Wooing the right managers to lead and develop employees is no trivial task. Whether they’re homegrown or recruited from outside the agency, managers play a vital role in how their direct reports view the organization and their role in it.
“One of the primary reasons someone leaves a job is because of the relationship with their supervisor,” said Sydney Rose, CHCO at the Labor Department. People want managers whom they respect and who also respect them.
That’s why soft skills, particularly organizational empathy, are critical, said David Bray, Chief Information Officer at the Federal Communications Commission. In fact, that was one of the main attributes Bray looked for when hiring his deputy and associate CIOs.
“I think that’s so key because when you are taking on the role of being a manager, probably the best analogy is you’re being given the gift of fire, in the sense that fire can warm people, it can provide good food, it can create a place of festivity to gather around, but fire can also scald and do other things,” he said. “And so when you’re given the gift of fire, you have to know how to use it well.”
But recruiting isn’t just a one-way street, and hiring managers aren’t the only ones making decisions. Potential candidates are deciding if the agency is a good fit for them and if they want to be managers. “What we have seen over the last few years is there are fewer incentives to go into management,” Rose said.
With that in mind, Rose and Bray shared some practical tips for bringing stellar managers on board.
Consider incentives for potential managers, such as student loan repayment. Under this type of agreement, the agency would agree to pay off student loans in exchange for a commitment for service from the employee. Such options could be more enticing than retirement packages or other benefits for younger managers who are plagued by loan debts.
Look for people who can serve as facilitators, cultivators or champions of a team, Bray said. These types of people help employees take on obstacles that they may not want to face because they’re too hard or uninterested.
Find managers who exude organizational empathy. Bray defined this as an awareness of or willingness to understand the narratives across the organization (what people believe to be true), an awareness of the values in the organization (what motivates and discourages people) and an awareness of the trust relationships and the degree of trust between individuals, offices and teams.
Effectively sell the mission and opportunities available to managers at your agency. It’s not the money that ultimately wins over candidates, who could get paid much more in the private sector. It’s the sense of mission and the ability to take on unique and impactful opportunities only government affords.
Inspire future managers and leave them wanting to know more about your organization. Bray does this through social media and by speaking about FCC endeavors at events that put him in front of hundreds of potential managers. He has also recognized that public service has multiple paths. Maybe someone is interested in service but would rather do it as a contractor. Be open to those options.
Don’t give management roles as rewards for people who are good at their craft, whether that’s solving technical problems or routinely meeting deadlines. The skills that made someone accomplished in that role likely are not the skills that will make them good managers. If you promote that person, you have to train them, Rose said. “You’re suddenly asking a right-handed person to write with their left hand, but we’re not going to help them?”
The cost of not preparing and hiring stellar managers is insupportable, Rose noted. “People will not be productive, they will not be engaged and the organization will start hemorrhaging. You’ll have an attrition rate that’s even higher than the normal high [you’re] preparing for.”