GPO staff head to class

E-learning courses teach how to resolve conflicts and build communities

Federal executives rarely set out to reinvent the agencies they lead. That is something corporate executive officers do when companies need reinvigorating. But Bruce James, the U.S. public printer, is more like a 21st-century chief executive officer, and he is determined to turn around what he says is a slumping business.

The U.S. Government Printing Office, for example, has experienced a more than $77 million net loss in sales of government documents during the past five years because more people download free electronic versions.

As GPO's top official, James said his job is to transform the agency from a tradition-bound 19th- century printing business into a contemporary 21st-century electronic processing operation. And as part of that transformation, he is sending supervisors and managers back to the classroom.

"We want to build a community that is supportive as we go through these changes," said Steve Patrick, director of workforce development, education and training at GPO. He is the first person to hold the position, which James created to help transform the agency's workplace culture.

One of Patrick's responsibilities is to carry out GPO's new policy requiring all executives, managers, supervisors and team leaders to take several classroom and online courses. For example, one class about transformational leadership helps students understand change and improve communications skills. E-learning courses cover topics such as building communities and resolving conflicts.

"Building Community," for example, is a course about how to foster emotionally satisfying relationships at work. An executive at Ninth House, an e-learning company that produced the course, described it as a soft-skills course.

For any organization undergoing significant changes, it is important to get employees learning to work together in new ways, said Rosslyn Kleeman, a fellow at the National Academy of Public Administration and a distinguished executive-in- residence at George Washington University's Graduate School of Public Policy and Public Administration.

A few managers might not like the back-to-school approach, but many of them probably enjoy soft-skills training, Kleeman said. "We all like to talk about ourselves, and we like to talk about how we feel about things," she said. "People enjoy answering questions about themselves and learning something in the process. I'd be curious to know how it comes out."

Although supervisors and managers can complete the e-learning courses at home, the transformational leadership and other courses that GPO offers its employees require classrooms. As a result, GPO officials have had to expand their space from two training classrooms to five, and from two computer classrooms to three.

To complete the transformational leadership course, GPO officials spend 40 hours in a classroom during 12 months. About 350 people this year are taking the Web-based courses, which take three to four hours to complete.

One aspect of e-learning that cannot be neglected, Patrick said, is a need to offer incentives for people to complete the courses. Patrick said brown-bag lunch discussions work as incentives and allow people to share feedback from the courses.

Patrick said he will be satisfied with the classroom and e-learning program if managers develop what he hopes will be a common language and approach to dealing with the many challenges that GPO faces.

Building a community

Clifton Taulbert, who wrote "Eight Habits of the Heart," is the author of an e-learning course that all Government Printing Office supervisors and managers are required to complete.

Here are several of the major lessons in the course, "Building Community."

  • Emotionally satisfying relationships are the lifeblood of any place we call work or home.
  • An organization with a sense of community brings out the best in employees.
  • Unselfish acts make up the building blocks of a community.
  • Communities foster habits of the heart, which are a nurturing attitude, responsibility, dependability, friendship, brotherhood, high expectations, courage and hope.

Source: Ninth House

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