The power of public sector innovators
A bloated federal government...inefficiency...bureaucracy...the perceptions still linger, but in my fifteen years of working in Washington, D.C., I have witnessed the excellence of the American government. I recently had the pleasure of attending the Partnership for Public Service’s Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals (a.k.a. The Sammies) award ceremony in Washington. That night, the incredible achievements of seven federal government workers in diverse fields were celebrated and appreciated.
Two themes were going through my head during the presentations in the various categories: first, the government does amazing things, from promoting civil society around the globe to building safe freeways systems across town. Second, the private and public sectors are more closely linked than many people perceive and need to work closer together.
At the Sammies, senators, cabinet secretaries, and others lauded the finalists and their achievements, which included:
Aiding in the rehabilitation of combat amputees using sports medicine
Developing the science and championed the policies that helped prevent AIDS in children around the world
Creating a smartphone application that allows customs and border agents in the field to access law enforcement databases in real time
Reducing veterans’ homelessness by 12 percent in one year
- Saving the U.S. Navy nearly $2 billion with efficient management of acquisition and procurement.
The details are on the Service to America web site, but it is clear that such diverse accomplishments require an equally wide range of competencies and skills.
Although the winners were lauded for public service, there are links between their work and the private/commercial world. The Dean of American University’s Kogod School of Business recently said in an interview that he advises his students that the public and private sectors are not at all separate. What the government legislates or decides in the executive branch very quickly affects private sector decision-making. I second that. Indeed, we would benefit from narrowing any gap.
A forum for all the Sammies finalists and their private sector counterparts, for example, would be a great event. Keeping the accomplishments and lessons learned in the forefront, and indeed shining the spotlight on federal workers for a little longer, would spark ideas on collaboration, leadership, and innovation.
Another way to capitalize on the award-winners’ and finalists’ accomplishments is by assessing their leadership using our own viaEDGE, Choices, and Decision Styles. What competencies, leadership skills, and “intangibles” do these folks have that contributed to their success? Medal winners had the talent to achieve, and the support and trust of management to do what they do best. It would be interesting to compare the assessment results across the government and the private sector. How would the government leaders compare to Korn/Ferry’s database of best-in-class profiles of corporate leaders as a whole?
Although our federal government struggles at times with public perception, it accomplishes significant and occasionally amazing things for our country. Imagine the possibilities if we could better understand what makes for a best-in-class leader in the federal workforce? How much easier will the roles of the Chief Human Capital Officers within the different agencies and departments become? How many more government employees might we see who are similar to their Sammie-award winning brethren? How hard might the Sammies panel job become having to choose between so many amazing candidates?