We expect a lot from our government. Despite frequent funding constraints, we still expect agencies to deliver quality results to the public. High expectations externally drive high ones internally. As a result, government agencies are incredibly mission-driven. So when employees in the public sector act, their managers expect those actions to directly align with the agency’s mission. Anything not explicitly tied to that goal is frequently seen as a waste of time, money and resources.
But is a solely mission-driven focus the wrong approach? Tom Fox believes it is. As Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service, Fox studies how new approaches to management can spark positive changes in the workplace.
In an interview with Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program, Fox argued that managers in the public sector must invest in professional development to build better leaders in their office and become better leaders themselves.
From People to Professionals
According to Fox, being a good mentor and coach is the number one attribute of most successful leaders. To be the best leader, you have to have the best team of people behind you. And to get the best team, you have to invest in developing your employees’ professional skills.
Meeting your organization’s goals is “…really about putting people first…[and] helping them develop,” Fox said. It seems like a simple concept, but the public sector has found it difficult in practice.
Because government organizations typically measure success in terms of a bottom line, federal agencies sometimes neglect employee development. Despite being difficult to fit into a cost/benefit analysis, Fox contends that professional development is essential to fostering a successful work environment. “
Developing employees yields both short- and long-term dividends. “If you as a leader are engaged in developing your people, they feel more committed to you as a leader and to the workplace,” Fox argued. If you are committed to your employees, they will be committed to you and your agency’s goals. Empowered by your coaching and driven by your passion, individuals will put more effort to achieve those goals.
“Defining that bottom line is difficult,” Fox admitted. However, companies like Google in the private sector are already reaping the rewards of professional coaching, and Fox believes the public sector should do the same.
With coaching, individuals will not only feel your commitment to them, but they’ll also become more effective professionals over time.
Don’t Give the Fish
So what is professional coaching exactly? Good coaching engages employees in the short term and develops the workforce over the long term. Fox and his colleague Jeff O’Malley came up with an acronym to help managers move away from plain feedback into more active engagement with their employees. That acronym is RICEQ.
RICEQ stands for results, intuition, curiosity, empowerment and questioning. Good managers should learn what their employees are curious about. They shouldn’t simply engage in developmental conversations for the sake of development. “They need to be tied to some results,” Fox stressed. Laying out short- and long-term goals with an employee that incorporates things that they are passionate about will motivate them to work harder to achieve those goals.
Integrating individual aspirations with an overall agency mission may seem like a complicated task. However, Fox emphasized that intuition and questioning are two elements at the heart of making that essential connection.
Managers must use their intuition to look beyond individuals’ technical skills and analytical capabilities. Each person is driven by different motivations and sets of expectations. Good leaders use their intuition to connect with their employees and figure out what they can do as a leader to support them.
Good managers should also use questions to facilitate new approaches to tasks. Managers must distinguish between telling someone what to do and asking questions that allow employees to discover alternative paths “of their accord,” Fox explained. A good coach opens up possibilities by asking questions. Allowing individuals to discover answers themselves will help them grow as a professional and ease your own burden as a manager over time.
If simple feedback is “giving the fish,” the RICEQ model is teaching employees to catch the fish on their own.
Fox contends that even the busiest managers should make time to coach their employees. It doesn’t take a formal meeting with each individual. Managers could carve out short increments of time to strike up a quick, informal conversation to check in with someone. Managers could also use meeting time to discuss challenges their employees are facing with tasks and ways to address those challenges.
Employing RICEQ could help the public sector develop a more effective and driven workforce. So while it may seem like a small change, setting aside time to figure out how individuals can achieve their goals could help you achieve yours and your agency’s goals in the process.