Management Watch

Survey: Despite lukewarm economy, IT pros are feeling pretty hot

 Despite recent reports of an influx of jobs in the technology sector, a new survey shows that some IT professionals are feeling pretty bleak about the overall economy and employment prospects but more confident about their own abilities.

The IT Employee Confidence Index, which measures overall confidence among U.S. technology workers, showed a decline from 56.2 to 47.3 in the third quarter of 2011, according to the recent research commissioned by Technisource. More than 3,800 U.S. adults, among which 257 were IT professionals, were polled for the survey.

Only 13 percent of the surveyed IT professionals said they believe the economy is improving. More than half of those polled said they believe there are fewer IT jobs now than compared to last quarter, with only 11 percent being confident that more jobs are available. And when it comes to new opportunities, less than half said they felt confident they can find a new job, down four percentage points from the previous quarter

While IT professionals expressed certain pessimism about the economy and job growth, they remained optimistic about their own abilities, according to the survey. Sixty-one percent of IT workers said they felt confident in the future of their current employer, down slightly from 70 percent last quarter. Slightly less than one-third of the surveyed IT professionals said they are likely to look for new jobs while in their current position.

Now, this survey polled those in the private sector but do you readers think government IT workers feel the same? As a federal employee, do you feel confident that you could find a new job within the IT sector (within a reasonable time, that is)? Are you eyeing new opportunities? And do you believe you have a future with your current employer? Please share in the comments below.



Posted by Camille Tuutti on Oct 26, 2011 at 12:19 PM1 comments

Future workforce will have less office space, more mobility

In the future, the concept of telework and mobility in the federal workplace will go far beyond having just laptops, according to a senior General Services Administration official who spoke at a panel discussion on mobility.

Speaking at one of the sessions at the Executive Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Va., GSA CIO Casey Coleman highlighted how mobility is going to be a key in helping her department reduce its real estate footprint. However, having a more mobile workforce will help from a bigger perspective as well, she pointed out.

“For us, the business case for mobility is not about just the [return on investment] on the IT investments; it’s really about the ROI on the initiative of the business of the whole agency,” Coleman said.

Part of the process involves bringing in more technology, including lightweight devices and ubiquitous wireless connectivity, Coleman said. But there’s more to it than that. Some employees will have to accept that they won’t have a dedicated workspace, as hoteling becomes increasingly more common, she said.

“This is not necessarily a new concept, but for the federal government it is kind of a new, different approach,” Coleman said. “You’ll have a mobility system where you sign up for your workspace or your team can sign up for a workspace. What this means is that it goes beyond having just laptops.”

Panel moderator Tom Temin, co-host of The Federal Drive on Federal News Radio, asked Coleman what would happen is someone, for example, left behind an iPad in the hoteling space: “Is it finders keepers, losers weepers?” he asked.

“It’s ‘If you lose it, we’ll wipe it!’” Coleman deadpanned, drawing a laugh from the audience.

GSA’s Denver office has been looking at what kind of work the agency’s mobile workforce does and what kind of work environment employees need, Coleman said. Two work styles that emerged were those of the Camels and the Eagles.

The Camels are people who want equipment and devices “and to carry stuff,” she said. The Eagles, on the other hand, are characterized by those who use “whatever lightweight products they can carry with them because they don’t want to be burden with a lot of equipment,” Coleman explained.

“I think it’s very important to be thinking about what kind of work employees do because one size does not fit all,” Coleman said.

When asked about her thoughts on whether there will ever be a consolidation of mobile devices -- a smart phone for telephony, a tablet for communications -- Coleman brought up the concept of bringing your own device into the federal workplace.

“I’m not sure we’ll ever get down to just one device but I do think it’s technically feasible to get to a place where any device is acceptable,” she said. “It can be a policy choice rather than necessity as to what kind of technology devices we’re going to providing to users. One policy could be bring your own [device] or the agency provides a stipend for you to purchase whatever is your most optimized productivity device.”

Posted on Oct 24, 2011 at 12:19 PM1 comments

3 tips to not be a disgruntled employee

Whether you are in the private or public sector, you probably at some point in your career have thought about doing it -- quitting a job and leaving your boss with a few well-chosen words. Although it can be very tempting to make a memorable departure -- remember JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater’s exit via an evacuation slide, holding a beer in his hand? – it's oftentimes wiser to address the issues directly and productively rather than letting emotions run amok.

While the Slater incident may strike a nerve with frustrated employees, it also serves as cautionary tales for failures in workforce communications, says Alexandra Levit, consultant and workforce expert. Here she offers advice on how to get the dialog going and how to avoid becoming a disgruntled employee – or having to deal with one.

