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!.

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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.