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Posted in Leadership on August 19, 2015
Public sector entrepreneurial initiatives serve the public by improving economic prosperity and creating jobs. Many well-known technological advances have their roots in government funded research—global positioning systems (GPS), speech recognition software, lactose-free milk, LED lighting, even the Internet itself—they all owe a portion of their success to government funded agencies.
However, we cannot lose sight of the critical role leadership plays in the successful execution of these ideas—specifically, leadership courage in three forms: going against the grain when necessary; promoting big picture thinking; and doing the right thing.
Going against the Grain: When the Air Force Research Laboratory decided to establish the Entrepreneurial Opportunities Program, leaders had to work through legal and policy challenges to provide an opportunity for sabbatical and spinning off commercial products. This is something we have come to expect from Silicon Valley and universities; however, leadership courage was the key ingredient that provided the passion and drive to do what was best for the public.
Big Picture Thinking: Leadership courage sometimes includes the will to define the future and create organization models that advance public service beyond expectations. This is a key difference between management and leadership. Looking beyond present conditions, formulating a view of the future, and embracing the art of the possible creates the conditions where technology transfer and entrepreneurism in the public sector can occur.
Doing the Right Thing: In this context, leadership courage means moving beyond checking the necessary boxes to thinking about what is missing from the public service equation. This is a leadership trait often associated with change management and it requires a confidence to explain change.
Good leadership leads to empowerment and innovation. It can be defined only when it surfaces in behavior that pulls the agency beyond the norm.
The skills that have enabled public sector innovation and technology transfer can be learned. Such learning is predicated upon a leadership development framework that highlights entrepreneurism as a developmental pillar. Even without an agency focus on technology transfer, an entrepreneurial mindset can enhance the way an agency approaches public service innovation, continuous improvement, and measures of efficacy. Agencies need to find ways to reinforce training and provide for practical applications through coaching or mentoring. This creates a safe harbor environment for trial and error. Our government should leverage the advantages of leadership development to ensure that ideas for technical innovation and technology transfer are brought forward in the spirit of improving public service and economic prosperity.
Posted in Leadership on July 29, 2015
In our last blog we reviewed four key points to ensure successful leadership assimilation, and invited our readers to comment. Today we will highlight additional tips and an insightful suggestion from one our readers.
It is essential for a new leader to fully comprehend the existing agency culture before making changes. This same need applies whether the leader has accepted a position in a new agency or has been promoted within their own agency. In both cases leaders should reflect or refresh their knowledge of the agency’s norms, patterns, and expectations. Here are four important areas that need to be examined before the new leader launches any initiatives.
- Decision Making Patterns: Understanding how information is processed, acted upon, and ultimately used in decision making can be important to learning about nuances in internal culture and politics. This area of investigation will also help to establish awareness of key stakeholders and build bridges to them. It is critical for the new leader to respect the way in which decisions are made if they want to influence outcomes, corrective actions, and potential new directions.
- Expectation Management: A new leader should take the time to explore what will be expected of them in the new role. Expectations will exist on three levels: manager, team, and agency. Communication is the key. At a team level, ask the team what they need, what has worked well in the past, and what changes might be necessary. At the manager and agency level, a series of one-on-one meetings with senior leaders and direct reports will help to charter a course with respect to desired outcomes and how to best address issues.
- Feedback: A new leader needs candid feedback to ensure expectations are met and integration into the operational flow is occurring as desired. New leaders should not hesitate to ask a simple question such as “How is it going?” This is a great way to open a dialogue and receive feedback in a non-threatening way. Further, the lost art of MBWA (Management by Walking Around) is an excellent, non-intrusive way to hear about operational activity, discuss projects, establish a presence, and build a connection to the team.
- Relationship Building: If others do not trust and respect the new leader, alienation, passive-aggressive resistance, and other undesired behaviors may emerge. One of our readers has an excellent and practical idea to ensure that integrity and openness are part of a new leader’s foundation: the new leader simply shares their calendar with the team and keeps it updated. This is an excellent way to create trust through transparency. In this way the direct report team can understand the new leader’s availability and appreciate priorities.
New initiatives are better received when leaders take the time to thoroughly understand the culture they are operating in. Increase the quality and frequency of communication to set yourself up for success in your new role.
Posted in Leadership on July 15, 2015
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, half of senior outside hires fail within 18 months. This can occur for many reasons, but one of the most prevalent is the newly hired leader not understanding, respecting, or practicing the organization’s procedures. It is critically important for any new manager to begin from a place of acknowledgment before starting a dialogue around change. Otherwise, organizations just reject the person and their outside ideas even though the new ideas could improve agency mission.
So, what will work to ensure the success of a new manager and the continued delivery of services in the interest of public service? Here are some best practices for new managers—and their leaders—to consider.
- Provide Opportunities for Early Wins. This is not specifically about implementing change or achieving a specific outcome. Instead, an early win should address the new manager’s fit with the agency and reinforce that the agency made the right decision. This helps the team settle in.
