Federal Coach

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

Blog archive

Federal Coach: Improving society by improving the workplace

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

Daryl Brewster is head of CECP, a global nonprofit that draws together CEOs who think an essential measure of business performance is an executive's ability to improve society. In this interview, Brewster shares his thoughts on fixing ineffective government agencies, engaging employees and creating environments that spur innovation. He spoke with Tom Fox.

You’ve been labeled something of a turnaround artist in the private sector. What kinds of issues do you look for in reviving an ineffective organization that could apply to federal agencies?

The first is dealing with reality – seeing where things are and recognizing that there are multiple stakeholders. The starting point is making sure the issues are out on the table. Some would call it situation assessment. Beyond that, you must determine your vision and what you are in this to do. Then you can move onto the strategies and actions that will really drive that result, but you can’t do that until you figure out where you’re going.

What advice would you offer government executives looking to improve employee performance?

It starts with listening. Seek to understand and be understood. Second, it's about engagement — it’s really important not to jump to the answer, but to get people involved so they have a greater contribution. The third element is alignment, getting everyone on the same page with the mission, vision and priorities. The fourth factor is to deliver, which is about the metrics, milestones and timelines. It requires cheerleading every once in a while, and pushing.

How do you create an environment where employees feel like they can take risks and innovate?

Senior management must devote a certain portion of their individual conversations, weekly team meetings and quarterly meetings to talking about innovation as a whole, but also in specific areas. The questions we ask as leaders can make all the difference. How does this make sense? How do we do it better? Are there new ideas we ought to pursue?

There also needs to be recognition for those who innovate. That can make a big difference.

What are the characteristics of a successful leader?

When we had our board meeting at CECP, we had 50 CEOs come together and we talked a lot about leadership. One key thing that continued to come up is this notion of a higher purpose — linked to the integrity that you do what you say and you say what you do.

Do you have a favorite book?

One book I found fascinating is Firms of Endearment. It talks about the importance of companies in terms of customer service, how they treat their employees, how they engage in their communities and minimize their impact on the environment. It sparked a whole movement in conscience capitalism.

What’s your best time management tip?

I try at least once a week to ask myself, “What is your purpose? What are you trying to personally accomplish?” Understanding where your priorities are and what things need to get done is crucial. It is a to-do list, but a to-do list connected to your overall purpose.

One of the things that strikes me is your ability to convince CEOs from competing companies to work together on social causes. How do you get these CEOs to collaborate, and could any of these methods apply to our federal government?

It’s a great challenge, because people have competing interests and you’re asking them to work together. Some of the issues we are dealing with are so complex and big that no one organization can go it alone. We bring them together and find a collective approach to solve problems. Sometimes it’s just the language of how people talk about the problem. The key is that you’ve got to keep coming back to the common goal.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Aug 31, 2015 at 3:11 PM

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