Management's most potent tool is training

Ira Hobbs

To maintain and improve government services, agencies must redouble efforts to educate current and future employees, up to and including executives and managers.

It is certainly easy to pontificate on the merits of training. Unfortunately, it is also just as easy for people running agencies to brush aside this pronouncement for what they perceive as more-urgent priorities and make only minimal investment in the development of their people. So that's what usually happens.

This limits the growth of individuals and hinders organizations' potential for success.

Historically, we in government-- especially the IT sector-- have pursued a hit-or-miss approach to training our workers. Don't get me wrong. Some organizations are doing training and development quite well. I regularly hear about a group, team or division that, for example, achieved certification for Level 3 of the Software Engineering Institute's Capability Maturity Model for software development.

However, as former Air Force deputy assistant secretary Lloyd K. Mosemann II pointed out in 'Agencies can't abdicate software engineering skill' [GCN, July 1, Page 22], despite the number of Defense Department software development teams certified at a CMM level, 'most DOD software is still being developed in less-mature organizations.'

Why? 'Mainly because the program executive office or program manager doesn't demand that the part of the company that will actually build the software be Level 3,' he wrote.

Everyone wants their projects run by skilled professionals using cutting-edge technology and tools. Yet when we are making the tough budget decisions, the truism-- that travel and training budgets get the ax first-- usually holds. In fact, many are ready to acquire services from outside our organizations at twice the cost of developing the same capacity within our organizations. This is no longer acceptable.

As managers we must recognize that development of the work force is as critical as every other task we perform.

Managers must, as Seven Habits of Highly Effective People author Stephen Covey would say, allow time for employees to 'sharpen their saws' if we are serious about organizational improvement.

We must also set an example by taking time to pursue training ourselves to keep fresh on how to acquire and embed new skills into the changing government workplace.

We must support the work force by better publicizing the competencies in demand and motivating people to get them. Managers must also use the training tools at their disposal-- 120-day details, public-sector internships, cooperative education, old-fashioned on-the-job training-- to retain, retrain and attract workers to public service.

I am tired of hearing people say that the current work force lacks the competencies needed for today's market. I am especially tired of hearing this when we failed to do an adequate job of providing them with the opportunity for continuous learning.

Organizational success starts with individual success. Failure to educate our employees and ourselves is our biggest mistake, and it's a risk we can no longer afford to take. n

Ira Hobbs is acting CIO at the Agriculture Department and a member of the CIO Council.

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