Wednesday, November 25, 2009

3 Common Obstacles to Performance Management in Government (and Ways to Overcome Them)

In leadership workshops I facilitate, Federal government leaders who gather to improve their supervisory and leadership skills share their ideas and experiences and often recount very similar challenges. Some of the most frequently experienced obstacles have been an unclear or unstable vision from the top of the organization, tentativeness with performance management due to fear of litigation or union action, and a general lack of emphasis on accountability and performance results as business imperatives. Here are some of my thoughts about these problems and potential solutions.

1. Unclear or unstable vision: By design, government has a unique challenge in that its top leadership changes frequently as a result of election cycles and political appointments. This changing leadership at the top can often mean that the vision for the agency and any department can change frequently as well.

When vision and goals waver, employees lack clarity about the direction of the organization and struggle to prioritize their goals and actions. It’s difficult for leaders to manage performance without a clear and unequivocal shared vision.

What to do? A leader’s communication about vision helps set the stage for success as all members of the team understand what is important and what their ultimate purpose is. Leaders must err on the side of over-communicating a sense of vision and the importance of setting goals that map to that vision, throughout the organization with transparency, frequency, and in an inspirational tone.

2. Fear of Litigation or Union Actions: We are lucky to live and work in a country where our human rights are so well protected in the workplace, but labor laws can present a double-edged sword. By being so careful not to offend any group or criteria (such as race, gender, national origin, etc.), leaders sometimes feel like they’re walking on eggshells and can be too tentative to provide meaningful, honest, corrective performance feedback.

Some of the government leaders in my workshops even describe being explicitly instructed to avoid giving performance feedback to certain individuals because those employees have used threats, complaints, and even lawsuits in the past to defend against any claims of inferior performance. Clearly, this practice of feedback avoidance and restraint takes its toll on business results, leader and team morale, and performance.

What to do? Yes, leaders must be aware of and comply with workplace laws. But they must also be committed to communicating about performance in an honest and caring way. Providing factual, objective, behavior-based feedback is the only way to begin correcting poor performance. When in doubt, consult with your Human Resources department for legal guidance, but don’t skip performance feedback that is linked to reality and results.

3. Lack of Commitment to Accountability: Broader in scope, this is a problem that pervasively plagues all levels of government. Unfortunately, it seems government bureaucracy may enable poor performance by not demanding accountability to results as private sector organizations do. I’ve heard of numerous situations where poor performers are moved sideways and upward in the organization just to get them out of a group, when they should really have been managed toward improved performance or managed out of the organization. Often, there are too many hurdles to jump in the existing bureaucracy to do so and leaders choose the easier way out.

What to do? As the saying goes, “Think globally – act locally”. Organizational and cultural change is not gained easily, but fighting for what’s right is worth the effort in the long run. Each leader represents a point of change and an opportunity to make a small-scale, localized difference. When a groundswell of local changes takes place, they form the grass-roots change that eventually sways the bigger culture. Don’t take the easy way out – you are a role model for your employees (who are future leaders of the organization) and peers. Model the way by expecting, and getting, accountability.

What have been your experiences in this arena? What other ideas do you have for improving performance in public sector organizations? I’d love to hear about it.

Halelly Azulay is President, TalentGrow and President, Metro DC ASTD chapter.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Concept of Level 5 Leadership in the Federal Government

For my USDA Graduate School Executive Leadership Program, I was recommended to read a book titled “Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make The Leap and Others Don’t” by Jim Collins and so far, I have been transformed by the leadership principles and characteristics laid out in the book for going from Good to Great and what it takes to become a Level 5 Leader. Very briefly, here are some of the principles and characteristics of a Level 5 Leader according to the book:

Humility + Will = Level 5

1. Demonstrates a compelling modesty; shunning public adulation; never boastful.
2. Demonstrates an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results, no matter how difficult.
3. Channels ambition into company, not the self; sets up successors for even greater success in the next generation.
4. Acts with quiet, calm determination; relies principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate.
5. Sets the standard of building an enduring great company; will settle for nothing less.

Based on the above, I would like to know if there are any Level 5 Leaders in the Federal Government and in what agencies are they in. I would also like to know if there is a correlation between these Level 5 Leaders and the Partnership for Public Service’s rankings for the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government.

