Redefine 'Business As Usual'

Now that the election is over, Washington can get back to business as usual.  Or even…better than usual. This is a great time to step back and evaluate the people within your organization and decide how everyone can work together to operate at a higher level of performance.

Too many leaders spend time figuring out how they can change their strategy, or trying to assemble the perfect team. But the greatest opportunity for most leaders lies in better executing their current strategy with current team members.

Government leaders now face more challenges than ever. From fighting terrorism to managing health care reform and economic recovery, the federal government has taken on broad new roles and responsibilities, and that’s translating into expanded missions at many agencies, increased job responsibilities for many federal employees, and a greater need for high-performing teams and strong leaders.

From our experience of working with and training successful leaders in the public sector, there are six key things you can do to increase your agency or team’s chance of success – while becoming a more effective leader yourself. And the payoff can be significant.

  1. Define success.  One of the first things that a leader must do – and something only he or she can do – is to spell out objectives. In our experience, the best leaders think big and consider all of their stakeholders, including managers, employees, constituents ,and the community. What is the success measure that will mean something to all of them? If your team is aware of a mission or project’s end goal, then the members will be better able to embrace and work toward it. As obvious as that sounds, there are very few teams where all members know the exact outcomes that will define success and are collectively committed to achieving them.
  2. Take stock. Another critical step is to honestly assess how close you are to achieving your goals, by doing a gap analysis. What does “great” look like, where is your team already great, and where is it falling short? Having a clear understanding of where you need to beef up performance provides you with the basis for defining the new and different behaviors required. It’s important for your team to agree on these behaviors.  
  3. Strive for consistency. Of course every organization has pockets of greatness but the difference between great and lesser performers is that great performers have a higher percentage of their units working at a top level. Engaging the team to achieve more consistency and institutionalize the behaviors you want is the way to broaden your pocket of greatness.  You do this by paying attention to the right things – every day. 
  4. Provide opportunities for growth. Identify those special assignments that provide learning challenges for individual members of your team. Don’t forget to include the training that will expedite that development. Recognize that each team member prospers and contributes more to the group as a whole when they have the opportunity and support to expand their professional capabilities.  
  5. Hold team members accountable. Strong leaders hold accountability sessions several times a day, taking the opportunity to briefly meet and assess how things are going. They don’t wait for a weekly meeting. And they bring others into the process, asking team members to hold each other responsible for engaging in the behaviors required to reach the group’s objectives. Employees can coach each other on the spot and adjust behaviors immediately. They talk as a team.  They help each other. Most people, if given the chance, want to work toward an achievable goal and want to be associated with a great team.
  6. Build trust. A team must know that its leader is both competent and possesses good character. Showing your team members you care about them as people, listening to their ideas and recognizing them for their contributions, will go a long way in building trust and cohesiveness. In our experience, the government often is much better at this than the private sector since federal employees typically are mission-oriented and have a desire to serve the public. The best leaders already have learned how to win loyalty and build trust, often reducing personnel turnover in the process. 

With budgets growing tighter and an increasing emphasis on efficiency, improving execution will become more important than ever. So ask yourself: Which of the above factors would most help your team or your agency to significantly enhance its results? Take a step back and evaluate: Have you got success clearly defined, do your team members know the behaviors expected of them, and is there support and accountability?  Think about focusing a bit less on fiddling with your long-term strategy and more on those daily accomplishments that will drive your current strategy.

Dr. Jerry Ice, CEO , ... ]

Jerry Ice, Ed.D., is CEO and President of Graduate School USA, formerly the Graduate School, USDA. Based in Washington, DC, with eight field training sites around the U.S., Graduate School USA is a full-service, nonprofit, continuing education training and academic institution. It provides classes, certificate programs, degree programs, and other offerings in subjects ranging from governmental accounting and auditing, human capital management, and acquisition to foreign languages, economics, and leadership development. For more information, visit