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3 Critical Conversations About Agency Reform Plans

On April 12, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) ended President Trump’s hiring freeze and, in a new memo, asked agencies to develop reform plans by the end of the summer. While creating and implementing these reform plans, agency leaders will need to have strong lines of communication with their staff to gain buy-in for reforms and ensure that the plans accurately reflect the mission.

That’s why GovLoop decided to dissect three aspects of the memo that may involve critical conversations between federal managers and frontline staff, as well as some strategies to handle the conversations.

Addressing Employee Performance

A key theme of the memo was that the agency reform plans should include mechanisms to measure employee performance and discipline those with low performance ratings. The memo specifically notes, “It is important that managers recognize high performers, help employees identify and address areas in need of improvement, and move quickly to address employees who are not meeting performance expectations.”

As a manager, recognizing high performance can be as simple as a shout out in a weekly email, but confronting poor performers can be a bit more difficult. If you find yourself in a position where you need to talk to an employee about improving performance, make sure you focus on why you are having the conversation and what you hope to get out of it afterwards.

For example, if you are a manager that notices an employee who provided poor customer service to a constituent, make sure to discuss the specific situations and how the employee could have handled the experiences differently. The memo also mentions that data can be used to track Performance Improvement Plans, which can be discussed in meetings, as well. As an employee on the receiving end of constructive criticism, it helps to be a good listener and offer concrete suggestions where you can improve going forward.

Introducing New Technologies and Business Processes

Another highlight of the memo was that OMB asked agencies to find areas where new technologies can be introduced to automate and streamline business processes. Anytime new technologies or processes are implemented in a workplace, there can be hesitancy and resistance from employees who are used to operating a certain way. There may also be fear among employees about job loss or trouble learning new techniques. But many times, new technologies can greatly improve effectiveness and efficiency at an agency.

That’s why managers will need to delicately discuss how new technologies will be implemented and how they can enhance an agency. Critical conversations about new technologies or business processes should always center around how these changes impact employees’ jobs and the agency’s mission. This will help develop buy-in among employees, which will make implementation easier.

For example, the memo points to the shared services model as a way to streamline and contract out IT functions such as database administration. If a manager is looking to migrate to shared services, then they should highlight how the new business process will save money that can be reinvested into mission critical services. They should also recognize employee fears of uncertainty by providing transparency and training throughout the transition.

Restructuring Offices or Positions

Lastly, the memo asked agencies to explore restructuring offices and positions by either combining them or eliminating them entirely. In his remarks during the release of the memo, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney suggested that agencies may look to organize by function of government rather than departmental silos, “If you want to deal with trade, then let’s go find all of the [offices] of government that deal with trade and put [them] in one place,” he said.

Large-scale restructurings also create fear and uncertainty among employees about job loss and budget cuts, so leaders will need to have critical conversations and dialogues with employees to understand the best way to restructure offices, maximize skills and ultimately serve constituents. By providing transparency throughout the process and incorporating employee feedback, mangers can calm fears during transitions and ensure that employees remain engaged and productive.

The recent OMB memo suggests that when agencies create reform plans, managers consider ways to address employee performance, introduce new technologies and business processes, and restructure offices or positions. Whether you are a manager or a frontline employee, having constructive, critical conversations can advance your mission and guide your agency reforms. For more information on how to have critical conversations, follow these tips and tricks.

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