I.J works for the Department of Homeland Security/United State Coast Guard as a Contract Specialist. She is on the Executive Board of Young Government Leaders and is a Community Leader on GovLoop.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

What Does Gov 2.0 Mean to You?

Pay attention to a conversation that's been happening across GovLoop, YouTube,, and a handful of other sites. In his seminal book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Clay Shirky talks about the change from one-way to many-way communication that's coming in with social media. He makes the case that the impact of this global mushrooming of interactivity is similar in magnitude to the impact of movable type printing ca. 1439. The question on the table in September 2009 focuses not so much on the cool new tools themselves as it does their use to make government more responsive to citizens and vice versa. Use the Twitter hashtag #g2s to pull up commentary that was tweeted live during the Gov 2.0 Summit on Sept. 9-10, 2009. There is work in various stages of development at all levels of government, in numerous countries. Early results are promising.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

She was Right the First Time, Too.

Judge Sotomayor’s retreat from her “rhetorical flourish” that a wise old Latina might decide better than a wise old man was the right tactic to secure confirmation, but it was also a retreat from our newly-gained understanding of how the human mind works. Back in 1890, William James formulated a general law of perception: “Whilst part of what we perceive comes through our senses from the object before us, another part (and it may be the larger part) always comes out of our mind” We now know that James did not go far enough. Even what comes to us through our senses is not what is actually out there, but a highly filtered construct created by brain circuits unique to each individual.

Our eyes don’t work like a camera. They wander in fits and starts about a scene while the retina cuts the welter of information into pieces: edges, changes, motion, contrasts, colors, textures, light and dark, eye status, and other image primitives that we don’t yet understand. The optic nerves transmit these to the back of the head where the brain starts to reassemble them into: line segments, segment pairings, orientations; then on up to outlines; to shapes; then objects; then concepts like “limb, leaf, dog, face, stone” and on to even broader constructs like “lithesome, laugh, dread, father, story.”

The response to any scene is unique to each individual. Circuits, built up by experience in one person, might deliver the perception: “old woman.” Another circuit in another brain would see: “wise Latina.” All the filtering and sorting in a third brain might trigger the elusive “grandmother cell” which stops the processing with the message, “that’s nana.”

As these higher-level perceptions are delivered to our conscious minds, most of the information that went into triggering those disparate interpretations is thrown away. Minds don’t clutter themselves with how the line segments were pieced together into a human outline, they just remember the final filtered output. This, by the way, should get us insensitive males off the hook for not noticing the color of that dress. It’s not that I couldn’t care, it’s that my life experiences never taught my mind’s filters to save or pass that information on to my front-end processor. Like words cut from early drafts of this essay, that data is simply not there to be noted or remembered, at least until my wife generates an important new life experience that creates in my brain a special circuit to insure that I do see and recall dress colors. Significant, repeated experience builds physical application-specific integrated circuits in our heads. In animals, we can actually watch those circuits develop. These filters are unique to each of us, created to let us see better, with no conscious thought, what we have seen before. No matter how much we might strive to be impartial observers, we simply cannot see what others see. They had different experiences and thus have different brain circuits.

My wife looks at a roadside and instantly sees half-a-dozen invasive exotic plants. My brain registers only green. A former boss looks at equations, things he works with every day, and instantly sees meaning. I struggle with the import of each symbol. It’s not just that he is three times smarter than I (although he is) but his experience has shaped specialty processors in his head to interpret what life has asked of his mind. Dennis Proffitt of the University of Virginia showed that everyone vastly over-estimate slopes (it comes as a great surprise to those of us who have driven up Lombard Street to learn that no road grade in San Francisco is greater than 18°). When tired, we see a slope as five to ten degrees steeper than we would had we been rested. This altered view of reality also varies with the observer’s longer-term life experiences, e.g., growing up on the planes or in the Colorado mountains. Iowans actually see slopes as steeper. These differences among people run amazingly deep. Richard Nisbett showed that they extend down to the very first steps we take to interpret the world; there are measurable cultural differences even in how our eyes scan a scene and on what features they dwell.

