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Empathy: Your Career Superpower

Since 2015, I’ve written a monthly column for the PA Times Online on digital transformation in government. Occasionally, I will hear from a reader who liked my perspective or was happy to learn something new. So, that is why I was unprepared for the negative reactions to my December 2021 column, where I argued that every government employee should be trained in product management.

The 2021 Biden-Harris Presidential Management Agenda

The Presidential Management Agenda (PMA) had three initiatives: the federal government would become a “model employer,” government customer service would be significantly improved, and “the business of government” will provide better outcomes. As I read through the strategies that support the priorities, I immediately thought of employee experience and customer experience. The federal government was to become laser-focused on citizens while enhancing the employee experience. As many businesses have discovered, happy employees mean a better customer experience.

Why Government Services Need To Be Customer Centered

Product management is the process of building products and services with a laser focus on the customer’s needs and concerns,” I wrote in my column. Federal employees are directly providing government services or supporting other federal employees who provide government services. Many of these employees also have a role in designing them.

Often, government services are “take it or leave it” transactions. For example, when I last visited the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), I spent a couple of hours on hard chairs waiting for a 10-minute session with a bored clerk who filled out an online form to renew my license. Imagine how the visit to the DMV would be if the process were customer-centered? If the government servants had empathy for the customers?

Empathy: The Heart of Product Management

There are several design thinking methods to choose from. Every method I have used starts with empathizing with the customer. That means deeply understanding the customer’s needs and wants by viewing challenges from the customer’s perspective.

Think about an excellent customer service experience you have had. Did it seem like your needs were met before you said anything? Like the customer service representative could read your mind? Great product managers spend much time understanding the customer journey or how the products and services will arrive at the right time to satisfy the customer’s needs best. Therefore, the second priority of the PMA encourages government agencies to consider the customer’s journey when building or refurbishing government services.

Why Product Management Skills Can Help Your Government Career

“The essential skills to be a good product manager are design thinking (emphasizing empathy), customer experience/user experience design, data science, team building, and marketing,” I wrote. Consider this list of skills. Building empathy for your customers (and employees) is common to all of them. Even if you don’t plan on being a product manager, consider how each skill can enhance your success in your current and future jobs. Search LinkedIn or USAJOBS and see how many job announcements ask for one or more of these skills. They are in high demand because empathy helps you connect customers and the government services they most want.

As more of the routine work of government becomes automated and the domain of artificial intelligence, the human skill of empathy will become more valuable. Sharpen your empathy skills, and you will experience much success in your government career.

Dr. Bill Brantley works in the U.S. Navy Inspector General Office as a Senior Training Specialist, where he is leading the project to build the Office’s first learning portal for nearly 1,000 employees in the enterprise. He has been a program manager for the Emerging Leader Program and Supervisor Certificate Program at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He also managed the Executive Coaching and the Career Coaching Programs. Dr. Brantley was awarded the 2019 Emerging Training Leader by Training Magazine and is an IPMA-HR SCP, a Certified Professional in Talent Development, an ROI certified professional, a certified data scientist, and a Certified Professional in Training Management. He is a certified Project Management Professional, a certified agile project manager, a certified professional in business analysis, and is certified in Disciplined Agile. He has completed over 200 hours of coaching training from the Neuroleadership Institute, the American Confidence Institute, emotional intelligence coaching, and the Global Team Coaching Institute. Dr. Brantley is an adjunct faculty member for the University of Louisville (20+ years) and the University of Maryland (8+ years). He is the author of the “Persuasive Project Manager” (2019) and “Four Scenarios for the Future of the Federal Government” (2019).

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