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The Federal Coach

Fed Coach Q&A: Making the sales pitch for working in government

This week's questions come from federal managers at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Please continue sharing your ideas and questions by leaving a comment or emailing me at fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

What are some of the best knowledge-management practices from across the field? With so many federal employees eligible to retire now--or in the near future--what are the sure ways to capture their written and unwritten knowledge? The knowledge gap could be vast. -Federal manager (GS-15), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Even though knowledge management may sound like jargon or "consultant speak," it is an essential tool successful organizations use to transfer formal and informal knowledge from experienced to newer employees.

Effective knowledge management requires an agency-wide commitment to identifying, collecting, organizing and sharing experienced employees' knowledge and skills. The trick is identifying the formal and informal knowledge the people in your agency use to get things done. To start, ask employees to memorialize in writing what they do and how they accomplish it--for example, who they work with.

Many successful organizations develop an open, transparent system for organizing and sharing this information with their employees. You might consider using SharePoint as a means for storing and sharing information, organizing a brown bag series with agency executives or having younger employees shadow experienced employees.

You're right to be concerned about knowledge management, and this advice should help you and your agency get started.

How can federal leaders encourage high-quality, ambitious staff to join the federal government? -Federal manager (GS-15), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

It's a tough climate to be recruiting new talent to government, but it's imperative that agencies continue to reach out.

Here are some ideas for encouraging new, high-performing and ambitious federal employees:

Keep up the outreach. The agencies that experience the greatest success recruiting and hiring new employees are the ones that regularly visit college campuses, attend meetings of professional associations and other recruiting events. Even if your agency is not immediately hiring, it is important for you to maintain a presence so our government continues to be seem as an employer of choice.

Use peers and near-peers to make the pitch. While it's great to have an agency executive recruiting for new employees, it's often even more effective to send those closest in age to the job seekers. If you're recruiting for recent college graduates, consider having your youngest employees attend the networking event.

Talk about making a difference, not making a dollar. When interacting with job seekers, talk about the privilege of serving your country and having an impact. Young job seekers are particularly interested in joining mission-driven organizations. More often than not this can mean a nonprofit organization, but you can expand their perceptions to include government service.

Encourage a test drive. Experience is the best teacher. Consider recruiting student interns to your agency. This will help you not only receive some much-needed assistance but also develop a pipeline of talent that will pay dividends whenever you're ready to hire.

Good luck keeping others in your agency as focused as you are on recruiting great talent into public service!

By Tom Fox

 |  March 4, 2011; 11:27 AM ET |  Category:  Ask the Federal Coach Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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OK, I worked for the Fed for over 45 years, I started way back in the early 60s and have seen the Fed employment change drastically over the intervening years. Right now, it pretty hard to sell current employment in the FedGov for a variety of reasons over what it was 40 years ago: Pay is poor, retirement plan is mediocre at best, poor job security, an aging and encrusted managerial level, a poor management system (based on some kind of private sector model), etc the list goes on. Today, rewards for a job well done are less than mediocre and do not compare with what is in the private sector. Further, public sector employees are now viewed as second class citizens.

The hiring process alone keeps adding more and more layers of bureaucracy everytime the call goes out to streamline, it is almost perverse. The heavy reliance on contractors does not send a very good message to potential employees. Why join the Fed as an intern (with little pay) when you can go out and get a contractors job. More than likely the agency you are interested in is staffed by a cohort of contractors anyway. Sure your contract can be terminated, but so can the Fed job. You are no more safe from budget vagaries than the contractor.

When it is all said and done, the management levels in government are pretty much determined by "time in the job". This means that basically management is composed of a bunch of grey headed older people. Sure this can bring "wisdom" but what really happens is that you get people who are firmly rooted in the past and that's the way we did things attitudes. Managers look with suspicion on newer ideas and see smart younger people as a threat to their positions, so idea die on the vine without being tested. There is no room for a new vision, hey, we have our old vision and that is working, why change.

Posted by: RedRat | March 7, 2011 2:10 PM

Capturing that institutional knowledge before it leaves is the first thing that is thought of when thinking about knowledge transfer. That makes sense; and I think Sharepoint makes sense too as that knowledge can be transfered to a larger audience (as opposed to mentoring where it is transfered to one individual). The key there would be following through and ensuring that the knowledge is indeed shared. Knowledge sharing should also be practiced at various supervisory levels in my opinion. What's one person's challenge is another person's strengths. So brown bags with pre-determined topics could be used to share that knowledge. I'd like to see agencies using more 360s to determine those challenge areas and then calling upon employees that are strong in that areas to facilitate discussions. As an example, there would be a lot of value in having a skilled manager talking about how to manage poor performers (one of the fed govt's biggest problems).

Posted by: Matt252 | March 7, 2011 12:43 PM

Finding ways to milk-dry senior retiring employees is seldom done in a way that honors them and their service, in my experience.

Rather, they are more often seen as someone tying up higher graded positions and urged to "just go away".

This trend not only does not enlist those retiring to share into knowledge management systems, whatever they are, but, often inclines them to say "***k You", give nothing and take their knowledge to their bitter retirement.

I think that unless/until the leadership in most organizations actually demonstrates (not lip-service, actually does things to honor senior high performers) that they actually value those and their service, the younger workers who follow will be mostly on their own to re-learn the older workers lessons.

Honor and value as they move through their last years of service are a prerequisite for cooperation prior to these senior employees taking "the honorable off-ramp".

Otherwise, no cool database system will do any good; because any experienced senior government employee will know how to speak government jibberish that is meaningless (even in a highly structured exit interview). By then, it's too late.

Knowledge management should come after years of successful, respectful people management. Absent the latter, the former will be a myth...liike developing systems to organize your unicorns.

Get it right, or watch the knowledge, skills and abilities you and your organization have lived on for the past 30-40 years just go away.

Posted by: maowg63 | March 7, 2011 12:24 PM

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