Questions, answers and discussions about training credibility in the work place, training to improve performance, training to motivate and facilitate team building. Leadership Training.
what skills do government professionals need most?
September 20, 2011 at 3:30 pm #141699
Sandy Evans LevineParticipant
Insightful article on the critical skills today’s government professionals need – and need to have integrated into our training and development programs. What do you think?
September 20, 2011 at 3:41 pm #141743
I’m not sure if its an ethical problem or if people lack conflict mitigation skills. They also need to learn to be non judgemental.
September 20, 2011 at 4:03 pm #141741
We are having this discussion in our agency currently, specifically about Critical Thinking. It seems that we like to use the standard fall-back solutions and look for the obvious answers, no matter what the situation or question may be. If anyone has any great ideas for developing critical thinking skills please share.
On the other hand, as the Boomers leave, do we try and replace them with people who think and act like they did, or do we need to let the next generation redefine what makes a good leader? As the issues change, perhaps the solutions are to have some problem solvers in place who have a completely different approach.
September 20, 2011 at 10:05 pm #141739
Leadership down the ranks, not just at the top. Not just subject-matter experts. Leaders.
September 21, 2011 at 12:29 am #141737
I find the biggest shortcoming in both government professionals and graduating students is their inability to explain.
The ability to create understanding and clarity in others is all too often confused with “communication skills”. Now, what gets called “communication skills”, and what makes a compelling communicator, consists of a great many things. We have all attended presentations or meetings where somebody had something important to convey and they were incapable of sustaining anybody’s attention or persuading anyone of anything. So clearly “communicating” requires some capacity and skill in being lively, appealing, engaging, able to use emotional expression to lure people towards ideas. And written communication requires some skill in being able to stitch together sentences that are coherent, forceful in the absence of a live speaker, and a pleasure to read.
But this is not enough. Many’s the time I’ve read documents or attended presentations, where the communicator had efficiently persuaded their audience that they had something of import to impart….but damn if I either understood it, or could remember it. And THAT is the skill so many lack: the ability to render things lucid enough that the person you have conveyed them to can easily commit them to memory in a faithful manner, and weeks later when you are nowhere in sight, turn around to someone else and convey those very ideas in high-fidelity.
Why does this matter?
Well, ask yourself how many times some sort of directive has come down from on high in the organization, and you are now on the hook for something but you have absolutely no idea what it is they want, no opportunity to question the originator directly, and nobody above you can provide any additional clarity? The original ideas were perhaps not clearly thought out, but more than likely not well-explained, and more than likely not well communicated down the line because none of those people could clearly explain what was requested. And now you’re supposed to “make it happen”….whatever “it” is.
And how many times have you received a request from a client who is confused about something? Today I had to spend about 40 minutes on the phone with someone from another agency who was trying to make sense of some performance measures she was on the hook for, and that she had to communicate to employees in her agency. Material had been distributed and posted, with nary a thought to the comprehension of the recipients, and she was quite lost. It was my job to bail her out…in my 2nd language I might add.
What about citizen clients? Can the government professional explain the reason behind policies to them? Can they explain what forms are needed, or how those benefits do and do not apply to you, or what steps will happen in what sequence and how long they will take, or how those test scores will be used, or what you should emphasize to your ailing grandmother for whom you are the interlocutor?
The list goes on and on. A significant part of public service is public instruction and clarification between fellow professionals. If you can’t do it, none of those other C’s is gonna help you none. We talk about “knowledge work” these days, and its increasing importance. But the mistaken assumption is that knowledge is fundamentally what you possess, and not something you have the responsibility to create in others. If you cannot foster understanding and knowledge in others, you ain’t no knowledge worker, buddy.
Sadly, the art of effective explanation is simply not covered in any direct manner at just about any level of education. I have some 16 years of university, and 13 years of teaching university, and I have never come into contact with ANY curriculum that addressed the art and skill of good explanation. It is hard to imagine anything so necessary to life – apart from knowing how to love – for which we rely totally on isolated serendipitous learning opportunities.
Much work to be done. As Ricky Ricardo once said: we have some ‘splaining to do!
