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For young feds is the pace of government change too slow?

Retaining and engaging young feds has been the drum beat in government for awhile now and will probably continue to be for the foreseeable future.

But one of the main stumbling blocks for agency leaders has been the pace of government change. Millennials are quick to adopt new technologies and programs. But the government is not. So how can managers deal with that in-balance? Tom Fox is the Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service.

He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that the pace of government change is speeding up a bit.

“All the uncertainty over the federal budget, the deep cuts are accelerating the pace of change. There really isn’t an option,” said Fox.

Tips to Engage Young Feds

  1. Be as transparent as possible. Even when you don’t know the answer, say that. Communication is key.
  2. Pay particular attention to what motivates millennials. It’s usually not pay, but advancement and learning opportunities.
  3. Invite them to the conversation.
  4. Provide mentorship opportunities. Many people would want to be mentors they just have to be asked. They don’t have to be formal programs, just time to converse.

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21 Comments

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Profile Photo Bill McDermott

While I have to agree that the Federal government can be a fustrating place to work, if you expect things to happen quickly, but with proper leadership they can and do. This affects all employees not ust the Millenials. There are many organizations where change does happen, just not quickly for the most part. As I wrap up my 38 yr career it was a little disheartening last month to hear that Treasury and Social Security were stopping check payments. Disheartening because I have no idea why it took so loooong. My first job 38 years ago was to support the Direct Deposit program, it’s intent to make social security and other payments electronically, the first electronic payments were in 1975 when this was cutting edge, Treasury was leading the way at that time…however some thing must have happened in the intervening years.

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Mark Hammer

1) Folks have been writing for a while now that NGOs present serious competition when recruiting young grads. There are a number of reasons for that: hipper image, closer connection to the project and project beneficiaries, opportunity to see projects through to the end (a less common occurrence in government). And much of that is also a result of greater responsiveness and shorter chain of command.

2) Some of the impatience is, I feel, a byproduct of the tendency for initiatives to undergo a flurry of preparation and consultation, but ultimately grind to a halt before tangible concrete outcomes start to happen. The prep work is thrilling and motivating, but driving at top speed with the wind in your hair, only to arrive at a prolonged red light, becomes all the more exasperating because of the stark contrast. I’m inclined to think that most people, no matter their age or cohort, are quite tolerant of long time arcs, if something is happening across that time-arc, but much less tolerant if things hit a wall. So, for me, the challenge is not to make things move faster, but to figure out how to make that wall more of a curb to step over. Slowing down to pass through an intersection: not an issue. Coming to a dead halt at a red light: de-motivating.

3) I have been railing on for a decade and more that there has been insufficient research on the role of earliest employment as a formative experience in shaping the workplace attitudes and expectations of new grads and entrants to the full-time workforce. The “problem” can often be not the beliefs of those new public servants, but the fundamental incompatibility of the work contexts where they acquired those beliefs, and what is needed within government.

4) Don’t count on all those retirements, Amelia. Withdrawal from the labor force is gradually inching up in age for folks with post-secondary education, since the early 90’s. And as many here can likely attest, being launched into the workforce at 26 with a large debt-load is going to defer that point where one doesn’t have to pay off loans or mortgages or family-life costs any more and can “just save”, to much later in the lifespan. Just because people are eligible for pension doesn’t mean they can live off it to their satisfaction. So you can expect to see a lot more white-haired people sticking around work longer. A fascinating and provocative recent panel discussion with some high-power panelists on the broader topic can be found here:

http://www.brookings.edu/events/2012/12/07-working-longer

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Jeffrey Levy

Amelia, some things you said in your followup struck me.

First, I want you to know that I agree wholeheartedly we should strive for better. I just don’t want people to get burned out too quickly because things don’t change on their expected schedule. I’ve learned to take a long view, not to settle, but to give myself time to see positive change.

Second, I agree with you that recognition matters. As a manager, I work hard to do just that. If I can’t give awards, I thank people as publicly as possible, I treat them to lunch, I help them move forward on their pet projects, etc. In fact, doing those things is part of what makes managing fun. It’s not just about promotions, and I hope people get reinforcement in ways other than promotions. I can’t give out raises, but I can do a lot of other things.

