Can Government service be as ‘sexy’ as the startup?

Photo credit: Luis Gomez Photos

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting two young entrepreneurs–the co-founders of the super-hip, new event crowdfunding startup, EventStir. Afghani-born Sajad explained to me how he met his business partner Andrew, at Startup Weekend DC. The event is a 54-hour race against the clock to launch a business in one weekend.

From the outside looking in, I must say the company already looks promising. So much so, Sajad took the big leap and stepped away from his Government gig. Sounds sort of dangerous and exciting, right? It got me to thinking, “Can Government service be as ‘sexy’ as the allure of a startup?” Maybe. But unless you work for the CIA or NASA, the sexy factor isn’t as obvious.

Think about it. The Federal Government lost a really bright, ambitious, and innovative young person, who probably has a ton of other good ideas. Attracting the best and the brightest to the Civil Service is one thing, but how do we retain the best and the brightest?

Issue challenges. Challenge.gov has done a wonderful job of leveraging the talent of citizens to help solve the problems facing the Federal Government. We should do the same among our own workforce. Give personnel the proverbial “seat at the table” by communicating challenges on a regular basis and allowing them to tackle specific issues. Host rapid-fire brainstorming sessions and pitch meetings. Reward the best teams and ideas with cool, non-monetary prizes like a “Director for the Day” experience or post winner’s photos on your external website or social media channels. Bragging rights and resume builders are sometimes more motivating than money.

Give your team members some autonomy and freedom to identify a special project. It doesn’t have to be exactly in-line with what they were hired to do, either. If it improves Government or furthers the Agency mission, why not? Launching a project from concept to completion or improving a broken system will certainly pull out the entrepreneurial spirit and inspire career ownership.

Let team members define their own titles and refine their job descriptions. Okay, so on paper, your team members would have their usual non-descript “Program Analyst-” type identifier, but in-house could be a whole ‘nother story. Tech startups have led the way in allowing employees call themselves titles like “Chief Happiness Officer, Marketing Ninja Extraordinaire, or The Guru of Awesomeness.” Let your people put their hidden talents to good use rather than collecting dust on the shelf and define their own roles.

In light of the looming retirement apocalypse that could occur within the next five years, it is imperative that we figure out how to retain innovators and visionaries. These are the people that will help transform the image of the Federal Government from being a foot-dragging hoard of zombies, into a lean, mean, and maybe even sexy, league of superheroes.

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Profile Photo Dannielle Blumenthal

Honestly the best thing the federal government can do is go back to basics. Identify the goal (mission), vision, values, principles and culture. Focus. Eliminate what does not work. Pay for performance. Hold people accountable. Be truly inclusive. Resolve conflict skilfully. Communicate. Stop idolizing the management fad or cool technology gizmo. Welcome honesty. Like…a business! Serve the customer – that would be the taxpayer.

Profile Photo Jacqueline Sullivan

Thanks Steve! That means a lot coming from The Guru of Awesomeness himself. I totally agree with your point about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They’re like the cool kids at the party: a clean WordPress interface as their website, they actually solicit comments from the public, and I think most important, they’re highly connected to their mission.

Profile Photo Greg Walther

I strongly agree that the federal government could benefit by focusing more on talent within its ranks. When I look at programs by the feds to reach out to entrepreneurs in the private sector, my first reaction is to applaud, my second is to ask why we are not making a similar effort to find the entrepreneurs who already work for the government.