Talent Management for U.S. Department of Defense Knowledge Workers

What Does RAND Corporation Research Tell Us?

by Laura Werber


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Research Questions

  1. What does RAND research tell us about DoD’s talent management of knowledge workers?
  2. What aspects of defense knowledge worker talent management are particularly in need of improvement?
  3. What promising practices and other solutions are available for the department to effectively manage its knowledge workers?

Effective talent management of the U.S. defense workforce, particularly civilians and those performing knowledge work, has become an imperative in recent years. In this report, the author synthesizes the results of more than 30 RAND Corporation reports about the U.S. Department of Defense's talent management of knowledge workers, identifying areas for improvement, ways for the department to proactively approach talent management, and opportunities for future research. Insights are organized along four pillars of talent management: build and organize, train and develop, motivate and manage performance, and promote and retain the right talent.

Key Findings

  • RAND research provides insights about four pillars of defense knowledge worker talent management: build and organize, train and develop, motivate and manage performance, and promote and retain the right talent.
  • Diversity management was a theme that cut across these four pillars, with studies featuring observations related to recruitment, development, and retention of such groups as women, racial and ethnic minorities, and people with targeted disabilities.
  • Data issues, such as disconnects between personnel and manpower data systems and limited tracking of development activities, stymie effective talent management.
  • DoD has many policy levers and tools — including some developed by RAND — that it can make greater use of to improve its management of knowledge workers.
  • The private sector and DoD experiments, such as the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund and Civilian Acquisition Workforce Personnel Demonstration Project, are sources of promising talent management practices.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two


  • Chapter Three

    Build and Organize

  • Chapter Four

    Train and Develop

  • Chapter Five

    Motivate and Manage Performance

  • Chapter Six

    Promote and Retain the Right Talent

  • Chapter Seven

    Data Issues Present Challenges to Effective Talent Management

  • Appendix A

    Annotated Bibliography of Selected RAND Defense Talent Management Studies, 2013–2020

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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