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Peter Sperry

Good news. The pace of change in the Federal government will begin accelerating in 2 weeks when sequestration goes into effect and take off exponentially 3 weeks later when those spending cuts are locked in with a continuing resolution. The reality of dealing with flat or declining spending authority will require rapid changes at a pace previously unimagined by most government employees.

This actually is very good news. Once we get past the initial hysteria, whining and grandstanding; government workers will be able to make convincing arguments for cutting through or eliminating much of the administivia red tape which drives up costs and frustration levels without adding any value. If, and only if, we. focus on producing quality results for an affordable price rather than constant complaining about “limited” budgets, we will be able to accomplish more in the next 15-20 years than thought possible in the previous 50.

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Samuel F Doucette

Peter, what you said struck a chord with me from my process improvement perspective. First a little history. The Air Force has been actively doing process improvement since about 2006, when we were faced with a “perfect storm” of impending budget and manpower cuts with a wartime mission that still had to get done — how I long for those days which in comparison to now seem like we were fat, dumb, and happy! However, the Air Force process improvement efforts over the years haven’t really taken off throughout the entire institution and my hunch is, too many of us reverted to old familiar ways of doing things because the platform wasn’t burning hot enough or at least was burning hot somewhere else remote from us. Well, I believe sequestration will be the really hot burning platform which will finally force the AF to embrace process improvement like never before.

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Julie Chase

Right now, the door is slammed shut for “anyone” applying for a gov job. With that said, young people, especially non vets, are now looking elsewhere. I know a young man, college grad, two degrees, applied for a job in gov in Jan. Job closed Jan 13. Hasn’t heard a word. When this young man contacted the HRSC in Norfolk, he was told, “sorry, a hiring freeze has begun.” Ok, so now what is he supposed to do? How long was he supposed to wait until someone contacted him to let him know. Really? What employer with any integrity does that? I can certainly understand their frustration. He said to me, “Why would the gov “OPEN” a position, get qualified candidates on a cert, then “bang”, hiring freeze! If I hadn’t called and asked what was going on, I would’ve waited a long time.” Needless to say, he is looking elsewhere as are his friends. Sad, really. An email to the candidates, a letter, or phone call would have been the professional thing to do.

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Kaye Carney

To correct the record as stated, “Comment by Allen Sheaprd on February 14, 2013 at 11:40am (sigh)” pasted below: Your MAXIMO GIS was developed by the Department of Navy, US Fleet Forces Command, Facilities Engineering Department. Your retired Navy senior leader ‘took’ the program to the City. I can verify that as I was the IM Analyst overseeing the development. It is being used by Navy Region Mid-Atlantic currently.

“Be careful what one wishes for” Learn cool stuff fast, learn cool stuff deeply, learn what not to do” Government does move slower. GovLoop Techies can be cutting edge. City of chesapeake was the first to do Maximo 7.1 install. First to connect Maximo with ESRI GIS for spacial. We are one of the biggest CSR users. Best of all we had time to do and learn. Governments use COTS packages so from the Techie side VM ware, Cloud, ORACLE, SQL 2012 are all there. Governments also have to be far more stable than business. Business can shut down or move. When bad stuff happens, government can not shut down nor relocate. We have to learn and document so when the internet goes down everyone can function without Google or the internet. Ever see a an army guy or gal go to Bing? No there are procedures and documentation providing answers should training fail. There is an ethical side as well. We are granted a monopoly over the citizens. Hence we have to be ready with proven technology. Fiscal cliff or not – we should not shut down, some of us can not shut down. A few of us should be “last man standing” Yes I wish the president had made civil service work “cool” Maybe next time. .”

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Profile Photo Dale M. Posthumus

These four points are fine, but are only a band-aid to what needs to happen. The hiring and firing process must improve significantly. The ability to enter, exit, and reenter the govt workforce must be significantly improved. Change is possible.

Change often starts at the state and local levels, IMHO. When I entered the Federal workforce, the dominant promotion system was the “old boys network”. Our generation and those that followed said “no”, and it changed, sometimes slowly, sometimes relatively quickly. Technology gives us an opportunity to improve, if we figure out how to use it properly. It significantly changed the way my agency gathered information, shared that information, analyzed the data, and distributed it to an ever-widening audience. I say, listen to new folks entering Govt. Don’t just do what you have always done. The “best” program, process, office, regulation, law, etc., can always be made better.