Brains are unique. People are unique. It is right for Judge Sotomayor to strive for objectivity. Even to aspire to impartiality is a triumph of human cognition. Still, as she, herself, pointed out in the hearings, we must seek to know what is true, not what we would wish to be true. What we do know should drive us to fill the Supreme Court with as wide a range of wisely-directed human filters as possible: Justices who will see truth in diverse ways. A wise Latina will make a healthy contribution to that mix.

Dr. Ralph Chatham is a former physicist and submariner, now retreaded as technology analyst and professional storyteller. Former chairman of Defense Science Board task forces on training superiority and training surprise he also managed research on the brain and human perception at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Innovation is what happens when people do these two things together.

Saturday 1st August, 2009.

Lunched with Mom and daughter today. We have Ladies Lunches, when all three generations of us females go out to lunch together and share sandwiches, cake and giggles. We met Mom at the mall and she looked rather harassed.

She sighed, “I have this letter from the Council about my refuse collection and I don’t understand it so I brought it along for you to look at. I tried phoning but I just get one of those ‘push the button’ things and you know with my hearing….so I hung up.”

“No problem”, I said brightly. “Let’s get lunch in the Community Café, the food’s organic and they have the Community Computers free to use.”

I logged in using my Community Collaboration Online ID and password. I am registered for this town so I go straight through to our council’s virtual reception. I click on Refuse Collection and within a couple more clicks my avatar is in a room with the avatar of a Refuse Collection Advisor. We press the sound button and after some verification questions she talks to my Mom about the letter, and they have it all resolved in a few minutes. As my Mom is hard of hearing the Advisor text chatted as she spoke, so that my Mom could read it on the screen too. Mom was relieved to have the matter resolved, and very impressed.

Then Mom took my daughter off to check out the cakes on display, so I whizzed around some of the other Community Collaboration Online portals. I paid our council tax bill, booked a routine check for my husband at the health center, and confirmed that my avatar will be attending and filming next month’s PTA meeting at the virtual school (it’s my turn to do the video-minutes) – and all before our food arrived!

* * *

This doesn’t really happen in my town. Can it? Yes, and it can happen in your town too. I work part-time for a local government in England, and part-time for Rocoza Designs Ltd. At Rocoza we have two tags to keep us focused. The first is ‘virtual works for the real world’; if it doesn’t, there is no point in doing it. The second is ‘communicate - collaborate - innovate.’ Communication is not organisations talking to their customers, it is multi-directional, real-time, ongoing. Collaboration is not having a couple members of the public on the committee, it is the empowered sharing of ideals and ideas. Innovation is what happens when people do these two things together. I had the fascinating opportunity recently to co-edit the OGI Conference TweetBook (a first of its’ kind), despite being in England and the conference in DC event: One of my favourite quotes from this event is

#ogi Weinberger: The smartest person in the room is the room.

This inspires me, and a lot of people are doing great work with this philosophy already. My passion and imagination explode when that room gets to be virtual, because then it can include an unlimited number of participants, it can operate 24/7, be cross-departmental, cross-organisational, international, and like the OGI Tweetbook, innovative, participatory, and giving. This is what I imagine for my town. What can you imagine for your town – and beyond?

Marie Crandell, who lives in England, is Lead Designer and co-founder of Rocoza Designs Ltd, a not for profit company whose aim is to assist governments, educators and other NFP organisations to explore and utilise virtual worlds and web-based collaborative technology. She is also a Mom, and believes that our children need to excel in the two C’s: Computer skills and Community spirit.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tapping the Genius of People in Federal Government - Michael Lee Stallard

The Obama Administration has a tremendous opportunity to tap into the genius of people who work in Federal government. An example from the past shows what’s possible.

The “genius of our people” is a phrase that was used by former Chief of Naval Operations (“CNO”) Admiral Vern Clark who led the US Navy when he was CNO from 2000 until 2005. Clark described his strategy as using the Navy’s “asymetrical advantages” of the best technology in the world combined with the “genius of our people.” By doing this, he wisely recognized that there is a powerful force in the energy and ingenuity of people, especially in this age of knowledge work.

When Clark was made CNO, the Navy was not meeting retention goals. Within 18 months of Clark’s appointment, employee engagement in the Navy soared and it had more people than required. This occurred prior to September 11, 2001.

