It happened. The federal government shutdown. But in all the coverage of the political debacle, the Senator Ted Cruz filibuster, the Obamacare riders, one thing seems to be overshadowed, the federal employees themselves.
More than a third, or 800,000, federal employees have been furloughed as of today. More than a third of the government workforce was told to go home because their work wasn't deemed essential.
But that simply isn't true. The work govies do on a daily basis matters. And it is up to us to help get that message out. To help Americans who live outside the beltway bubble to really understand what you do and why it matters.
That's why we team up with thePartnership for Public Service every week to highlight the work of the finalists for the Service to America Medals (Sammies). The Oscars for federal employees. The Sammies honor career federal employees who's work has helped save lives, cut costs and make the government a better place.
Every year the Sammies host a gala to honor the finalists and despite the shutdown Thursday's gala will go on, because now more than ever it is essential to recognize the positive power of federal service.
Tom Fox is the Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that "the timing of the Sammies couldn’t be better given the broader operating environment that federal employees are working in right now. It is sort of a unique moment in the history of this program, to be able to shine a bright spotlight on the good work that government employees do day in and day out that is oftentimes hidden to the american public."
Will feds actually show up to the gala?
"We have heard from a number of senior folks all across government that they are planning on attending even if it is in their own personal capacity. They wouldn’t miss the chance to really celebrate some exceptional career public servants," said Fox
There is a lot of woe is me going on in the federal workspace right now. That attitude is totally understandable, but is the key to getting through this to focus on the mission?
"It is going to sound counter-intuitive, but the Sammies are kind of a positively defiant moment, which is to say despite all the barriers and obstacles and challenges that we are facing right now, we are capable as public servants of doing really incredible things so let’s recognize that. You also have to remember this as a way of sustaining ourselves through some of this silliness so when we do get back on the job we don’t get stuck in this woe is me mentality. Rather we get back to the job ready to roll and ready to make things happen," said Fox.
- I had an opportunity to speak with on the finalist Michael Gottesman who is Deputy Director for Intramural Research at NIH. He is someone who is studying the most drug resistant forms of cancer as a way of saving people’s lives.
- You go from someone like that to Phillip Rosenfeld the Acting General Counsel at the Education Department, he has been instrumental in ensuring equal access to education for all students across the country.
- At another level still are the people who are doing exceptional work around the management and operations of government. We love to talk about government waste and inefficiency but in reality there is a lot of good work that folks are doing day in and day out that is making our government more efficient and effective.
"It’s especially important to highlight these successes right now. And if people have a little additional time on their hands, take particular note about how you might adapt and adopt some of these approaches to your own work when you return to the job," said Fox.
Work only the government can do
"There are some things that only our federal government can do, because there aren’t either the resources or the will to do this in other cases. I have a couple of nephews who are firefighters, one of our finalists is a fire protection engineer who has used sophisticated technologies to study fires to help save lives. There is really no other organization that is positioned to do that sort of work. It’s the same case for NIH and the superbug. We need our federal government. We need our public servants to do extraordinary work every day. Now more than ever we have to recognize it," said Fox.
How can you lead without communicating with your employees?
In many cases furloughed feds were forced to turn-in their blackberries to OMB to avoid checking their email or working while on furlough.
Fox says there are two things leaders should and need to do now.
- First it is to recognize that you have a choice in how your respond to these circumstances. There are a lot of choices you can’t make. You can’t go to work. Can’t check your email. Can’t directly communicate with your frontline workforce. But you can determine how you will respond when you do get back on the job. Do you want to be the woe is me leader? Or do you want to be the optimistic energetic leader who says that’s behind us, let’s get back to the work that makes a difference.
- The second choice then is to say ok, with whatever time I have, however long this lasts, what is it I want to do with this time? For a lot of busy feds who don’t have much time on their hands I am sure there are home improvement projects that are waiting. But in addition are there books you have been waiting to read. Books that you could and should be studying to become a better leader. Watch a Ted Talk online. Read an article on the Harvard Business Review. There are things you can do that aren’t directly related to your day job, but are related to just how effective you can be as a leader. You can use these tools to come back a little stronger and a little refreshed.
- Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work
- The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking
- Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works
- Simpler: The Future of Government
- The First 90 Days, Updated and Expanded: Proven Strategies for Gett
- Leadership and the Art of Struggle: How Great Leaders Grow Through
"We know that despite the fact that there are a lot of negative perceptions around government right now, it is not reflective of the folks who are doing the work day in and day out," said Fox.
Here are some of our favorite interviews with Sammies finalist:
- Engaging Youth in #Democracy Abroad
- Landing Curiosity, meet the man behind NASA's rover
- Meet the gov guru who reinvented websites #engagement
- Containing an outbreak, saving lives
You can see all of our Sammies interview here.
*Photo credit to Sam Kittner/Kittner.com