Another View: IT exchange program has potential for payoff

Mimi Browning

The Office of Personnel Management's planned IT Exchange Program will let federal executives at the GS-11 level or higher be detailed to an IT company for up to two years.

This is an excellent opportunity for the right individuals to learn new skills and better understand the dynamics of the private sector. The program can refresh government by bringing back new ideas and can increase private-sector understanding of government processes and issues.

Agency managers should consider these three recommendations when choosing individuals for the program:
  • Send your very best. The government can only afford to send someone who has strong promotion potential, will be a worthy representative of the agency and has a strong sense of ethics in matters of security and procurement. The individual should be a team player with good communications skills who can transfer the ideas and skills learned 'on the outside' to the government.

  • Keep in contact with the person for the duration of the program. Make sure the person is positioned so that both sides benefit. Mentor the individual and burnish your relationships with the IT company'you all have a stake in the program's success

  • Have a good re-entry plan. The IT Exchange Program should serve as a bridge between the individual's old and new responsibilities. Discuss career opportunities before joining the program to make the most of the experience.

Individuals who participate should develop a plan for why they want to be part of the program. General banalities such as 'to experience life in the private sector' or 'to learn industry best practices' won't work. Frame the experience in terms of your own professional growth.

For example, you may wish to learn about bleeding-edge software or project management from the industry perspective. Use this new experience to hone your skills and promotion potential. Discuss your specific aspirations and objectives with your supervisor.

The prospective exchange employees should consider a few things too:
  • Learn things you don't know. Industry sees things differently than the government. Gain the trust of your new peers and poke into areas such as reward and recognition programs, 360-degree appraisals, information-sharing cultures and how business is captured and win themes developed.

  • Be a self-manager and self-starter. You're on your own. There is no boss to tell you what to do or a staff to care for and feed you. Start now to sharpen your Word, Excel and PowerPoint skills. Become a whiz on your notebook PC and personal digital assistant. Most importantly, don't sit on your duff and wait for directions. Create ways to help the company based on your knowledge and skills, such as organizing 'brown bag' sessions for information exchange. Be a proactive and valuable team member.

  • Experiment with business development skills. Although government individuals cannot market back to the government while in an exchange program, the skills involved in business development are worth learning. All successful IT managers must develop winning presentations, cultivate personal relationships and assess the competition.

The long-term success of the IT Exchange Program will depend on managers who send their best people, cultivate both the individuals who join the program and the company they are detailed to, and provide genuine opportunities for the returning individual.

Mimi Browning is a former Army senior executive who is a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va. She can be reached at browning_miriam@bah.com.

About the Author

Browning is a former Army senior executives and former Booz Allen Hamilton principal who now leads Browning Consultants.

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