September 21, 2011 at 3:22 am #141735
@Mark. I agree with you. So often communication is not part of the equation for becoming a manager, or even a specialist or analyst, but the ability to communicate effectively is essential at every level. I, too, am tired of presentations where someone has told us the good news about how they came up with a solution, a timeline of their success. Or, they gave the same presentation, using all the “appropriate” jargon without knowing what half of it meant. It’s all about impressions, not communication. Leave it to me to glean what I can about how we can use that informative experience.
I have communication skills, but I allowed others to take advantage of them instead of using them myself. It was about the roles we had to play. I gave in finally to what I needed to do, and this is it. I am now a full-time communicator, teaching others the fine art of “explaining.” I’m thinking there is always going to be the need for someone like me to help guide others to communicate better.
It’s simple really. Know your audience, know your subject and know yourself. It’s about having a conversation, not about posturing insecurity. It’s about listening and feeling before talking. Unfortunately, the posturing is necessary for some people, and that communicates something about them we need to know. The answer is easy but not often done, and the question complicated on so many levels. We do the best we can. Beware of jargon and boxes. Beware of answers that are “easy, but…” Beware of “but,” because we don’t know enough yet.
My background is psychology and theatre. I couldn’t have planned two professions more aligned. It seems I was involved in more drama at work when it would have done me good to see the comedy in it. Life (and work is a large part of it) is what psychology and theatre are all about–the essence of who we are, how we behave, and why we behave the way we do. Most of the time we don’t understand it ourselves. Some people will read posts they are sure they disagree with or disregard them completely because they are convinced we can’t possibly have anything worthwhile to say. Complainers and whiners–that’s what we are to them. Or, they read the posts and let the meanings sneak in. The status quo wants change–just so it’s perceived as successful change. It does seem schizophrenic at that. And, so does the fact that we exist as a forum. It communicates there are messages some people don’t want to bother with right now. The fact we do exist sends a message that we feel it is important enough, or that we feel “we” are important enough to think we should bother. Somebody should.
Training and development is full of well-meaning individuals, but the forces that shape what you train and how you train depends on others with similar but different agendas. Who we are makes the simple communication process–information out–information received so damn complicated. For me, it’s not a matter of critical skills in training; if we know our people well, we’ll know what they need to succeed. Because they will tell us and we will listen. Development is the word we use when we want people to think we care about them.
September 21, 2011 at 12:14 pm #141733
My advice on what government professionals need is a “thick skin” to start. I learned a long time ago not to become too attached to anything I wrote or work I generated because there will always be someone up the line that will want to “tweak” it to their way. The quicker you learn this the better off you will be.
Reading the article I was struck by the fact they felt that education was sufficient; you would not need to ensure people had the basic reading, writing and problem-solving tools. I’ve found this NOT to be the case many times. There are many people out there, government professionals, that cannot write clearly or are ineffective problem-solvers. You can’t always assume people have the skills just because they have the education.
A personal anecdote to illustrate my point. Many years ago in a previous career, I worked for a Naval Shipyard as an Engineering Tech and we went through a RIF, thus I lost my job. I was called a few weeks later to come back and interview for a couple of positions in the Environmental Flight. My interview consisted of pleasantries and 2 questions. The first was 10 to the -3 and I was asked to write it in decimal form. The other was a simple algebra equation, like 3x times 4=24, solve for x, or something similar. I answered both and was told I’d be called. I later found out that 13 people were interviewed and only 2 could solve both problems…I was shocked. Myself and another woman were offered positions due to the fact that we could solve both problems. Don’t assume education is real knowledge, please.
September 21, 2011 at 12:35 pm #141731
“Well, ask yourself how many times some sort of directive has come down from on high in the organization, and you are now on the hook for something but you have absolutely no idea what it is they want, no opportunity to question the originator directly, and nobody above you can provide any additional clarity?”
This problem rarely arises more than 50 or 60 times a day in our agancy so I doubt it would rise to a level that would attract executive attention.
September 21, 2011 at 12:40 pm #141729
L P O’NeilParticipant
Needed skills: Critical thinking, confidence to challenge status quo, creativity and leadership. Too many government colleagues are content to follow routines and processes “just because that’s how we’ve done it” “if it ain’t broke” “why bother making waves” …etc
Trouble is, the system is broke and has been for a while. Make waves and it may make some people redundant, but change, transition and evolution usually bring rip tides and seismic activity. Be a leader from the ground up — the root of the problem, in my view, is often top-heavy, self-interested, stagnant management.
