Lisagor: New kids on the block

I have worked for and managed many individuals who migrated from government to industry. Their transitions have not always been smooth.

Some of the most painful experiences involved government executives who were immediately placed in central leadership roles by their new employers. The employers assumed a seasoned manager should be able to immediately manage a new culture. It was an unfortunate assumption.

I have distinct memories of one fresh-out-of-the-Army general who spent the first six months in shock when none of his staff responded to his forceful orders. Accustomed to relying on a cadre of junior officers, he didn't adjust to the minimal corporate overhead structure. Eventually, he was moved to a new program development corporate staff position in which he flourished.

Some individuals make the transition quickly. But for many, there is an adjustment period and expectations must be realistic so that the new employee isn't set up to fail.

Retirees must carefully define their values to a prospective employer. Industry officials are always on the lookout for government information technology managers with strong ties to agency decision-makers.

New entrants into the commercial sector, however, should ensure that their new positions will allow them to exercise their management strengths, not just their contacts. Management skills are more enduring than rapidly changing agency organizational charts.

Some people might consider taking the consulting route if they are comfortable with sales and can legally engage in marketing activities.

Every organization has a unique culture. New employees, regardless of where they came from, would do well to ask probing questions about their prospective employers. How do they do business? Do they respect ex-government managers for their considerable prior experience? Do they value team players or independent producers? Do they provide broad technical and administrative support or expect each manager to stand alone? Are they family-friendly or do they expect employees to work long hours? What are the consequences of failing to produce expected results? Does the organization have a collaborative environment or a dictatorial hierarchy? Do the managers even know the difference?

Join an organization without diligently asking such questions at your own risk.

All my observations about this transition from government to private industry are second-hand. In the final analysis, most government managers find that they have a place in private industry. Their first employer is often an experiment, but eventually most make their mark as dedicated and talented professionals.

Lisagor is program co-chairman for the e-Gov Program Management Summit. He is president of Celerity Works LLC, which helps information technology executives accelerate and manage business growth. He can be reached at

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