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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

Who Are the Real The Job Creators?


We've been hearing the term on a loop for the past year or so -- “job creator.” In Congress, this phrase has become synonymous with entrepreneur or small business owner, showing the extent to which some lawmakers are hanging their hopes for economic recovery on those individuals. But aren’t managers true job creators?

Several months ago, Esther Dyson, startup investor and chief executive officer of EDventure Holdings, a technology content firm, wrote in Slate that the United States should glorify entrepreneurs less and managers more. After all, she says, an entrepreneur’s innovative idea is “worth little if the business around it does not operate reliably—producing the soup every day, or delivering the application without bugs and with well-timed upgrades.” 

The real spur to job creation and economic growth isn’t turning hundreds of college grads into entrepreneurs, but hiring thousands and thousands of workers into growing companies that can organize and motivate them and make the best use of their talents. And that takes a cadre of talented managers.

In the private sector, the connection is clear -- a well-managed company is more likely to be profitable and efficient, allowing it to grow and hire more workers. In government, managers can only hope that their own efficiency translates into larger appropriations for hiring from Congress, but in some cases the opposite is true. Greater respect for the savings and growth that good management can achieve in both the public and private sectors, however, could translate to support for these job creators.

In December 2011, the Government Accountability Office submitted a report to Congress criticizing federal management of the cybersecurity workforce, saying initiatives needed better planning and coordination. GAO pointed to inconsistencies in training, compensation, incentives and metrics as the problems; in other words, the cybersecurity workforce was not being properly managed at the senior or supervisory levels. 

The watchdog’s annual high-risk list is littered with more areas that need improved management. But the standard responses to these deep-seated problems rarely involve a discussion of how managers can be empowered to tackle them.  

This is why Dyson’s thinking is so important. Washington is looking to small business owners to jump-start the economy and wants to provide them with all the tools they need. Businesses are able to have discussions about what needs to be changed to see better results, without placing blame for the existing struggles. Federal managers face hurdles, just like small business owners; a goal-oriented discussion of how these hurdles can be removed could help managers feel that their contribution is valued. 

In a 2010 survey by Grant Thornton LLP and the Partnership for Public Service, federal human resources officials identified the leadership capabilities of federal managers as a key obstacle to building a first-class workforce. They said training and development programs in leadership and workforce management are significantly underresourced. 

Imagine if a key report showed that small businesses’ inability to stay afloat was a major obstacle to the success of the economy. Leaders would scramble to help those businesses, not blame them for their failures. A similar attitude would be a huge service to federal managers.

Elizabeth Newell covered management, human resources and contracting at Government Executive for three years.

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