Let’s accept that government has changed

May 16, 2014

National Park Service/Handout via Reuters

After speaking with leaders across the federal government in recent weeks, I’ve come to an unlikely conclusion: Leaders are adjusting to the new budget reality and making progress.

Following several years of lying low and being sidetracked by budget cuts, furloughs and the government shutdown, many federal leaders appear to be getting a handle on the new environment, and I’m sensing that they are making the best of their situations and moving forward despite the obstacles.

For any federal leader interested in standing up and standing out, I suggest looking around at those who have achieved incredible results amid all of the turmoil.

At the General Services Administration, for example, Acing Chief Information Officer Sonny Hashmi has transformed the agency’s information technology services, transferring email to the cloud and adding a cloud-based platform of collaboration and document management tools that allow employees to share case files, manage projects, exchange ideas and locate experts instantaneously. In the process, he has helped improve employee effectiveness, reduced agency costs and created a model for other federal agencies to follow.

At the Department of Veterans Affairs, Ronald Walters managed to make substantial progress expanding the capacity and number of locations for national cemeteries, while also receiving high customer service ratings from the next of kin. And at the Department of Energy, John Cymbalsky has overcome years of inaction, confrontation and lawsuits by bringing together industry, environmental and consumer groups to adopt new efficiency standards for appliances and commercial equipment that will save consumers money and reduce energy consumption and air pollution.

While everyone’s situation is different, it may be time to step back, assess what’s going on in your organization and make adjustments. Here are some ideas on how to proceed:

Define the new operating environment. Set realistic goals and develop guidelines for what success in this new era looks like. Think through how you intend to achieve these goals given the budget constraints and staffing constraints, and lay out your plan in writing with a timetable for action.

Share your thoughts. You will achieve more – and get better work from your people – if you focus on enabling others’ success. The best innovators take time to teach their employees about the processes, people and relationships required to succeed in any environment, and that need is even greater now. You should set aside time with employees where you can outline your ideas more clearly about operating in this changed landscape, and how you want to proceed to meet your goals. Be sure to listen to your employees and incorporate the best of their ideas into your plan of action.

Reach out for help. It’s always a good idea to supplement your knowledge with that of relevant experts in the agency and get feedback for moving forward. Individually, you’ll want to set up time with folks from IT, acquisition, HR and your agency’s other management functions as needed. Time is in short supply, but relationship building will help your team navigate the system effectively to overcome roadblocks and move ahead.

Support your team. Don’t expect your team to transform overnight. Proactively support their efforts to try new assignments, tackle process improvements and build relationships internally and externally. If your employees run into difficulty, figure out how you can help.

Federal leaders, what are you doing to adapt? How are you helping your team succeed? Please share your thoughts by posting a comment below or sending an e-mail to fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership, is vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. He also heads the Partnership’s Center for Government Leadership.

Read also:

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How to be positive and realistic, at the same time

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Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, explores workplace issues and provides advice for federal managers through analysis, interviews and reader Q&As in his Federal Coach blog for On Leadership.
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