A Day In The GovLife is series that profiles people in interesting or unusual government jobs and gets the scoop on what it’s like to be in that role and how you can get there.
Day In The GovLife
Interviewee: Raymond Limon
Job: Chief Human Capital Officer at the Corporation for National and Community Service
What was the career path that brought you to the Corporation for National and Community Service?
I believe a “path” is a good analogy. Destinations are over-rated….it’s the trip that’s a blast! The cool thing is that everybody has his or her own path to make, sometimes they overlap briefly, intersect or run parallel too but every path is different. So, I arrived to this part of the journey by way of managing the Office of Administrative Law Judges and being an attorney at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Prior to OPM, I worked as a private sector attorney representing clients involving toxic-tort litigation and immigration law. After about 10 years at OPM, I learned CNCS was looking to hire its first Chief Human Capital Officer and attempting to revamp many of its management operations. While at OPM, I developed an expertise in standing up new enterprises or improving challenging relationships and because CNCS’ mission is so aligned with my personal values, I jumped at the chance to interview for the CHCO position, and was and still am thrilled I was selected. Six years later, our management efforts have been strengthened and our programs (AmeriCorps, VISTA, Senior Corps, etc.) were reauthorized by strong bi-partisan support in Congress under the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009.
What drew you to public service?
As the oldest of ten children, my parents made unbelievable sacrifices to raise a family on very limited means, while instilling in their kids the need to support each other and our community. Though they did not go to college, but like all parents, they wanted their kids to work hard, get a college education and give back to their communities. So, dutifully, I studied hard, took care of my younger siblings, worked in a series of low paying jobs through junior and high school, and paid my way through college (with a big thanks to Senator Claiborne Pell and his legacy grants), and thought, ok what now? I kept listening to my heart and as cliché as it sounds, I kept hearing the words of John F. Kennedy’s “what can you do for your country” inaugural speech, and as product of the post-Vietnam and Watergate eras, I wanted to serve my country and be part of the solution. I knew law school was in my horizon but I simply had to join the Peace Corps first. I had to know more about our country, our history, our promise, and to do that, I had to live abroad and experience how the majority of the world inhabitants live.in third world conditions. True enough, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and it made me open up, come out of my shell, and bring a level of awareness that I never experienced before. So, remember, by definition, there is no private sector job out there where you raise your right hand and swear allegiance to support and defend the Constitution. How cool is that?! See www.opm.gov/constitution_initiative/oath.asp
What are the key skills or attributes that helped you get to where you are?
I’m pretty sure I don’t have them fully, but what I strive for is perseverance, awareness, political savvy, credibility, authenticity, and the occasional 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon.
What’s your typical day like?
I meet with my Deputy and Strategic Advisor to go over the day’s calendar and recalibrate priorities as needed. My office handles everything from strategic planning to physical security; from civil rights administration (employees and grantees) to labor management, so as a former employment litigator, I make it a point to check in with everyone on my staff (and inter-office colleagues) so I can pick up on any trends and coordinate with others as needed. Managing people is significantly different than managing programs, so being a CHCO brings a new set of experiences on a daily basis. The human condition in the workplace is always evolving and I find that dynamic both engaging and rewarding as an agency executive in planning for the future and sometimes just getting us through the day. Within my community of practice, I was fortunate to be selected by my peers to represent the approximately 100 small Federal agencies before the Chief Human Capital Officer Council and I co-chair the Small Agency Human Resources Council. This amazing group of practitioners is always coming together to resolve both strategic and tactical challenges so a day doesn’t go by without dozens of messages going back and forth among the members so I keep up with that dialogue as well.
Why is it important to encourage volunteerism and community service?
As our current economic environment reminds us, we cannot buy or borrow our way out of challenges. Our history has shown us again and again, that when we come together for a united cause, and just like the AmeriCorps’ motto goes, we can “get things done.” I’m reminded of a time when I volunteered at a free immigration clinic, the citizenry of this nation resides in the most blessed nation on earth, and we are duty bound to share those blessings with others. This is how we founded this country and this is how we will secure its promise for tomorrow. Conversely, it’s an investment you make in yourself. You will learn and develop skill sets you didn’t even know you needed.It sustains you on your “path” and when you are called to act in a way you didn’t expect, you will be ready to handle whatever comes your way.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get involved in community or national service?
It doesn’t matter where you start. It only matters that you get started. We all have gifts and talents. Don’t be afraid to try something unknown to you. Like a good lawyer, you should be able to convincingly argue a case from either side of the table, so feel free to challenge your assertions and volunteer for something you don’t know much about..you may just discover something about yourself you didn’t know.
What are the 2-3 biggest challenges that you face in your role as Chief Human Capital Officer?
Though I help to lead a small agency (approximately 600 employees), I am very grateful to be representing small agencies before the government-wide CHCO Council where we discuss challenges facing the entire Federal executive branch. There, many of the challenges we face are common in nature albeit on different scales. With a trend to a shrinking workforce and fewer monetary rewards to recognize outstanding contributions, we must be more creative and intentional in finding non-monetary incentives to foster retention of our high performers. Similarly, the resources to backfill behind departing staff will be limited so there is even less margin for error when it comes to recruiting for future vacancies. Finally, I’m concerned about a cadre of supervisors who have been promoted based on technical skills and less so on supervisory skills. Agencies must resist that tendency because not every successful technician or scientist makes a good supervisor. There is wisdom in crowds so we need to select supervisors who can digest agency priorities from their leaders and be able to listen effectively from their direct reports so they can demonstrate results while motivating staff that best fits the culture in which they operate.
What advice do you have for up and coming government employees?
Listen well and develop your network. Develop an area of expertise that is not necessarily common within your unit or office. What makes you unique? Also, tailor your communication styles to the audience you are addressing (if you communicate only one way…you’ll have a very short career). To quickly strengthen your credibility in the community, do your research and be a good story teller. By that I mean you don’t have to be a Toast Master champ, but do some research on your agency’s creation, how it has evolved, how the budget works, etc…being able to expand your awareness will allow you to speak more credibly in larger audiences, and helps you to not reinvent the wheel. Total rookie mistake. But, most of all, just be authentic and transparent and don’t speak for others..speak for yourself and you’ll go far!