Judgement based on observation of raw data and analysis of information is useful in moving the wheel forward and avoiding larger problems. In the haze of delicate political correctness, some need to look at the long view and mitigate disaster, even if conflict is a byproduct.
Ah, look, there’s mud -quicksand- dust storm – fog – sulphurous gas ahead, better move the cart off the path.
September 21, 2011 at 12:45 pm #141727
Communication skills are very important to me, as a manager. I like to hire people who speak and write well. Good analytical skills are always appreciated, too. 🙂
September 21, 2011 at 12:55 pm #141725
I liked the article you posted. The 4 Cs most definitely should be included in any training and development program. In fact, they should be included as a part of a manager’s requirements for employment and evaluation. I disagree that it isn’t taught in schools. I believe it is taught, but it’s trained in the workplace because is not regarded as an immediate fix to any problem. I do believe schools are coming around. This is not a “why can’t Johnny read;” it’s more of “why don’t you teach him.”
Organizations are slow to change; that shouldn’t news to anyone. The good news is that old timers ill-equipped can retire early and fresh well-equipped younger executives will take their place. Among these things has to be a willingness to bring it to workplace.
I have found in my experience that innovation and creativity is more than most managers want at any given time; many managers and leaders learn about getting along, being politically correct, appropriate for the job. Creativity and innovation is risky and takes time away from the other tasks. We can run the risk of a valued employee taking too much time away from the tasks described in his or her PMAP or work plan. The routine work doesn’t get done and the manager actually penalizes the worker for creativity and innovation. We know those things are certainly more fun than the mundane, but to the manager the mundane may also be an important part of the job.
I’ve found the 4 Cs talked a lot actually–especially by political leaders who passed the word down, and found managers angling to make a creative mark, but strapped by the other requirements of the job–most of which were imposed on them by others. This is especially hard on those who go by the book, where the rules are inflexible.
I am encouraged that people we are hiring today are excited about being in government, and are anxious to do these things. The 4 Cs are taught in leadership training, at least in my classes. Teaching or training that these characteristics are important to leadership doesn’t mean we can make them proficient at their use.
September 21, 2011 at 1:01 pm #141723
In retrospect, you’re right, I guess. The critical threshold is probably somewhere around 80-90 times a day, so I should probably just keep my big yapper shut, eh? That’s me…always the alarmist.
September 21, 2011 at 1:44 pm #141721
Alarm away! I’m with you. Frustration with bureaucracy is not new. It has raised its ugly head and it does get to people. Size, layers and disconnects combined with a lack of real communicators. Sometimes they even say, “Call me if you have any questions, and if you do, what you get is a repeat of the memo or PowerPoint almost verbatim and someone implying you must be an idiot if you didn’t get it the first time.
September 21, 2011 at 1:56 pm #141719
Technology has become a crutch and an excuse not to communicate. When I contact an agency or business I do not like to go through a million prompts to reach a “live” body. Very frustrating.
September 21, 2011 at 2:19 pm #141717
Sandy Evans LevineParticipant
Excellent observations and insights, all! Clearly some talented communicators in this group! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and knowledge!
September 21, 2011 at 4:26 pm #141715
As a result of this wonderful discussion and the article and question posed, I wrote an article for The Free Management Library. You will all remain anonymous since I quoted “colleagues” and the Sandi Edwards’ article. If you want to read my article before It hits here as an RSS, here it is: http://managementhelp.org/blogs/training-and-development/2011/09/21…. Why Johnny Can’t Do the Four Cs.
