Federal Coach

By Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service

Blog archive

Federal Coach: Celebrating what government gets right

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

The federal government is responsible for numerous important accomplishments due to the talented and dedicated people who have chosen to serve, but too few Americans outside or even inside government know about many of these achievements.

As federal leaders, you should be advocates for government’s successes and the people under your supervision who are doing great work.

Often, our government has to play defense, particularly when stories break about what’s not working. We need to spend more time on offense, for the morale of the federal workforce, and so that the public understands how much great work is happening on their behalf. To get the best from our government, we need to celebrate what’s right.

It also is important to hold yourself accountable for your employee viewpoint survey results on the question of whether they are satisfied with the recognition they receive for doing a good job. In government as a whole, only 40 percent of employees are satisfied with the recognition they receive, whereas in the private sector 64 percent are satisfied. We have to reward people who dare to challenge the status quo and take risks.

That means doing more to identify and support these achievers, and in doing so, build on their strengths. As managers, take time to thank employees or colleagues for something they’ve accomplished, and to publicize the good works internally through emails, newsletters and award programs.

With our annual leadership awards, the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals (Sammies), we try provide a public platform for the work that outstanding public servants are doing to improve the lives of Americans and people around the world. The stories of these civil servants also provide examples of best practices and demonstrate how federal employees can navigate the tricky waters of government to make a positive impact.

If you’re looking for templates for success, just look at the profiles of this year’s award winners who were announced today. Whether it’s reducing Medicare fraud, helping paralyzed veterans, saving the lives of soldiers in Afghanistan, expanding access to government information or negotiating government purchases to save taxpayers billions of dollars, there’s likely to be some things you can learn.

For example, there’s award winner Alan Lindenmoyer from NASA who created a new way to partner with the private sector to build rockets and spacecraft at a dramatically reduced cost to taxpayers. In the process, he has reenergized the U.S. launch industry and is making it possible for our country to continue to lead the world in space research and exploration. His resourcefulness included hiring a venture capitalist to help evaluate business plans. To make the deals enticing both for industry and NASA, the agreements allowed the companies to keep the intellectual property for their designs and vehicles. But NASA is not paying development costs, but rather for successful performance of work completed. If the companies fail to meet the milestones, they are not paid and face the possibility of termination.

Sara Meyers from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Michael Byrne at the Federal Communications Commission both found innovative and effective ways to make data more accessible that assisted policymakers and better informed the public.

All of the winners and the finalists have stories that are instructive regarding how to get things done in government, in some cases by overcoming high hurdles, seeking common ground with the private sector, creating incentives for success and by employing innovative approaches and taking risks.

So before you go looking to reinvent the wheel, take a look around you to find what’s working and what other agencies have done to both find the inspiration and to identify best practices to build on to make for a more effective, more efficient government.

What stories and results do you believe are worthy of additional recognition? Share your thoughts by posting a comment below or send me an e-mail to fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Oct 07, 2014 at 1:28 PM

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