Public servants have faced the threat of a government shutdown more than once. Though fortunately these were averted, the sensation of having your head on a chopping block (even if temporary) can leave you unsettled and afraid. But we can empower government employees to have more control over their (our) own fates by implementing some structural changes that would promote and reward for productivity and efficiency -- facilitating effective government from the inside out.
A few areas where we can do this in a low-cost, high-impact way:
Mentoring: Times are changing quickly and employees need to learn to adapt their skills accordingly. An on-the-job buddy at a higher level can be an invaluable asset in retaining good employees and helping them learn the often-subtle skills they need to contribute effectively. And it doesn't cost anything other than time.
Technology training: People who do things the old way when there are faster, cheaper, better ways to get the job done may be comfortable, but also wasting taxpayer money and their own opportunity to grow professionally. Let this be the year we learn how to use technology. Again, it doesn't have to cost a cent if you get skilled employees to teach those who are just learning.
Performance planning: An employee's performance plan for the year should be a guiding document that they generate to align with agency and office goals. It should not be up to a manager to tell someone how they fit in, but rather this is a chance for a person to learn more about the mission and where they belong. It's also a chance to re-orient once a year and make sure the scope of one's position is of value. Worst comes to worst, a person needs to be reassigned, but that is a realization best made by the employee.
Evaluations: Here again, allow the employee to evaluate themselves, and bolster that with a 360 degree evaluation from a panel of supervisor and peers. It doesn't have to be lengthy or complicated, but it should be a combination of numerical ratings and narrative content so that a person receives a truer picture of how they've done and where they can improve in the next year. The more engaged the employee is in evaluating themselves, the more it will mean to them and the more it will be a true process for both them and their supervisors.
Rotations: Many people in government have served for decades. They have experience that cannot be learned in college and that cannot be easily duplicated. After many years in one place, it would be of benefit for them to rotate to other agencies, preferably of their choosing, learn new skills, and offer back some of their accumulated wisdom in return. New experiences keep people fresh and mindful that we all ultimately work for one government, not just an assortment of agencies.
Retraining: When someone is no longer adding sufficient value in the position they hold, retrain them. It's not a shameful thing to admit that skills you had 30 years ago might not be as useful today, and that some adaptation is needed. Again, the better your skills the better your resume, so if the government is willing to assist an employee in retraining rather than let them flap around uselessly, that is a wonderful and empowering option for them to take. And it need not cost anything other than on-the-job training.
Communities of interest: If you have a group of thousands of people doing the same kind of work (e.g. writing), it makes sense to connect them in person or virtually so that they can support one another. Peer networks encourage excellence from within.
Interagency councils: These are groups of government employees that work across agencies on a formal or informal basis to consult on best practices, make recommendations, and generally leverage employee insights to help government move forward on matters of interest. There are a number of good examples in the government already and it seems we could expand on this greatly if employees were encouraged to do so.
Work/life self-help and fitness groups: I have noticed that federal employees love groups like Toastmasters, Weight Watchers, and even spiritually oriented groups that gather once a week for a lunchtime break focused on personal growth. It is a good thing for government to encourage employees to take advantage of these, as they increase skills, increase fitness, and teach employees to take responsibility for fixing problems on their own if possible.
Charity and volunteering: There is no better feeling when you're down than that of helping someone else. If government employees - who are public servants, in the end - are encouraged to do even more charity and volunteer work than they already do, it would lift spirits and build excellent relationships between government and the public, which add to the trust reserve that enables good government.
Copyright 2016 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole.