One Team, One Principle, One Fight, One Brand

“What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary. Go and study it.” – Rabbi Hillel

For the past few months, with the help of several business interns, I’ve been mapping out success metrics at work. We are very close to understanding the full alignment between work goals, management goals, office goals, agency goals, and a larger and very intricate functional analysis we’ve done as an agency.

Seven months into this new management position, the picture is finally coming together. And I am starting to see how the pieces fit together both on paper and in terms of the larger culture. But the whole thing has made me realize that success is not only about putting goals on paper. It is about finding the essential principle according to which the organization operates. That is what one needs to carry out every day.

For my agency, The National Archives, that principle is making America’s records accessible to the public. And the leadership challenge, from the inside, is to convince employees of the singularity of that principle, because many have historically been focused on preserving and protecting them.

Many federal agencies have this problem. When I was at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Border Patrol vehemently resisted being lumped with the Office of Field Operations (CBP Officers), and the Office of Air and Marine had its own culture and ethos. We tried to convey “One Team, One Fight” but that sense of singularity was so absolutely critical to them that the challenge was extremely difficult.

When you’re putting together a strategic plan for an organization, it is important to dot your i’s and cross the t’s — that is, to get the details right. But it is more important to convince the staff that a single principle ties them together.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not about forcing people to toe the party line. Or worse, only hiring people who will mouth it in the first place.

Rather, it is about engaging diverse professionals inclusively, in an ongoing dialogue. It literally never ends.

In the strong organization, just like in a strong family, everyone comes to the table to hash it out. And everyone, or at least most people, emerge feeling heard, validated and respected, while also understanding what the direction of the organization is.

Not everyone is going to be convinced. And that is a leadership and management problem much more significant than any operational risk.

Consider this parallel: a sports team. It has one coach and team members have assigned roles. Every role is important. The rules are known and the object of the game is clear: to win. If the team members are rocked by internecine arguments, they will not be able to put their focus where they should.

It is fortunate therefore that federal agencies and private companies alike are focusing on employee engagement. What they now need to do is develop the learning capacity of the organization, such that communication becomes as much of a two-way street as possible.

Not to toot the horn of my own place, or to say that we’ve got it perfect, but since I brought us up, I feel compelled to mention the progress my own agency is making here.

We have a social intranet with a dedicated community manager (in my shop), a dedicated employee communications function, and ramped up training for managers and supervisors (I am biting my nails waiting for the 360 results.)

While progress always comes in fits and starts, we go back to the idea of having an operating principle generally. With employee communications, leadership has to set a clear course — and then invest in bringing the rest of the organization along.

* All opinions my own.

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Profile Photo Scott Kearby

Danielle … one of the ways to get alignment around a central over-arching goal is to show everyone how their work is important to the goal … maybe not the crucial factor, but how it contributes. For example, those who are focused on preserving & protecting documents and media are doing it so that it can be available to the public. In a previous life, I was in the USAF … the mission was clear “Fly & Fight” … but there are only a few pilots … for the rest of us, we focused on how our work made flying possible.

Profile Photo Dannielle Blumenthal

Do the non-pilots feel less important? I would think that would be an issue. Also, how did the USAF generate that unity/focus? Was there a dedicated internal communications function?

Profile Photo Scott Kearby

They may feel less important … but a good unit they will understand the special significance of the pilot and with good leadership they will not feel less appreciated or less valued. Kind of like football … the quarterback gets special treatment & protection, but it takes the whole team to win the game. If the offensive line doesn’t do their job, then it doesn’t matter how good the QB is because he won’t have time to do his job.

As to how the USAF got that unity … leadership, training, indoctrination, repetition … and it becomes ingrained in the culture of the organization.