Below are a few of Admiral Clark’s actions that had a positive effect on the people he led.

To begin, Clark made winning the war for talent the number one on his list of “Top Five” priorities. He made certain the Navy’s budget was aligned with his priorities. When Navy budget officials proposed people cuts as part of the annual planning cycle, Clark would say "I believe in people and I don't want you to ever come in here with a proposal to cut people there any question about that?"

People were important to Clark but it must be said that it was not at the expense of accomplishing his mission. Clark expected the US Navy to be the world’s best navy and anything less was unacceptable. He emphasized continuous improvement and held out a vision of the 21st Century Navy being “strategically and operationally agile, technologically and organizationally innovative, networked at every level, highly joint (with the other services), and effectively integrated with allies.” He encouraged everyone to “challenge every assumption,” "be data driven," and to "drill down" into the details. He asked everyone to "have a sense of urgency to make the Navy better every day," to deliver greater efficiencies and readiness for the dollars America has to invest in the Navy.

In addition to continuously improving the Navy, Clark expected continuous improvement on a personal basis. He requiring everyone to have a personal development plan and he increased the training budget to support personal and professional growth. To make his point about how much he valued growth and continuous improvement, Clark liked to say, “if you are not growing, you’re dead.”

Clark kept sailors focused on the importance of their mission and the promises they make to one another that are necessary to accomplish their mission. He said “what we do matters…we are committed to something larger than ourselves: the protection of America's interests and democracy.” He praised sailors for “serving a cause greater than self.” He reminded Naval leaders that sailors pledged to support and defend the US Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic, and that leaders needed to make promises in return to the sailors under their command. Such promises included helping sailors “make their service matter” and giving them the training and resources required to do their jobs.

There is much to be learned from Admiral Vern Clark’s example. Federal government employees also serve a cause greater than self. Leaders need to set high performance standards and provide the resources and training necessary for federal government employees to make our government better every day and help the employees they are responsible for leading to continuously learn and grow.

I would encourage federal government leaders to read Clark’s speeches at this link. My hope is that the Obama Administration and its appointees will, like Admiral Vern Clark, tap into the genius of people in Federal government to have an unprecedented positive impact on America.

Michael lee Stallard is president of E Pluribus Partners, a leadership training firm. He is the primary author of Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity. For additional information see

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Are You Adding Too Much Value?

How could it be possible to add too much value?

Marshall Goldsmith provided a compelling answer in his December, 2007 Fast Company article, Adding Value -- but at What Cost?. Mr, Goldsmith, a noted executive leadership coach, examines a shadow aspect of adding value:

"The problem is, while they may have improved the idea by 5%, they've reduced the employee's commitment to executing it by 30%, because they've taken away that person's ownership of the idea."

Sometimes more really is less. For all who are focused on federal employee development, engagement, and retention, that's good information. Interestingly, I encountered it again today on Rajesh Setty's value-added blog, Life Beyond Code." By the way, Goldsmith published additional food for thought in his book, What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful!.

* * * * *

By the way, two October 2008 posts feature federal and nonprofit leaders who embody Goldsmith's advice - have a look! Here's to your health and happiness as we approach the longest day of the year.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Coach's Feedback for Supervisors

I recently participated in 13L’s FedPitch 2009 practice session in the role of coach. Basically, FedPitch is an opportunity to propose ideas about how to recruit and retain federal government workers. After hearing all the great proposals both at the practice session and at the official event, I realized just how important it is to implement ideas, not only from senior-level staff but from all levels within an organization. I also realized that everyone has something valuable to contribute.

From my experience with FedPitch, my previous work experience, and my work with my coaching clients, I’ve compiled a list of some steps that organizations can take to retain employees, improve communication and build effective leadership.

1. Consistent Communication. Giving feedback to employees should not be reserved only for performance appraisal time. Constructive feedback, whether positive or negative, is most valuable when given on a consistent basis throughout the year. This not only speaks to a manager's leadership ability, but even more importantly helps employees stay informed, plan ahead and make any necessary adjustments. It's all about setting up employees for success, not failure.

