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Keeping government workers in the loop: An interview with Steve Ressler

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Steve Ressler is the founder and president of GovLoop.com, a knowledge network where more than 55,000 government leaders share best practices and ideas through blogs, discussion, online trainings and mentorship. He also is a founder of Young Government Leaders, an organization of young feds, and the Next Generation of Government Training Summit. Ressler spoke with Tom Fox, who writes the Washington Post’s Federal Coach Blog and is the director of the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Government Leadership.

What prompted you to start GovLoop?

I thought there should be a social network site for government. There are tons of people who are working on ideas and sharing best practices. We’ve had great associations and groups that have convened for years that try to solve problems. I thought, why don’t we do it in a more modern, more social-media-network way? That was the idea.

What are some of the lessons you learned starting GovLoop?

First, taking an idea to reality is tough. However, if you pitch the vision well, then you can find people who want to be a part of it. It’s a lot of hard work and hand-holding. So, it’s just the compelling vision and then the day-to-day combat — touching people, reaching out to people and thanking people.

When you look at public service today, what do you consider to be the top three challenges confronting federal leaders?

Budgets are the biggest thing. I hear that all the time — how to do more with less. Tied to that is that the retirement wave is starting to really happen. Third is the changing technology. I think it’s a great opportunity to really help government through these processes. But people are really struggling, whether it’s social media, cloud computing or big data. There are a lot of opportunities to do things differently. But that’s still hard to do because we’ve always done it a certain way.

What can agencies do to foster innovation?

We’re seeing Innovation Officers with Innovation Teams. When you are trying to solve various problems, you can bring a tech person, a business person or innovation person onto the project team to help think creatively. A lot of times, we’re focused on problem-solving the same way. It’s getting new people to the table. If it’s the same people, you don’t always get outside of the box thinking. You need to examine different ways to solve problems.

How can federal managers attract young people to government?

Government careers are just not marketed well on campuses, and once you’re given the opportunity or told about it, it’s still really hard. The clearer you can make the program to say, “Come serve your country,” the better. It's about clear messages and making the job process social.  For example, in our jobs.govloop.com site, we built upon the USAJOBS API and matched it with your LinkedIn connections.  If you see an EPA job, it shows the people you may know and the first- and second-degree connections. Then we integrated this user reviews and jobs reviews. So just stuff like that that make the job process less of a black hole, more social.

What tips would you give young employees about navigating the federal landscape?

I think you definitely need a mentor. It’s one of the top things we always hear. With GovLoop and Young Government Leaders, we host the Next Generation of Government Training Summit to address how young leaders can navigate the landscape. One of the toughest topics is navigating the bureaucracy. You need mentors and you need allies. A lot of government work these days is cross-divisional. I was an IT guy. I found you need someone in legal, you need someone in security. I found that the people who have those networks — this is both offline and online — can tap into those people and just get so much more work done.

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