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Bringing Shared Personal Values to Work

Editor’s note: GovLoop interviewed current and former government employees about limiting beliefs they’ve seen throughout their careers in public service. Here’s an excerpt from that conversation in the words of one interviewee. 

Sandra Auchter, Deputy Associate Director for Capabilities (ADC), National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)

Sandra Auchter is the Deputy Associate Director for Capabilities (ADC) at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). ADC has a large portfolio, which includes research and development, innovation activities, the CIO office, and adoption of new technologies supporting geospatial-intelligence requirements. Her portfolio also includes AI, automation and augmentation efforts to better use data across NGA.

Limiting belief: Leaders at government agencies don’t share the same personal values as employees.

The impact: I think where it’s limiting is recruiting the tremendous talent that’s out there. If there are misperceptions about what we represent, and the fact that they don’t see a connection between what’s happening within the federal government and the Defense Department, in particular, with their lifestyle, there’s less of a chance that people actually want to be a part of government.

The expectation: When I came into NGA 20 years ago, I came in with an understanding that this was a commitment for the rest of my working life. In the past, we would not have felt comfortable saying, “Hey, this is important for me to be involved in my kids’ activities ” or to do these extracurricular activities/ hobbies that are not directly related to work. Employees that are coming in over the last 10 years or so are looking for that balance.

A new perspective: If we’re able to accommodate, then we should. I do think that the recent environment with COVID, and not physically being in the SCIFs [or secure rooms] and telework have increased the understanding that there is that level of flexibility.

Communicating the message: Those are values that I think we need to share more and let people know that we can be mindful of all of the things that make you complete as a human being and still be able to serve. We put in long hours; it’s not easy work. It can be stressful, but recognize that there’s a balance and that you want employees to bring their whole selves to work and, at the same time, to make sure that they’re healthy.

Shifting workplace dynamics: We’re absolutely doing telework. At the very beginning of the pandemic, we were at 85% telework. This was the first time in my 20 years that I was doing work from home. They used to have our calendars on the classified side, so now I have it on the low side. We had to adjust laptops and computers. The director has been doing town halls. Once a week, he’s in touch with the workforce. I think the extent to how much more inclusive things have been, because of the fact that we’ve been able to work in that unclassified environment, has been tremendous.

Talking points to cut through red tape

Some of the changes that we’re anticipating making, we had not even thought of before. We decided they were too hard. We just needed to figure out how to get to yes, if this is something that we value.

Questions to ask: If this is something we value, what are we willing to do to get to that place? What if we were open to being a particular kind of agency that embraces these changes? What must be done to make this possible?

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s new guide, “Agency of the Future: Common Misconceptions Holding You Back and How to Break Free.” Download the full guide here.

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