2. Forget the micro-management. One of my best bosses told her employees, "I'll give you enough rope to either climb up or hang yourself." In other words, she believed in a hands-off approach and essentially left it up to the employees to make many of their own decisions regarding their careers. When I ask clients what kind of boss they want, they invariably say one that gives them autonomy and decision-making power, but at the same time offers guidance, leadership and direction.

3. Implement employee ideas. As mentioned earlier, it's important to not only ask employees for ideas, but also to implement them too (assuming they're good ideas of course.) Giving workers a sense of involvement and ownership in the process (vs. just being told what to do) helps to increase job satisfaction as well as employee engagement and retention, and in turn encourage higher productivity.

4. A little goes a long way. One of the biggest oversights from managers is the lack of positive reinforcement given to employees. Many managers are focused only on pointing out when something isn't done right. But simply acknowledging their employees' good work goes a long way in making them feel appreciated and valued, and is a great source of motivation to do more good work in the future.

5. Encourage education. Being a valuable employee can sometimes be a double-edged sword. Some managers have been known to actually withhold resources and opportunities from valuable employees in order to try to prevent them from moving into a new department or new organization altogether. Again, managers should give their employees every chance to succeed. And providing the necessary resources and encouraging them to grow and advance their careers through further training and education is a perfect way to accomplish this.

These are just a few of the strategies that organizations in all sectors – government, non-profit and for-profit, can implement to ensure not only the success of the organization itself, but also the success of its employees.

Joe Rosenlicht founded InMotion Career & Wellness to help clients rethink career and work/life balance choices. Naturally, that means he hears a lot about what's happening in the workplace. Joe really lives his tag line, "Envision, Invention, InMotion," as shown by his willingness to donate evening time in 2008 and 2009 to coach 13L FedPitch finalists. Thank you for your service, Joe!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Employee Engagement: Imagine.

There is a 4-minute YouTube video of an event in Antwerp's central train station that's had 2.5M hits in the month since it was posted. You should watch it! All mind chatter aside, I noticed the wonderful feeling the video evoked. How might that feeling, and an experience of flow, be evoked in the federal workplace? Your thoughts are welcome.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Career Change: From I.T. to Acquisition

After 15 years of government service in the IT field, I felt it was time for me to make a change. I can't really say I was burned out, I loved my work and really enjoyed helping/teaching others and traveling coast to coast in support of that effort. But, I felt there was no room for growth - not only career growth but personal growth. I wrestled with the decision to change series but thought it might be difficult at the full performance level. I entertained the idea of going back to school for a doctoral degree. After examining my options, I realized various certifications were available to me as a government employee, I decided an acquisition certification would be beneficial to me in for several reasons.

First of all, there is a shortage of qualified personnel in the contracting field. Since I already had a master's degree in Business Management and Administration, a marriage of education background, coupled with my project management experience and a certification in acquisition (contracting) seemed to be a career option that could really open many avenues for me. Additionally, the information that is gleaned from contracting training and experience is just very useful in every day life. (I liken it to the experience I had in ground school. While I was interested in learning to pilot light civil aircraft, I was required to learn about weather. That shared knowledge has been very useful to me ever since!)

So who wouldn't want to improve their negotiation skills, learn to create win/win situations, hone their research skills, make sound and prudent business decisions and learn the legalities of contractual transactions? I decided I did and that's what transitioning to the contracting series (1102) career field has done for me.

Secondly, once I decided on this career track, I began enrolling in any online courses available to me via the Defense Acquisition University (DAU). As you may know, enrollment in classroom courses is reserved for folks occupying acquisition billets. While my IT position did not fall into that category, I was permitted to register for the courses. Each time I enrolled in a course, I was automatically "waitlisted". Since I was fortunate enough to live and work near a DAU campus, when the date came around for class. I just showed up. I found there were always folks who didn't show up and they took waitlisted candidates on a first come, first served basis. (They used the date and time you registered to determine the order of and who would be allowed to take the course.) In just six months, I had taken the courses I needed to become Level I certified. The experience I had working with systems used by contracting professionals counted towards the work-related requirement! I was on my way.