- Model Effective Meeting Management. Meetings can often amount to lost opportunities if not well managed. On the other hand, with a well crafted agenda and the appropriate attendees, meetings can be the perfect forum in which to dialogue on tough issues, discuss breakthrough ideas, and build team cohesion through active listening and participation.
- Help with Conflict Resolution. Because conflict is inevitable in any workplace, it is important for a new manager to understand the organization’s existing process for conflict resolution. For example, are conflicts openly discussed? Is it common to bring a third party into the process to provide an independent view? Or are conflicts generally ignored? Once the new manager understands the norm, they can deal with conflict appropriately—or, if no real process exists, they could begin laying the groundwork for a new process by preparing an outline that includes change rationale.
- Learn from a Pro. A very useful and often overlooked assimilation technique is for a manager who had previously held the same role to share their insights with the new manager. This individual can offer a perspective that is usually void of personal agenda; therefore, there is a good likelihood they will provide quality feedback.
This list is designed to be a thought starter. What would you add for leaders in public agencies? Share your thoughts in the comments section, and I will include them in my next post.
Transitioning to a new agency, a new branch, or a new role requires some homework to learn, understand, and appreciate rules and workflow. By anticipating the questions and challenges new managers may have around policy and process, you can help them get off to the best start possible.
Posted in Leadership on July 1, 2015
While an investigation into how the data breach occurred and what corrective action might be necessary to prevent future breaches is best left to the experts, the way in which this type of non-routine matter is handled by agency leaders has a real bearing on trust. Trust is so hard to gain and sustain—and it can evaporate quickly, depending on how leaders respond to and manage through the unexpected.
While it is inevitable that the unexpected will occur, and only so much can be controlled by leadership, here are four local action steps that can help.
- Create a strategic plan. Define important and common terms so that—regardless of time zone, role, tenure, or level of experience—information is processed and acted upon according to common practices and standards. Without a common framework, there is risk that an individual or team could misinterpret an action and inadvertently cause an undesired outcome. For instance, a decision could be made that is not consistent with the necessary actions to reduce or eliminate an undesired variance. It is critical for leadership to establish common frameworks and language to support coordinated, expeditious, and desired actions.
- Build alignment between role/function and outcomes. Often organization decision making is hampered by role or function ambiguity. Departments sometimes overstep their capacity because clear boundaries and charters have not been established. It is paramount for leaders to define “swim lanes” and levels of accountability by individual, teams, and departments so that there is never any doubt about who is required to act, when, and how.
- Ensure that measures are in place. Establishing operational performance metrics is crucial to knowing when an undesired gap has occurred. Of course, metrics are not necessary to recognize when a catastrophic event has taken place—but the criticality and importance of metrics lie in the ability to understand the magnitude of undesired variance. A performance scorecard or dashboard is an excellent way to keep employees engaged and aligned with mission because of a common understanding and appreciation for the state of agency performance.
- Communicate corrective action procedures effectively. When the unexpected strikes, it is vital for corrective action to be a reflex activity. There will not be much time for analysis. In fact, if certain anticipated corrective measures have not been anticipated, trained, and understood, the agency will be starting from a position where recovery will be inhibited. Leadership cannot orchestrate a potential solution to all scenarios, but an 80-20 rule should be applied where a majority of scenarios are forecast. This projection will prevent the erosion of trust by providing rapid response and unequivocal confidence in the continuity of agency operations.
Leadership must be prepared to provide continuity in times of crisis. This includes proactive agency planning before having to respond and manage a crisis. By following the four steps outlined above, leadership can improve the chances of mitigating risk and provide the desired response to the unforeseen.
When leaders prepare their agencies to respond to the unexpected, there is a much greater chance of preserving the public trust, continuing to deliver on expected services, and support for mission.
Posted in Leadership on June 17, 2015
The time has come to think about performance appraisal as more than just a dreaded, required, annual exercise. No one would argue that performance appraisal needs to include “accountability, fairness, and alignment with the function and strategy of the agency” (U.S. Office of Personnel Management). But what is missing from this purpose statement is how these elements—and others—can contribute to better employee engagement.
Blanchard research into the factors that create a passionate work environment include performance expectations, feedback, and fairness as recommended leadership focus areas. What would happen if leaders were trained to consider and use performance appraisal as a tool to “peel the onion back” to determine how engagement levels relate to performance outcomes?
For example, the performance appraisal process might include conversations in these four areas:
- Barriers to high performance. Discuss the environmental factors that may be inhibiting maximum performance. This gets team members thinking about work processes that might be underdeveloped or inefficient.
- Opportunities for improvement and change. This element is useful for seeking continuous improvement input. It also could identify growth and autonomy opportunities for direct reports.
- Support for both meeting and exceeding expectations. In addition to measuring past performance against agreed-to expectations, be sure to include discussion on ways to improve performance outcomes going forward.
