Here are three things you can count on when you have a career in government:
- Resources are tight. There’s no way around it. You will likely never have as many financial and human resources at your disposal as your peers in the private sector.
- Problems are always present. Government organizations are old and large, so there are always opportunities for improvement, issues to address big and small.
- Ambitions loom large. We who work in government are purpose-driven people. We want to make our communities, and the world at large, a better place. Accordingly, we never lack for ambitions, ideas, and items on our work wish lists.
Now, as you look at these three truths, you’ll likely notice that the second two items are at odds with the first. When high needs meet low resources, it’s a recipe for compromise and concessions, or stress and overwork. In either case, success can be hard to achieve in an environment like this.
What can you do to overcome it? Here’s one idea: be agile, flexible, and fearless. When you find a problem or opportunity, put yourself in a position to seize it, even if it doesn’t fit cleanly within your position description or your existing skill and knowledge set.
In the modern world, information and help are always just a few taps or clicks away. With the right attitude, you can rise to any occasion.
Here are four such examples from my government career:
Surveys and Data Analysis
- What you need: Data! Maybe it’s customer satisfaction info or public attitudes about a certain service or policy proposal.
- What you might think: You’ll need to hire a consultant to design the data collection methods and author a report.
- What you can do: Deploy a survey using HTML forms, in tandem with your organization’s website and/or social media and email (there are many tutorials online). You can also use free or affordable survey making tools, of which there are many. Crunch the numbers using Excel or online tools and put together a report with your in-the-trenches expertise and passion, which an external consultant could never match.
- What you need: Professional, engaging videos for use on your organization’s digital communications channels.
- What you might think: You’ll need tens of thousands of dollars worth of high-end equipment, to say nothing of the money and time needed to acquire and master video production software.
- What you can do: Next time your organization is purchasing a new camera, opt for one with built-in video capability. Absent that, get your feet wet by shooting on your smartphone. Be a smart shopper when buying accessories like tripods and mics, and be comfortable with using free or affordable editing software. With an investment of only a couple thousand dollars, our agency’s communications team began producing videos that are creating added value for our employees and our customers.
Project Management and Facilitation
- What you need: People and tools to keep projects on task.
- What you might think: You’ll need to hire a Business Analyst or Project Manager to shepherd the project along and leverage the appropriate tools.
- What you can do: Own and manage that project like the best of em. Build Gantt charts using online templates. Keep to-do lists and share them with your colleagues. Enroll in training, where available. Never leave a meeting without identifying the next steps and responsibilities of each member of the team. And when making decisions and outlining tasks, always push people to ask “Why?” and to remember two things: the goals of the project and your organization, and the needs of your customers.
Strategic Planning and Performance Measurement
- What you need: The big picture: A vision for the work you do. The littler picture: A means to determine if you are being successful.
- What you might think: You don’t have a role to play or a seat at the table; this is the job of your organization’s senior leaders.
- What you can do: Get involved! If your leaders haven’t created opportunities for you to be involved, recommend they make it happen. Everyone should have a role to play in this important work. When communicators aren’t involved in these efforts, an organization can fail to effectively articulate its vision, no matter how inspiring or revelatory it may be. And when the people who execute the organization’s work every day aren’t involved, you create a disconnect between abstract, high-level vision and real, ground-level work. You may also get poor measurement of how the latter actually contributes to the former. Conversely, when involvement and engagement are robust, strategy and tactics are in harmony and everyone can strive to measure their contributions over time.
Disclaimers and a Career Call to Arms
Now, I should note for all the good vibes presented above, there are two major risks you should be wary of; the first is failing at what you set out to do. The second is stretching yourself too thin. The second is particularly important: if taking on a new venture may prevent you from getting other vital work done effectively, it may not be the best time to jump in. But keep these opportunities in your back pocket for when the right moments arise throughout your career. Because in the right circumstances, both of these risks are things you can monitor and overcome!
Ultimately, pick your spots wisely and never lose the ability to be agile, flexible, and fearless. For me, it was in the four categories above. Despite limited prior experience and knowledge, I jumped in head first. And in each case, it ended up having a powerful positive impact for my organization and my career.
When your next moment comes, what are you going to do?