Because of the shortage of personnel in the 1102 series, the Direct Hire program is used to hire many personnel. Using this provision, certain requirements may also be waived. In my case, a few courses I had not taken were waived for one year to be able to hire me in at the grade I desired.
There is no doubt this has been a very good career choice for me. As a systems analyst, I was an expert at gathering and refining requirements. Those skills are used daily in my position as a contracting specialist. Also, I am still able to help people, which I find very gratifying. This is a field in which there is so much opportunity for growth and best of all, new challenges arise everyday. So, I continue to learn something new everyday, even though I have been a civil servant for 25 years. If you are burned out or just need a change, I would encourage you to find out what avenues are available for you to make a career change. You will find the skill set you possess in your current position will be valuable no matter what capacity you continue to serve. Go for it!

This inspiring career success story comes to you courtesy of Brenda W. Cockrell, U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Transparent, Participatory, and Collaborative Government

Recently the National Academy of Public Administration posted a report, written by its Collaboration Project Advisory Panel, that proposed ways in which the President can foster transparent, participatory, and collaborative government. If you want to participate in a growing conversation about the latter, here are several options:
  • To learn more about the Collaboration Project and join the conversation, go here;
  • To provide input more directly via OMB's MAX Federal Community, go here; and
  • To participate in related forums on GovLoop, a growing social network, go here.

If you can make a reasoned argument for ways to make government information more accessible, use social media to increase interactivity between government and citizen, or foster a collaborative culture to get better outcomes, your voice needs to be heard right now.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Leadership Development in Criminal Justice Agencies

Leonard Sipes and Timothy Barnes, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), recently posted a new internet radio interview by this title with Dr. William Sondervan, Professor, Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland-University College and Deputy Commissioner Debbie Owens of the Baltimore City Police Department.

CSOSA is a small, fairly new independent federal agency in Washington, DC that is doing good work. Len and Tim have been collaborating for a couple of years on groundbreaking audio and video efforts, complete with written transcripts, that explain best practice and proactively reach out to public listeners. Len, a criminologist, is serving as senior public affairs specialist and has taught himself web 2.0 from the ground up. Tim, the agency's information technology guru, had the foresight to recognize a good idea when he saw one. Hats off to two men who put a lot of extra hours into advancing good government, one production at a time.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Using the Combined Federal Campaign to raise money & morale

I accidentally became the CFC Coordinator for the Department of Education’s Office of Management this year. I became a volunteer when I strayed into our FOIA Chief’s office mid-way through a conversation she was having with someone else and thinking they were talking about the need for CFC Keyworkers, I volunteered. Later in the day, as the news circulated among the staff that I volunteered to be Coordinator, I discovered many, many people thought I was absolutely crazy. I was asked if I knew just how much work I had taken on and was encouraged to back out of the commitment. While I was an “accidental” volunteer, my word is my bond and I determined that I would make the most of the opportunity.

My experience with CFC is limited so I talked to staff and former Keyworkers about their experience and inquired about the kinds of things they thought worked in the past. But it seemed to me after talking to various people that, for better or worse, CFC at the Department of Education is run by an unofficial CFC playbook which goes something like this … host an event and invite charities to speak, host a fundraiser like a bake sale or Chili Cook-off, send off e-mail pleas to staff for contributions and prominently post your Office Dollar Goal and contribution data.

While it is great to utilize tried and true methods of raising funds, I wanted to test some different ways of raising awareness while building on some successful methods I previously used in the private sector for customer care training and employee engagement initiatives. I’m naturally an introvert but I was willing to put myself out there because generating a positive buzz, inspiring a more caring nature in our daily activities and, of course, generating funds for worthy charities energizes me.

So, what kinds of things did I try?

• Holiday Themed e-mail campaign – Columbus Day, Halloween, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, December, New Year’s

• Stories of Caring which were e-mailed to all OM staff.

• Daily Inspirational Quote easels located at the second floor elevator banks

• White Elephant Sales

• Education Idol in Barnard Auditorium

OM raised over $25,000 from individual donations and $2,000 from the 3 events. I’ve done charitable work for over 30 years so I’m a believer in giving back to the community and thoroughly enjoyed the “accidental” opportunity to be a CFC Coordinator. The most important benefit to me though was that I can now walk up and down the 2nd floor of the Department of Education building and I can say “Hi” to at least 100 staffers actually utilizing their first name to greet them. So, I encourage you to “step outside your cubicle” on purpose rather than by accident as there are wonderful colleagues to get to know and collaborate with on projects.

