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Federal managers: Room for improvement?

How good is your manager?

While it may be true that the federal workforce is top-notch, or at least, pretty darn good, it's also true that a bad manager can sink an otherwise good organization.

So how can agencies help managers improve?

In recent articles, one a feature on performance management and one on what agencies need to do to retain employees, readers who responded with comments offered some perspectives.

The answer could start with government leaders choosing good people to put into management positions, one reader wrote. “There are certainly a few good managers/leaders in the federal government that have actually earned the respect of their employees and deserve to be in those positions. Unfortunately, that number is far and few between. The federal government still does not know how to pick the appropriate people for leadership positions. As long as they refuse to address this problem, the government will always be operating at far below acceptable standards and will continue to loose the good employees that they need to retain.”

Training is important for managers, wrote another reader, a General Services Administration employee. “In the '90s, GSA pushed for a trained supervisory force whose sole purpose was to be supervisors. Much training was required and extra training encouraged. However, over the years, the atmosphere regressed to the 'Your supervisory duties are in addition to your normal ones.' attitude. Supervision training on even the basics for procedures, regulations and restriction have decreased, and extra courses on how to be a good supervisor are rarely encouraged. … It is time for a change in the attitude that supervision is not a career but rather an additional duty.”

Managers should be willing to tackle the more unpleasant aspects of the job – including denying step raises to poor performers even though they'll have to spend some time defending the decision, wrote another reader.

“Managers like the sunshiney, easy aspects of their jobs, but not the more unsavory aspects inherent to a managerial position,” that reader wrote. “I've worked in both private and public sector jobs, as a supervisor and employee. It's a fallacy to say that private sector management doesn't also have to do lengthy reviews of below-standard staff ratings and performance evaluations. They must do so due to myriad issues and ramifications that could result from such an unfavorable action.”

Posted on Apr 26, 2011 at 12:18 PM

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Reader comments

Tue, May 3, 2011

I would have loved manager training and mentoring when I was a manager.Instead, I'm apprenhensive about moving up and becoming a fed manager again.

Tue, May 3, 2011 RT

My favorite read was published by the Harvard Press - the "No Assholes Rule" which should be required reading for each and every leader in Government. I don't buy every idea in the book but it helps you understand that leaders often select their managers in their own image and that from time to time we are all what the title says. This is a real book and not a joke.

Sat, Apr 30, 2011 Johnny Camp Zama

Of all the articles posted that address the workforce, this article makes sense. Adding, should other great ideas such as NSPS pay for performance be instituted, do that with management. Grade them on how well they perform, centralize grading decisions and promotions. This might work at the right level.

Wed, Apr 27, 2011 Virginia

To Interested Party's thoughts: you can even threaten your co-workers with grevious bodily harm over and over where you've created a completely hostile and unsafe work environment and it will still take your supervisor, HR, and Legal many, many man-hours of work to suspend you, let alone remove you permanently from your position. Fortunately, with the video functions on cell phones - the chances of "well you didn't actually witness the altercation" as being a hindrance are decreasing.

Wed, Apr 27, 2011 DC

I was happy to see this article regarding the substandard management that the federal government has for the most part. I was also sad because there is no oversight and the problem will continue to florish. All the training in the world will not change things if the people selected are not management/leadership material. These people attend the training but do not apply what they are told. Instead they abuse their power of authority and do exactly as they please regardless of right or wrong. I am also at GSA and have worked in the private sector prior to joining the federal government. In the time that I have been at GSA, I have yet to encounter a manager that is good and has the respect of their employees. At least one organization within GSA has a wide spread reputation of having extremely poor management starting from the top down. Part of the problem within that organization is that people are choosen based on favortism (who you know and who likes you)and not on merit and leadership. This practice breeds one inept manager after another because anyone who does not meet the above criteria is never given an opportunity to manage and lead. There is no oversight e.g. the organization that is being referenced has 5 SESs with a 6th SES to join shortly. Why does an organization with approx 75 employees require 6 SESs and approxly 20 - 15s along with an equaly high number of 14s, 13s, etc.? This is a current example of only one organization within GSA, imagine similar situations that exist across the Federal government. Deplorable. For this reason alone pay for performance and other such recommendations will never be successful because the people in power will continue to give the accolades to those they like regardless of merit.

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