1. Be part of the solution, not the problem.

If you have frustrations about your workplace, the first thing to do is to think about it from a rational perspective. Consider whether your issue is something that can be reasonably changed and ask yourself if you have ideas to bring to the table that could help solve the problem, Levit said.

“The worst thing you could possibly do is go to someone and just start complaining without any kind of solution whatsoever,” she said. “That’s not going to endear you to anyone. Ask whether it can reasonably be changed and whether you can come up with some logical ideas for at least implementing change on a small scale."

That small scale is important, she notes. Solutions involving big investments or hiring dozens of new employees aren't going to go over well. But if there are tweaks that can be made, approach your manager and ask for his or her guidance. Sometimes, it can be as easy as just the two of you working together on implementing something, Levit said, and other times changes could require more people and more involvement from the actual department where you work. However, your boss could be the first step in getting guidance on how to push your ideas further, she added. 

“Don’t be afraid to be proactive about conflict resolution,” Levit stressed. “If you got something that’s really bothering you, whether it’s an individual or a situation, approach it in a productive way.”

2. Be open to feedback.

When you approach your boss about a problem, don’t let your emotional turmoil overshadow any feedback you might be receiving.

“The reason your boss is your boss is hopefully because this person has leadership skills and can guide you to whether this is something that should be pursued and how to pursue it in a way that is diplomatic and politically correct, which is especially important in a government agency,” Levit said. “You don’t want to be stepping on any toes – it’s not going to look good.”

If you’re on the other side and as a manager have to deal with a disgruntled employee, communications is key. Be open and listen to your employee and really think about what he or she has to say. Are his or her frustrations valid? Is this the first time these issues have been brought to light?

Managers should also realize that a dustup could occasionally be a much better alternative to an employee who “simmers and simmers for months on end,” Levit said.

“I’m not saying it’s good for an employee to go ranting and raving about their company,” she said, “but at least you got something that you can really say is a huge problem and it needs to be fixed.’

3. Worst-case scenario? Do damage control.

After State Department official Kirit Amin in early October criticized his employer in an interview with Federal News Radio, it took two days and a denunciation from the American Foreign Service Association before he issued his mea culpa. In most cases, the window to do effective damage control is limited, especially if you have been quoted by the media or have taken to social media to vent. If social media have been your weapon of choice, the first thing to do when you begin feeling regret over what you have said is to remove the offending post or tweet you posted, Levit said.

“There’s a lot that should never be posted online, such as anything political or anything remotely defamatory in anyway” she said. “You have to think about what you type online because it’s public and it will get out and to the person who shouldn’t be reading it.”

Twitter, especially, can be “really, really dangerous, because it’s not a private forum in any stretch of the imagination,” Levit said.

“Complains about your work, your boss – it’s temping because you feel it’s a manner of self-expression; you’re letting off steam,” she said. But before you log on, “call your mom or your best friend, go out and have a drink and make sure no one is sitting there listening!’

If the offending post cannot be removed and shows up in online searches, Levit suggests pushing as much positive content so that the negative content gets dropped down in the search results.

“If you can’t make it go away and everyone has seen it, you have to go to the people who matter and say, ‘You know what? I did this and it was a mistake and I learned my lesson. I promise it will never happen again.’ Take responsibility for the fact that it was a bad choice,” she said.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Oct 21, 2011 at 12:19 PM5 comments

How to turn telework naysayers around

What can feds do to get resistant senior management on board with telework?

One tactic that's been successful: Implement a small pilot program first, said panelists  who spoke at the Telework Exchange's Telework  Town Hall on Oct. 18.

With telework becoming increasingly popular within the federal government, some departments still struggle to get everyone to realize the benefits of a mobile, flexible workforce. However, some feds have fully embraced telework and continue to push forward despite the obstacles, said participants in one of the panel discussions at today’s event in the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown D.C.

The leadership at the Agriculture Department "truly does walks the walk, and they ensure that everyone is held accountable for upholding USDA’s strong strategic telework program goals," said Mika Cross, work life and wellness program manager, at the USDA's Office of Human Resources Management.

Arleas Upton Kea, director of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's division of administration, highlighted her department's view of telework as serving a larger purpose. 

"One of the things we've learned is that telework is not just something that’s nice to have, but it's really essential to us in meeting our mission," she said. But, she added, telework is "a benefit, not an automatic entitlement."

The panelists acknowledged that telework had presented several major roadblocks within their agencies, especially in terms of attitudes.Cross noted that one major obstacle was dealing with "supervisory management resistance" and overcoming the idea of "if we don’t see you, you’re not there."