September 21, 2011 at 7:44 pm #141713
I think we undervalue soft skills and the skills that help people better adapt to changing conditions. I think of sensemaking and critical thinking especially. When I talk of sensemaking; how do you make sense of the information that is currently coming at you? What is your process for picking out meaning out of information? How do you derive context? I think these are critical skills not just for today, but for tomorrow. I will be posting a blog hopefully today or tomorrow that actually talks more about this and some recent research on future skills and the future of government work…stay tuned. 🙂
September 22, 2011 at 5:52 pm #141711
Interesting article. As a “newbie” to GovLoop T&D, I’m glad to see spirited discussion of important issues. Of the 4C’s I think the one about problem-solving ranks at the top from my perspective. Unfortunately, the term “problem” comes with a lot of baggage (i.e., problems are often seen as bad things that shouldn’t have happened and a lot of effort goes into tracking down and punishing the guilty party instead of coming to grips with the situation). And, if the search isn’t for the guilty party it’s for that mythical thing called “the cause” (which doesn’t always exist and even when it does it can’t always be corrected). So, for my money the search is always for a solution – a course of action that leads to the desired results. Actually, “search” is probably a poor choice of words because solutions (i.e., courses of action that will produce the desired results) have to be configured or, to use my terminology, they have to be “engineered” (as in she engineered a turnaround in her department). So, I prefer “Solution Engineering” to problem solving and, on that score, skills and knowledge are indeed woefully lacking in the workplace. Yet, the challenge facing organizations (whether government or private sector) is for their people to be capable of configuring a suitable response to whatever situation and circumstances arise. We are far from being there so I’m glad to see some attention focused on this particular issue. By the way, I don’t see that lack of skill and knowledge as confined to young people or even to the uneducated. I know many people who have been in the workplace for many years who can’t wrestle a complex problem to the ground. That skill shortage is widespread and pervasive, even in the executive ranks.
September 22, 2011 at 6:14 pm #141709
A major problem is that some federal personnel offices over qualify people for positions. Every agency has its own method and, in my opinion, this is a major problem. Grade level does not necessarily correspond to expertise. A high grade without demonstrated performance and expertise does not impress me, as an employer.
@Jack, I agree completely about your assessment of the Four Cs.
September 22, 2011 at 9:15 pm #141707
Mr. Hammer….right on the head! As a GS05 and a 10 yr newbie to gov service, I believed that if I had a question, all I had to do was call the dept regarding the “form” and someone would help me. My first year was spent learning the names and numbers of forms I would be using, i.e. 1348, 1199, 182, etc. I made alot of calls. On one particular frustrating day, I called about a form, as I still did not understand it and was told, “You should know how to fill out this form!”, my answer was, “Look, I haven’t been here since Christ said the Last Supper, so if you would please help me through this, I would appreciate it.” If a new MARADMIN came down, it was all in CAPS, no paragraph separation, referred to a lot of directives, bulletins, policy numbers and made absolutely no sense whatsoever. And, this folks, had to be followed. Come again? Most of the time it was left up to “interpretation”, usually the supervisors. New supervisor, new interpretation. As a bottom feeder in the GS pool, don’t assume I know what you mean. I haven’t been filling out these forms, ad nauseum for 30 yrs. Granted I am a babyboomer come lately to gov service, don’t let my age fool you into thinking I have been here awhile.
September 23, 2011 at 3:02 am #141705
Emotional Intelligence … courage … mental agility
September 23, 2011 at 12:34 pm #141703
What your are talking about is definitely “tomorrow,” but I’ve seen a few attempts at it recently. At least people talk about the need for communicating better, but we still have bureaucratic and politically influenced mess we’ve always had so sensemaking and true critical thinking has a hard time getting a fair hearing. Sounds good though. I guess that’s why I always enjoyed the British comedy, “Yes, MInister,” which looks at civil service personnel doing battle with the “people’s representatives.”
Looking forward to your blog. I have a little different way of looking at “sensemaking” and “critical thinking.” It’s really getting back to the basics of what we need and how to achieve it. I’m finishing up editing my book and the title says it all, “Waiting for Darwin — The Cave Man’s Guide to Training and Development.” It’s not a guide for “Idiots,” but a common sense look at how we do things and what things we are leaving out of the equation.
September 23, 2011 at 12:41 pm #141701
It’s not just personnel, it’s supervisors as well. Not only do we give out grade promotions without real demonstrated performance, in certain circles it isn’t uncommon to prepare the way by assigning what will look like and sound like demonstrated expertise. And, we withhold real opportunities from someone we don’t want to be promoted because someone has to do the grunt work. Then, there are the people originally hired because someone saw extra talent that would be use later, but no one ever takes advantage of it. It seems we don’t value our people enough to get the best of them.
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