Editor's note: Ruth's work introduced a leavening element into the headquarters culture at ED. Her idea to place inspirational quotes strategically within Office of Management space meant that a couple of hundred people were exposed every day. Here's an example that has been attributed to John Wooden, UCLA basketball coach: "Do not let what you can't do interfere with what you can do." Ruth invested her own time to find quotes that foster leadership behavior, rotating them every few days. The effect was to make employees suspend their busy-ness at the easels long enough to read the quotes. Ruth's effort to make room for more reflection on what we are doing was incredibly important.

Ruth Zimmerman, a management and program analyst, is assigned to Regulatory Information Management Services, Office of Management, U.S. Department of Education. We're so glad she's there.

Monday, January 26, 2009

How Wikis Were Put to Work for IRS

The Internal Revenue Service has several advisory committees whose members provide the agency with an external perspective on tax administration. Mark Kirbabas of the IRS needed a tool to help the committees and their members communicate better. Mark created a wiki for two of the groups, introducing it primarily as a source to store and work administrative documents. The tool has reduced e-mail traffic and empowered users who can add and edit material online. Almost a full year after introducing the wiki, the committees and IRS employees consider it a success, and it continues to grow and develop to meet the needs of the users.

Mark is the Branch Chief for the Stakeholder Relationship Management Branch in the Office of National Public Liaison, which is imbedded in HQ Communications & Liaison. The branch partners with national tax professional associations through monthly meetings, advisory committees and continual conversations. While waiting for web 2.0 to grab hold at the IRS, Mark is one of two people who have just begun work to restructure the Tax Professionals page and its related pages on to make it a task driven page. Kudos, Mark!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Scott Derrick on Mentoring

Here is an interesting concept: What if the SF&F blog (or 13L) started an advice column? Here is an example of what I would really like to see:

Dear Colleague,

I am a long-time federal manager and have been very successful in my leadership role. I would like to serve as a mentor to pass along my knowledge and experience to the next generation of federal leaders. The problem is that I am extremely busy in my job and do not have the time to devote to mentoring. Any suggestions?

Busy in a Bureau
Washington, DC

Dear Busy,

Thank you for your question and the propitious timing on the topic of mentoring. January is National Mentoring Month, a time to promote the importance of mentoring and to recognize the millions of people who dedicate their time and energy to making a difference in the lives of others. As a matter of fact, the President recently issued a proclamation calling upon citizens to look for opportunities to serve as mentors in their communities.

You are so right to recognize the value of mentoring. Research has consistently demonstrated the benefits of mentoring relationships. Potential benefits for the mentee include accelerated career mobility, greater professional competence, enhanced promotion rates, and increased career satisfaction. Potential benefits for the mentor include internal satisfaction and fulfillment, development of a loyal support base, and career and personal rejuvenation. The mentee’s agency also benefits, of course, given the increased knowledge and confidence that the mentee likely gains from the mentoring experience.

While mentoring can provide significant benefits, mentoring does not have to require a significant amount of your time. Flash mentoring is an approach that you might consider. Flash mentoring is a one-time meeting or discussion that enables an individual to learn and seek guidance from a more experienced person who can pass on relevant knowledge and experience. The purpose of flash mentoring is to provide a valuable learning opportunity for less experienced individuals while requiring a limited commitment of time and resources for more experienced individuals serving as mentors. The commitment is to participate only in the initial meeting; however, the mentor and mentee can mutually decide to meet again after their flash mentoring session if so they wish. For more information about flash mentoring, visit

We hope that you move forward with your interest in serving as a mentor to emerging leaders in the federal government. This is truly your opportunity to give back. If you decide to use flash mentoring, please keep us posted on the results. We love to report success stories!

Your Colleague

K. Scott Derrick, who currently serves as Director of Professional Development at the Senior Executives Association, is a serial innovator in public service leadership. You may read his bio here. Find out more about 13L, a group he co-founded with Don Jacobson, here. Finally, read more about Flash Mentoring here.

Does the idea of an advice column appeal to you? If so, please comment below or e-mail Scott directly at