By Brian Green, Federal Sector Manager – Performance Solutions, Learning Tree International
The national debt of the U.S. is $14,344,503,407,708 (source: http://www.usdebtclo...)―give or take a couple billion dollars. Now is not the time for government agencies to accept more of the status quo. What the country demands now is leaders within the halls of government agencies who are able to identify business problems and fix them. What the country needs is an Accountable Government.
Sense of Urgency
While tax revenues have fallen with the recession, government spending has continued at an unsustainable level, as reported by Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
In 2009, the Heritage Foundation―one of the nation’s largest public policy research organizations with more than 710,000 members―identified six critical categories of wasteful spending within the federal government:
The federal government is in triage mode as the current administration uncovers these, and other, large opportunities to stem uncontrolled growth in contract spending; terminate poorly performing programs; and crack down on all areas of waste, fraud, and abuse. If successful, these activities would save the American taxpayer billions of dollars.
While the White House and Congress address these large systemic problems, how can federal training executives, working within their sphere of control and influence, lead their own staff to improve the performance of government? Simply stated, training executives must develop performance measurements for each training program and for each of their training attendees. These measurements are the first step toward establishing an Accountable Government: The measurements will track and report how the training investment has reduced agency spending and improved agency performance. It is imperative that during these economically arduous times, the investment in human capital isn’t viewed as one of those “unnecessary” or “inefficient” programs.
By developing and implementing training performance measurements, federal training executives can take the lead in moving the federal government toward improved performance. In his book “Leading Up,” Michael Useem states, “A mandate from your superior to reform an organization is a historic opportunity that calls for far-reaching advice and forceful implementation. The more uncertain those over you are about how to achieve the goal they desire, the more clear-minded and determined you will need to be in formulating and executing your strategy.” This clear-mindedness is what federal training executives are in a position to exemplify.
No doubt, these are uncertain times with uncertain challenges. For federal training executives, this is an “historic opportunity.” As President Obama stated in last year’s 2010 federal budget submission, “…the Federal Government needs to make greater investments in its existing workforce, helping workers build skills and gain expertise to meet new challenges. Agencies need to increase and improve their training efforts and implement plans to measure the effectiveness of their training investments.”
Federal training executives have a call to action not only to “lead up,” but also to improve their own performance and the performance of their government. They might not be able to save the country billions of dollars, but millions in cost savings and performance improvements are well within reach.
Organizational Performance Improvement
This may seem daunting―even impossible―to some federal training executives, but it already has been accomplished by several private-sector companies, and the success has resulted in these companies being documented and recognized by Training magazinein its 2011 Training Top 125 list. Some of the organizations highlighted in the Training Top 125 demonstrated the importance of placing accountability upon its training leaders to improve business performance. These organizations recognize that beneath the surface of any organization are formal systems and processes that drive the expected behavior of its staff. As these formal systems and processes are identified, implemented, and enhanced over time, a culture of accountability will begin to emerge that will drive improved organizational performance.
In every example, the case studies from those organizations demonstrated this clear vision for improving organizational performance through demonstrable outcomes benefiting their customers, their employees, or their profits.
Congress and the executive branch already have taken steps toward implementing performance improvement measures in the federal government. Congress recently passed the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (The Government Performance & Results Act of 1993 was modernized and now is known as the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010) to address fiscal, performance and management challenges. Federal Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients and his OMB team are implementing their plan―the Accountable Government Initiative. This initiative, which complements the new GPRA Act, seeks to save money, use resources more effectively, improve services and the measurement of program success, and restore trust.
The GPRA Act and the OMB’s initiative are a call to action for federal training executives to evaluate which of their existing training programs will provide federal employees the competencies and efficient processes to accomplish these goals.
So how and where do federal training executives begin? In his book “Leading Change,” John Kotter suggests developing an Action Plan centered on an organizational “Sense of Urgency,” as highlighted in his “Eight-Stage Process of Creating Major Change.”
Every attendee of a federal training program should follow the lead of John Kotter and organizations in the private industry and implement an Action Plan that articulates a unique sense of urgency within their agency that is adversely impacting performance―issues such as a broken acquisition process, poor communication plan, failing customer service rating, or troubled systems integration.
First, as part of this individual Action Plan, attendees identify the specific lessons learned from the training that will address the performance gap and describe the formal steps they’ll take to mitigate that immediate problem. Furthermore, they will discuss strategies for implementing these improvements as a formal repeatable process for others to adopt.
Each Action Plan should address the following:
Next, federal training executives will implement a monitoring and reporting process that tracks each attendee’s progress against their implementation tasks. This performance data will begin to serve as the basis for discussion in validating and formalizing new systems and processes that will drive accountability to mitigate the past behavior that created the original performance gaps.
Creating an individual Action Plan to address a performance gap won’t make headlines in saving the country billions, but it will validate the critical role, responsibility, and influence each individual has in improving the performance and accountability of our federal government―one dollar saved at a time.
Brian Green is the Federal Sector Manager – Performance Solutions at Learning Tree International. Green has instituted the Action Plan process at Learning Tree International and is responsible for developing agency-specific learning strategies that directly improve the business performance of government within the fields of program management, information technology, acquisition management, business management, and leadership. He can be reached at email@example.com.