclimate to the government environment and will provide them with a coach who can continually help hone their skills.

Develop a game plan for using their skills. It's important from the beginning to place fellows in positions that are good fits for their experience and professional interests. You'll also want to make sure that their first assignments continue to match their skills and developmental needs. PMF supervisors have to spend time thinking about the best ways of engaging their fellows over both the short and long terms--and a good way to do that is to identify stretch learning opportunities that will push fellows beyond their comfort zone and help them gain more leadership responsibilities.

Raise the level of their supervisors' game. According to the results of our research, fellows had high praise for the technical and people skills of their supervisors, but they raised concerns that the supervisors did not always fully understand the PMF program or the needs of the fellows. This can be remedied by creating opportunities for PMF coordinators to spend time with supervisors to further educate them about the program and to provide advice on how to help fellows succeed.

Our issue brief contains more data points and recommendations to inform leaders about managing their fellows. I would love to hear from others in government--managers, fellows or former fellows--about their experiences and how to improve the program. Please share your ideas in the comment section below. You can also email me at

This post was originally featured on The Washington Post's website.