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Sequestration Management Tip: Level With Your Employees

Sequestration is here, and it's here to stay for at least a little while. And this new reality has created some major management challenges for government leaders. 

So how do you manage through the uncertainty?

Tom Fox is the Vice President for Education and Outreach at the Partnership for Public Service. 

He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that you need to level with your employees.

Level with employees.

Federal employees are concerned about the possible impact of sequestration both professionally and personally. Treat them like adults and tell them what you know and what you don’t know. For example, some agencies already know if they are exempt from sequestration or if their funding cuts can be managed without resorting to unpaid furloughs. Other agencies are not so fortunate. Share what you know so employees can plan accordingly. Answer questions honestly, and if you don’t have the information then say that you’ll try to get it — and then follow through. Also, make sure your workers are aware there are a number of variables that could change things and that it may be impossible to give them a definitive answer.

Seek employee input.

Even if employees are not expressing concerns or frustrations, don’t assume they don’t have any. In staff meetings or in one-on-one conversations, bring up the topic yourself and invite employees to ask questions. And if furloughs are inevitable at your agency and if you have some flexibility in how they are carried out, ask employees for ways to best to implement them. For example, it may be possible to ask if anyone would like to volunteer to be furloughed for a greater number of days than planned in order to lessen the impact on others.

Consult with the unions.

If your employees are represented by a union, make sure to provide the union representatives with an opportunity to weigh in on the impact and implementation of the furloughs to the full extent allowed under the law.

Keep your eye on the bottom line.

Agency leaders must work closely with the budget staff and chief financial officers to monitor the evolving situation. Remember, the goal is to reduce spending. There are a variety of ways to do that. Unexpected savings, such as higher than anticipated staff turnover or the cancelation of a major planned expenditure, may reduce or even eliminate the need for some other cuts or reductions.

Keep focused on mission.

Make it clear through word and deed that you and the organization are going to focus on the mission, and that a primary goal of any cost-reduction efforts will be to help your agency to get its job done as effectively as possible for the American public. And don’t forget, focusing on the mission and minimizing the impact of sequestration on employees need not be mutually exclusive.

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Tags: DorobekINSIDER, budgeting, communications, human resources, leadership, project management, sequestration

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Comment by Dave Hebert on March 8, 2013 at 8:16am

Five good considerations, Emily and Tom -- thanks. I think the last one is big: While it would be perfectly understandable for agencies and their leadership to go into their shell and hope for the best right now, a great agency/leader figures out how they're going to get sharper at a time like this and what the future needs to look like for their organization.

If your mission falls apart when it's tested, maybe it wasn't a good mission to begin with.

Shameless plug: For this interested in how you can campaign around your agency's mission in lean times, take a look at the Events tab on the Federal Communicators Network site. We have a good seminar on Mar. 21 from the National Weather Service on that very topic.

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