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Julie Chase

1,000’s of young people have just been “turned off” to working as a civil servant. They are tired of the games to get hired, to make a cert, and then be told “Ooops, we are back in a hiring freeze, sorry.” I think most young people would be smart to look elsewhere. For those who are retiring in less than 5 yrs….if you are offered a VSIP, take and run while you can. I have 7 yrs. In two yrs….if I get offered a VSIP with NO penalty….I’m gone. Also note, the retirement tsunami was back up in January. I see more in the coming months. Congress, get your act together and stop playing these games. The young people are on to you and the baby boomers are leaving. Buy a clue.

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Mark Hammer

The last 30 years have seen steady entrenchment of ever greater impatience. I am constantly reminded of Homer Simpson whining about his microwave “30 seconds? But I can’t wait that long!”.

I am also reminded of a survey comment I read a few years ago where a young person noted “Don’t get me wrong. I was really glad to get a government job so soon out of university. But it’s been a year already, and I haven’t had a promotion.”

The issue is not with government – it only has one gear and one speed – but with “young feds” and the ever-growing mismatch between what folks expect (based on the culture of the times), and what can realistically happen. And, no matter what the gardening center tries to sell you, or how fast your bit-torrent download times can be, you can only make grass grow so quickly.

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Amelia Brunelle

I think the pace is pretty slow in gov’t – though perhaps slow isn’t really the issues as much as inflexible.

Unfortunately, there are significant limitations to these 4 engagement guidelines. For example, when your pay is tied exactly to your GS level, you can’t really move up without costing the org more, so it doesn’t matter if you prioritize advancement and learning over money. Additionally, there are provisions which prioritize tenure over performance. Lastly, transparency is quite challenging in DoD/State etc. departments which function on a ‘need to know’ basis due to information security. This culture eeks out into all topics and areas, even those that aren’t deemed classified or secure.

For myself (and I think others of my age group) these things do become frustrating and discourage us from becoming or staying civil servants. We usually aren’t at the rank that has access to the conversation, and therefore rarely understand the big picture of why we’re completing the work we’ve been given. While all bureaucracies (large corporations included) have these limitations to open information, transparency and inner politics of promotion, in government they’re often not only cultural by codified.

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Tracey Harriot

I agree with Mark 100%

In terms of the open communication/transparency, the best advice I can give is to just ask! I’ve been pretty successful getting into high-level meetings by simply asking to be a fly on the wall. Although there isn’t anything highly secretive discussed (obviously), I have been granted access to information that I may not have found out otherwise (or, like in most cases I may have found out weeks later after the information went through various communcation channels.) It has also given me perspective on the decision-making processes of my organization and others. I feel more connected and bought into what my agency is doing simply by understanding a bit more of why… Try it and see what happens!

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Michael Goode

I’m a young-ish fed (29) and I’d agree with Amelia that while the pace of government is slow, it’s not really the biggest issue that bothers young feds. I often find that my biggest gripe stems from the government not embracing new ideas until it is backed into a corner. I’d also say that the uncertainty around budgetary matters also plays a big role in how younger people view government work. I’ve been a fed since 2009 and we have been on the brink of numerous government shutdowns and now we have sequestration as a very real possibility. Though the private industry job market can be volatile, the current climate doesn’t help make the idea of being a civil servant particularly attractive for new entrants.

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Samuel F Doucette

I was/am a young fed (Gen X, entered civil service in 1997). I suspected going in that the government would be slower and more bureaucratic than private industry. I think the expectations of Millenials for instant promotion, rapid change, and complete transparency are unrealistic. Time and patience will temper those expectations, and before you know it, you can and will establish yourself with success. I am now the corporate memory in my office as many of the Baby Boomers who mentored me have retired.

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Jeffrey Levy

What Mark said. A year without a promotion? That person needs to get over himself.

Also what Tracey said: ask! Be the person who takes the initiative and you’ll go far, no matter where you work.

But also what Michael said, sort of. I’ve been at EPA for 19 years, through many shutdowns and CRs, and I’ve never seen a confluence of events like sequestration the current CR, the FY13 budget, and oh, by the way, the FY14 budget. Nevertheless, I’ve never seen anyone laid off from EPA; it’s probably different somewhere else in the federal gov’t, but not at EPA so far.