There are currently more than 70,000 USDA employees who are eligible to telework, Cross said, and the agency has in the past 60 days also deployed a new reporting metrics tool to better track the performance of teleworkers.

Still, some agencies are reluctant to follow in those footsteps, the panelists said. Upton Kea offered a tip to agencies that are considering implementing telework but are meeting resistance from upper management.

"When we saw that there were a lot of naysayers, we relied upon what we know about our senior managers and our workforce: They tend to like not making firm commitments," she said and detailed how her team decided to opt for a pilot program that would allow for adjustments to be made if needed and for policies to be reviewed.

Telework has become a key component in USDA’s cultural transformation initiatives and has been embedded in the strategic road map as well, Cross said. However, there remains a lot of work to be done in fine tuning certain aspects, she acknowledged

"We haven’t cracked the nut yet; we’re still working on things like standardizing vacancy announcement for all the positions that are eligible to participate in telework so we can really [up] recruitment and return on investment that way, " Cross said.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Oct 18, 2011 at 12:19 PM11 comments

Men vs. women in career advancement: Who's winning?

If you've been in the workforce for a while, you probably know how to get ahead. No-brainers such as staying late and networking with higher-ups are probably part of your repertoire. That should help you get that upper hand at work, right? Not so fast, especially if you're a woman, says a new study by Catalyst.

According to "The Myth of the Ideal Worker: Does Doing All The Right Things Really Get Women Ahead?" report, common career strategies are often useless to women. The study revealed that taking on new assignments to develop extra skills and letting the boss they were willing to work long hours had no impact on women's advancement or their salaries, writes BNET's Kimberly Weisul.

Catalyst polled 3,345 young professionals on what kind of career advancement strategies they had used and found that the same career advancement strategies don't always work as well for women as they do for men. For example, doing all the right things doesn't level the playing field for women. Even when women used tactics that were known to help professionals advance, they still did so less than their male counterparts and had slower pay growth.

For men, switching jobs spend up compensation growth but slowed it for women. Men who were at their second post-MBA employer on average earned nearly $14,000 more by 2008 than those who stayed with their first-post MBA employer. In contrast, changing jobs seemed to have a negative effect on women's compensation growth.

But what did work best for women in terms of career advancement were making their achievements known and gaining access to powerful individuals. For men, gaining access to powerful people also contributed to greater advancement. However, in terms of compensation growth, men most effectively upped their salary by conducting external scans and showing a willingness to work long hours, the report found.

Posted on Oct 14, 2011 at 12:19 PM7 comments

How to be an innovative fed

With all the buzz surrounding innovation in government, how can federal employees overcome some of the red tape and get to the actual innovating? Hint: It’s all about persevering and thinking ahead, says Tom Fox, vice president for leadership and innovation at the Partnership for Public Service. He spoke with Management Watch to share his insight on how feds can bring their ideas into fruition and what agencies can do to foster a culture of innovation.

Q: How do you become an innovative fed?

A: I think that the first thing is to have the characteristic of persistence. Oftentimes, folks are under the impression that innovation is about the next big idea. You can’t overlook the importance of creativity. But I think that the trait that distinguishes folks to deliver results is persistence [despite] indirect or direct opposition.

Q: How do you best implement and realize an innovative idea?

A: If you want to try to implement an innovative idea, you have approach it almost like a second job. Recognize that you probably have to go beyond your traditional duties to work on this. In the federal space, they want to know how much does it cost and how will they take this idea into implementation? So you actually have to invest ahead of time to think through the sort of questions other folks will be asking.

Q: What are some of the hurdles feds have to overcome in terms of pitching their ideas to management?

A: The first thing is the fear factor. A lot of times, folks are afraid. Someone might not like their ideas, so overcoming that fear factor is the first thing. Have some recognition that the idea is good and worthy. The second thing is, before you go and pitch an idea to a leader or senior executive, share your idea with some other folks. Approach colleagues whose opinions you trust and who would give you honest feedback. A trait of really successful innovators is that they share ideas readily with people.

Q: What areas in government are in most need of innovative ideas? Is it mostly where there’s money to be saved or where something can be made more efficient?

A: I think it’s hard to separate the two. Certainly, you’re more likely to get an audience for your idea if it will increase efficiency or save money. Look for the $25, 24-hour solution. Just try something out and see what works and collect ideas from other people. Get their feedback and see how you might be able to refine your idea.

Q: How can agencies best foster a culture of innovation?

A: There are a couple of things. One is for senior leadership to let folks know that, ‘we’re really hungry for your ideas right now.’ Oftentimes, folks don’t realize just how much flexibility they already have and they think they have to ask for permission. Really try to set boundaries as to where people need to ask for permission and where they can just go and do things differently. The second thing is to reward folks for their innovation. And by reward, I don’t mean necessarily mean a financial reward; it could simply be recognition that someone is helping the agency.

