Public Workforce

Tips for the Next Generation of Government

A recent summit provided early career professionals with ideas and advice on how to work well in government.
by | July 14, 2010
 

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Next Generation of Government conference, a two-day conference sponsored by GovLoop and Young Government Leaders. It was a wonderful experience to be in a room full of young, energetic government employees to discuss the changing face of government and its services, customers and employees. The event generated many good ideas and lessons for government employees, which I will share with you below.

On Making Government a Better Place to Work: Matt Collier, special assistant to Director John Berry, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, said that "it's not that easy" to make government cool again. OPM is conducting an experiment on how to make the office a better place to work, hopefully providing ideas for other government agencies. OPM is also hoping to make it easier for college grads to get jobs in government and improve workspace design:

• One program OPM is using to get more recent college grads into government is called Pathways to Public Service. The program is intended to streamline the internship process and improve the way college grads find entry-level jobs in government. The program considers Teach for America as a model.

• OPM has also trained some of its employees in Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), a management strategy which allows for more flexible work schedules and locations. Hennepin County, Minn., was featured in a past Public Workforce newsletter for its implementation of ROWE.

• In an effort to get away from the "cube farm" found in many government offices, some OPM employees spent time researching how to make a fun and engaging work environment, which included visits to Google in Northern California. Back at OPM, these employees found an old room and convinced facilities management to allow them to turn it into an open work space area. The room will have work spaces for teams to gather, white boards, state-of-the-art conference rooms and video conferencing. Rather than everyone sitting in a cube, employees will be able to sit at open tables so that the conversations around the table will lead to innovation.

Handling the Challenges of Being a Boss: Tom Fox, director of the Center for Government Leadership with the Partnership for Public Service spoke about the challenges new managers, or soon-to-be managers, could face. He outlined potential resources employees could use to strengthen their leadership skills and experience:

• Agencies can provide basic support, but employees need to find their own resources. To overcome this challenge, managers should build a network of support that includes peers, experienced leaders, managers, friends and family, members of professional organizations and even past co-workers.

• Managers know enough to be a good boss, but not necessarily enough to be an outstanding boss. Fix this by finding good resources including books, magazines, websites and the people around you. Interagency blogs can also have a wealth of knowledge.

• Your team is the best source of information on how to be an outstanding boss, but they'll never tell you. Build trust with the team by not assuming that you know everything, being an open communicator, self-evaluating your own management techniques, provide your employees feedback and give them the opportunity to review your performance.

Being a Good Manager: New and experienced managers picked up some additional lessons from Lisa Schlosser of the Environmental Protection Agency and Jim Williams, formerly of the General Services Administration. The two spoke on a panel on how to climb the career ladder and made the following points about good managers:

• Managers listen extensively and teach something new every day.

• Good managers help team members understand why decisions are being made. Be transparent, and don't be afraid to be decisive.

• Good managers let employees fail and accept that they will fail. However, good managers will take the time to sit down and explain what could have been done differently.

• Good managers reach out to employees to work on a professional development plan, and understand what their employees are looking for in their careers.

• As a manager, one way to keep employees and keep them happy is to pay for them to develop career skills (by offering training courses, or reimbursing them for higher education).

The Changing Face of Internal and External Communication: Methods of communication are changing for the next generation of government, with news available from a variety of sources including social media sites. Regardless of whether government employees are informing the media in a professional capacity or simply dealing with internal communication, recognizing these changes is vital. Some points made on social media and government throughout the summit:

• People don't want to hear talking points. Now, it's about a real conversation with interaction. Both media and government public affairs representatives will need to quickly adjust to the new reality.

• What makes a good public affairs specialist nowadays? Someone who is observing Twitter and Facebook all day, but doing it organically. Someone who is guessing what interests people. Someone who understands that the deadline is now. Someone who is honest and doesn't give reporters the run around. Someone who is not afraid of reporters, but rather wants to develop rapport.

• Because of the accessibility to news with social media sites, employees will share what they are doing. Managers have to accept this. Be sure employees know what office policy is regarding social media use, and what they can and cannot say on their personal time.

• When it comes to internal communications, understand that closed door meetings don't necessarily mean that proposed ideas are not being taken into consideration.

Overall Lessons For New Government Employees: Finally, many of the summit's speakers repeated these overarching themes over the two days.

• Don't lose sight of the original goal that you've set when entering government service (or the specific project you're working on).

• Follow the rules of government, but challenge them when appropriate and in a constructive way. Ask questions.

• Don't always feel the need to criticize management. Be part of the team.

• Coolness isn't about age. Older employees aren't the problem. They are and have a wealth of resources.

What do you think of these recommendations to the next generation of government? Are there more recommendations not listed here? Send your thoughts to hkerrigan@governing.com and we'll add them to our online version of the newsletter.

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