Finally, why are you here in gov’t? Think that through and then decide. Gov’t work will always have hurdles. I realized a long time ago that each of us has a pile of idealism and a pile of crap to deal with. Those who stay in gov’t are those for whom their idealism is higher than the other pile. For me, it’s still FAR higher.

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Janina Rey Echols Harrison

I agree that Congress needs to get it’s act together. Young people may be onto them, but boomers probably aren’t going to stop voting just because they are retiring. Sequester will sink the economy and I am pretty sure that is what it is meant to do, so they will do nothing to stop it.

But, this blog is about young people and gov moving too slow. Yes, Bill said it, it moves too slow for older staff also.

I could easily work remotely and save on office space, but not allowed. I would love to move to BYOD but not allowed and still trying to get wireless set up to provide options to sitting in my office, maybe take my work out to the patio for some Vit D a couple of hours a day. With a wireless phone, I could be anyplace in the building or grounds.

I used to do business justifications in private sector to show the efficiency for moving to new hardware and software to enhance productivity. My mantra was, “bigger, better, faster, more!” I did the work to get the money to buy the things to keep us up to speed and there was always someone in the tech staff who wanted to work with the new technology to learn more. People started using the old song, “Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets” and replacing it with Nina. I just laughed because all they had to do was write a justification and figure out what part of their budget to redirect to keep up.

I have used this in government but it takes much longer for results and the technology is way old by the time it is installed, but it is still better than staying where we were. I pushed to get wireless routers for our building in FY2012. They still haven’t been installed, but we are on the todo list. All we need now are the little bistro tables for our cyber cafe.

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Amelia Brunelle

I want to push back a bit – as this has suddenly turned into ‘Millennials are so needy and need to learn to deal.’ This is not only not productive, but not really the discussion needs to be. By most measures, half of fed. employees are eligible to retire in the next 10 years (last I’d seen). If we hope to have some continuity, we need younger generations to join the civil workforce. Heckling them isn’t a good way to do that. Additionally, I don’t think most young workers demand they be promoted immediately – they do require that if they work harder and smarter than those around them that there is SOME way to have that effort noticed, some incentive if even nominal. And personally, while many of you may think a more flexible and merit-focused gov’t is out of reach or unrealistic and new employees should just learn to deal with it – I refuse to see it that way. I hope others also refuse to settle for ‘how it’s always been’ instead choosing to work towards ‘how it could be.’

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Samuel F Doucette

Amelia, I agree with much of what you say. When I supervised people, I definitely was in favor of recognizing hard and smart work. I also am concerned about the coming retirement bow wave when the Boomers retire in large numbers. As a process improvement person, I also agree that our hiring and recruiting processes need to be faster, more flexible, and more appealing to our target audience, which should be younger people. However, I also recognize that many of the constraints we live with are set by laws passed by our political masters. To the extent we can make fundamental process improvements within the legal framework, then I say let’s go for it.

As for the fiscal craziness, I’ve never seen it this bad in my almost 16 yrs of service. Weathering this fiscal storm will require innovative thinking and collaboration, which is what the Millenials can bring to the table. I just hope we all have jobs when this is all over.

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Allen Sheaprd

(sigh) “Be careful what one wishes for” Learn cool stuff fast, learn cool stuff deeply, learn what not to do” Government does move slower.

GovLoop Techies can be cutting edge. City of chesapeake was the first to do Maximo 7.1 install. First to connect Maximo with ESRI GIS for spacial. We are one of the biggest CSR users.

Best of all we had time to do and learn. Governments use COTS packages so from the Techie side VM ware, Cloud, ORACLE, SQL 2012 are all there.

Governments also have to be far more stable than business. Business can shut down or move. When bad stuff happens, government can not shut down nor relocate. We have to learn and document so when the internet goes down everyone can function without Google or the internet. Ever see a an army guy or gal go to Bing? No there are procedures and documentation providing answers should training fail.

There is an ethical side as well. We are granted a monopoly over the citizens. Hence we have to be ready with proven technology. Fiscal cliff or not – we should not shut down, some of us can not shut down. A few of us should be “last man standing”

Yes I wish the president had made civil service work “cool” Maybe next time.

Reply