Of the People: Signing off-- Never forget the basics

Ira Hobbs

For my last GCN column, I'd like to revisit the issues and strategies I've written about over the past couple of years. My goal is to leave you with a clearer understanding of what I believe we need to do to improve the federal IT work force.

To those of you who still have not read it, the August 2001 National Academy of Public Administration report, The Transforming Power of Information Technology, is required reading. It documents the main obstacles to reform, such as the aging work force, the pay gap between the federal and private sectors, and the slow, rigid federal recruitment system. The Office of Personnel Management, together with the CIO Council, worked within the existing system to effect a pay raise for federal IT employees at the GS-7 through GS-13 levels, created the new 2210 job classification series for IT professionals and held the first governmentwide virtual IT job fair.

Yet significant challenges remain. These need to be met with broader and more fundamental reform.

We need to speed up and totally rethink the processes we use for hiring new employees. Nothing is more frustrating for both applicants and employers than the lengthy delays between announcing jobs and selecting individuals to fill them. Our experimental efforts have shown that an approach based on competency and backed up by a virtual online delivery system offers greater satisfaction to all parties.

Though I firmly believe these governmentwide changes are critical, I am equally passionate about those things we managers can do every day to better serve our employees and manage our organizations. My premises are simple:
  • Reward people while the sweat is still on their brow. How we value and express appreciation for our employees sets the tone for our work environment. The only valid test for a reward system is whether it stimulates better performance. In government, we have lots of systems, but many don't result in immediate feedback that improves performance.

  • Mentor others. Take the time to share your knowledge and experience with other employees, both colleagues and subordinates.

  • Train yourself and your workers. Lifelong learning is a key to better performance. Don't view learning merely as something to get a job or gain a certification.

  • Build relationships. Getting things done right requires partnerships. Forming partnerships requires a lot of listening and talking in person. Too often, communication is confused with e-mail and voice mail. One-way is only half of communication.

  • Treat others with dignity and respect. At the least, you'll get the same in return. And it is the right thing to do.

We've made a lot of changes in the structure and rules around the IT work force, and there is more to be done. No program or policy will be as important as the changes we can make by applying these principles in all we do.

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

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