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Great Organizations Build on Their Successes

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The 2014 Service to America Medal winners were honored at a black-tie event in Washington. The 2014 Service to America Medal winners were honored at a black-tie event in Washington. Sam Kittner/Kittner.com

On Monday, the Partnership for Public Service presented eight Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals to exceptional public servants for their contributions to our nation and the world.

Their accomplishments include saving the lives of millions of children by persuading developing countries to use vaccines, identifying and prosecuting Medicare fraud and partnering with the private sector on space travel.

I realize award dinners are common, but at the Partnership, we believe this event is significant for two reasons.

First, it’s important because this award program is designed for federal civil servants, and let’s be honest, there aren’t too many organizations out there lining up to applaud government. Just last year, on the heels of pay freezes, furloughs and hiring freezes, the Service to America Medals were ironically, but meaningfully, held during the government shutdown.

Government leaders—probably because they want to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s dollar—don’t spend a lot of time or resources on employee recognition, and it has an impact. Federal workers don’t feel recognized for their work. Only 40 percent express satisfaction with the level of recognition they receive, compared with 64 percent of private sector workers.

The evening’s honorees often say they feel like Cinderella at the ball, and at the Partnership, we believe they deserve it. Anything we can do to express support for the hard work our public servants quietly do every day is critically important. We are fortunate as a nation to have an honest, efficient civil service that keeps our government, and our country, working. Many countries don’t.

Which brings me to the second point of why this program is so important. We will never get what we want from our government if all we do is tear it down. Sure, there is room for improvement. This is true for every organization. But great organizations build on their strengths. They celebrate their successes to motivate the whole of the organization and to identify best practices that can be replicated by others.

Government leaders, too, need to highlight the great work that is happening across their organizations. They need to reward people for challenging the status quo, taking risks and for getting results for the American people. When they do so, the American public will have a more complete picture of their government, and that understanding will go a long way toward restoring the public’s trust.

To nominate a federal worker for a 2015 Service to America Medal visit www.servicetoamericamedals.org.

Lara Shane is a communication strategist, producer and writer. She is the former vice president for research and communications at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.

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