Q: Who are some of the most influential government leaders who could serve as inspiration to current and future innovators?

A: I think Todd Park [CTO at the Department of Health and Human Services] needs to go on that list. I think he has the impact and influence beyond his title or his agency. When we talk to folks all across the government who are doing work that’s described as innovation or innovative, everyone says is that [federal CTO] Aneesh Chopra is one who is providing all the support in the system folks need to push the boundaries. But beyond that, there are a lot of folks who are trying little things at different agencies and oftentimes that work is never labeled innovation. So often the greatest inspirations are folks like our Service to America Medal winners. You look at what those folks are doing and it’s exceptionally innovative and results driven. But they’re just doing their work -- they don’t see it as innovation per se.  


Posted by Camille Tuutti on Oct 13, 2011 at 12:19 PM0 comments

Government stars rock the house at FedTalks 2011

It’s not every day you can find the best and the brightest tech minds and government innovators under the same roof. But yesterday it happened when FedScoop hosted FedTalks 2011 at the Warner Theatre, featuring a speaker lineup of what event emcee Chris Dorobek described as “government rock stars.”

After David McClure, associate administrator at GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, delivered his opening keynote on citizen engagement, federal CTO Aneesh Chopra took the stage to address the need to innovate, engage and get involved.

“This is an exciting time to be an innovator in America,” Chopra began telling the crowd, then suddenly spotted Craigslist founder Craig Newmark in the audience. “Craig Newmark, you made it. What’s up, brother? Thank you for coming. It’s like 3 a.m. California time for this guy!”

Chopra quickly resumed to the topic of the day, telling the crowd about the innovation movement he said has taken hold. As example, he spoke of Victor Garcia, a Mexican immigrant who came to the U.S. at age 5. After finishing high school, Victor didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do so he enrolled in a community college and waited tables to make ends meet. Moving from Texas to California, Victor enrolled in a technical institute and decided he wanted to design vehicles.

“Now, if you looked at his resume at the time he engaged in this job market, it wouldn’t be exactly obvious to you that he’d be the lead candidate for solving some of our nation’s most intractable problems, especially in the area of manufacturing,” Chopra said. “Yet, that’s exactly who Victor Garcia is.”

DARPA last year issued a challenge to reduce the time by 80 percent to design and prototype a combat support vehicle. More than 20,000 people participated, among them Garcia, whose submission Flypmode won the contest.

The Flypmode won “not because of his resume or his background or his credentials, in an RFP example, not because of his statement of purpose but because he produced a product that his peers from around the country determined was best in class,” Chopra said.

That design was then turned into a prototype production vehicle and in less than five months, the final version was driven to Pittsburgh, Pa., where the keys were handed to President Obama.

“There are Victor Garcias in every neighborhood, thinking about the problems of our day, our health care challenges, our energy challenges, our education challenges, the challenges many of us are cynical to think we can make progress on given the difficulties we have in Washington reaching consensus,” Chopra said. “There they are – innovators simply asking for an opportunity to shine.”

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry echoed his colleague’s ideas in his management keynote and spoke about innovation in the federal space and the importance of collaboration.

“Anyone who suffers from the misconception that federal employees aren’t innovators and aren’t caring about innovation just needs to look around in this room,” Berry said, surveying the crowd. “Every one of you is here, looking for ways to do it better, do it faster, do it cheaper and do it more effectively.”

After the passage of the Affordable Care Act, “OPM and HHS got a chance to do a little bit of innovation of our own,” Berry said. Within 60 days, the team had to create a pre-existing condition insurance plan for 24 states and the District of Columbia and then launch it. “And if that’s not a mandate for innovation, I don’t know what is,” Berry jokingly said. “But we did it. We did it on time and we did it with an overhead of 0.08 percent.”

It’s when technology manages to bring people together that it becomes the most powerful, OPM’s self-proclaimed chief people officer said, but offered some caution against allowing technology to become overbearing.

“That’s the overarching power of the Internet, the cell phone and the services and half-dozen devices that we use every day – they bring people together,” Berry said. “But if we’re not careful, our excitement with the tech can overshadow the purpose of that connection.”

Leaders and innovators “have got to be constantly approachable,” Berry said. An elevator ride could be used to interact with people instead of staring at a mobile device, he said, because the next big idea “that pulls your bacon out of the fire is not necessarily your idea.”


Posted by Camille Tuutti on Oct 12, 2011 at 12:19 PM0 comments