- Commitment and passion. Have an open conversation about the importance of maximum engagement and the things that may be either limiting or supporting it. This is the perfect opportunity to check for work commitment and the factors that can lead to improved engagement.
Incorporating a broader view and talking about engagement can help agencies improve the performance management process. With guidance and training, leaders can identify and remove barriers, seek ideas for continuous improvement, and establish ways to maximize work passion.
To learn more about the Blanchard approach to engagement, visit the company’s online research archive. All white papers are available for free immediate download.
Posted in Leadership on June 3, 2015
Succession planning is usually very low on the list of agency priorities until a reminder like Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent bicycle accident occurs. When an influential senior leader is sidelined for even a short time it reminds everyone, “Who is ready to step up and continue the mission?”
A succession planning process is an essential strategy that involves assessment, development, and communication. An agency without a succession plan runs the risk of not being able to fulfill its mission.
So, what does an effective succession planning process look like?
Assessment: Succession planning starts with a determination of positions that should be included in the plan. Plans should also identify talent within—but also outside of internal leadership circles. Specialized skill requirements might make it necessary to identify and recruit talent from outside the agency and/or government.
Development: Identify where skill gaps exist and the degree of knowledge acquisition required to perform a future role. Many agencies are now using phased retirement programs that emphasize and enable knowledge transfer. The phased process allows for incumbents to smoothly prepare for retirement rather than come to an unexpected and sudden exit.
Communication: A final important element of the succession process is to develop a plan for communicating the strategy throughout the agency. In the absence of this information, high-potential candidates could unexpectedly exit the agency to pursue desired career advancement opportunities elsewhere—not knowing that a career path strategy has been defined.
Succession planning plays an important role in ensuring business continuity and the uninterrupted execution of an agency’s mission. Plans are always better when people have the time to think them through. The same is true when it comes to identifying and developing a next generation of leadership. Get started today!
About The Ken Blanchard Companies
The Ken Blanchard Company specializes in helping agencies assess, understand, and address talent and developmental gaps. To learn more visit The Ken Blanchard Companies government solutions homepage.
Posted in Leadership on May 20, 2015
Does customer service really matter in the public sector? Isn’t the act of working in the public sector the fulfillment of service? Not in the eyes of the taxpayer, according to the latest report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).
In its 2014 report, the ACSI identifies that “Americans are less satisfied with services of the U.S. federal government for a second consecutive year, as citizen satisfaction recedes 2.6% to an ACSI score of 64.4 (scale of 0 to 100). Overall, the services of the federal government continue to deliver a level of customer satisfaction below the private sector, and the downturn this year exacerbates the difference. Among more than 40 industries covered by the ACSI, only Internet service providers have a lower score.”
There is, and should be, an expectation that customer service be delivered in the public sector in a way that at least meets, or more preferably, exceeds, the expectations of the American public.
With the American public expecting service comparable to what they receive in the private sector, how do our public sector agencies ensure that they meet expectations? Leadership and employee engagement are the critical elements that develop a culture and spirit of service.
Research conducted by The Ken Blanchard Companies found a strong relationship between leadership practices, employee work passion, and customer service scores. Better leadership practices—at a strategic and operational level—lead to higher levels of employee work passion and customer satisfaction.
Strategic Leadership and Operational Leadership
From a leadership perspective, resources in the form of information and resources to do one’s job must be allocated. That is, the workforce is only as good as the tools they have to perform their roles.
Strategic leadership defines the imperatives for everyone in the organization. It is the what that provides the key relationships and metrics needed to ensure that all units follow the same strategy. Examples of strategic leadership include vision, culture, and the declaration of strategic imperatives.
Operational leadership practices provide the how in the organization. This enables departments and employees to understand how they specifically contribute to organization success. They are the procedures and policies that clarify how each unit will achieve the overall strategy.
For instance, extraordinary client service cannot be delivered unless appropriate response times are established and communicated to those responsible for delivering service. Response time can be defined in minutes or days, but an operational definition must be developed and communicated so that the appropriate workforce understands the expectation, trends can be measured, and corrective actions can be implemented as necessary.
But that is only half the job. Defining service goals is a somewhat useless exercise unless a passion exists to deliver on the goal. This passion must be fostered and nurtured by agency leadership. Rather than a culture where the workforce sees the act of responding to public inquiries as drudgery, leadership must create an environment where there is a passion for service.
This requires specialized knowledge—but many leaders have never learned how to create this vision and passion for service. They are not naturally focused on or committed to building a customer service ethic. It’s not because they lack desire—it’s because they lack know-how.
A great place to start exploring how leadership can impact service is through the white papers: The Leadership Profit Chain, Leadership Purpose Chain in Government Agencies, and Employee Work Passion: Connecting the Dots.
For more information on how The Ken Blanchard Companies helps organizations and agencies define, promote, and deliver on a culture of outstanding service, visit www.kenblanchard.com/government