Panel: Networking, motivation key to middle managers’ success

Building a strong network, cultivating the best ideas from an organization and encouraging employees to do their best are crucial strategies for middle managers in the federal government, a panel of government experts said today.

They gathered at the Excellence in Government 2006 conference in Washington, D.C., to share tips for middle managers to inspire their employees to perform better and meet organizational goals.

Being proactive and embracing risks to improve performance and employee satisfaction are essential for middle managers, the panel members said.

“Proceed until apprehended,” said Geoff Abbott, a retired U.S. Coast Guard captain. “It’s amazing what you can get away with.”

“When you’re operating in a vacuum, take the lead,” Abbott added.

Not everyone is blessed with good managers, so offices must make do with what they have, said Susan Raymie, head of the Young Professionals Society at the State Department. She also helped create Younggovernmentleaders.org, a similar group for young professionals at all federal agencies.

The biggest difference between the private sector and government is that government has many more middle managers, and they don’t communicate well with one another, Raymie said.

In the private sector, communication about goals, objectives and the development to reach them is constant, she said. Government managers don’t receive such training or forget it, she said.

The government spends a lot less time on employee development than the private sector does, said James Trinka, former chief learning officer at the FBI. He announced that today was his first day on the job as director for training and development for air traffic operations at the Federal Aviation Administration.

Many managers squander their employees’ passion to do great things, Trinka said.

Employees have a lot of discretionary energy, Raymie said. If managers don’t tap it, employees should find ways to tap it themselves.

The bottom line is employees' work reflects on managers, so the managers have a stake in ensuring that the employees have developed their talents, said Don Jacobson, a management analyst at State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs and creator of Govleaders.org, which provides free content on improving management and leadership.

Doing public service and taking pride in their work motivate almost every federal employee, Trinka said. A recent survey of federal employees found that 98 percent are motivated by pride in their work, he said.

“Wouldn’t it be great to have a leader to tell us where we’re going and this is why we need you to get there?” he asked.

Average managers do what their managers tell them, while good managers also ask their workers for input, ideas and support to reach organizational goals, Trinka said.

Good managers transfer some of the decision-making and ownership for projects to employees, Abbott said.

Managers need to lead in a network-centric world, which includes networks of people, not just technology, Trinka said. All good leaders have strong networks, he added.

Managers can expand their networks and partner for success, Abbott said. They can work with allies and even potential adversaries to find out what helps and hinders organizational goals, he said.

Managers can also become experts in their fields, Abbott said. People throughout the chain of command will consult them, broadening the experts’ networks and improving their ability to lead and manage, he said.

Middle managers often find it difficult to get direct access to decision-makers, Abbott said. The managers need concise messages, like a 30-second elevator pitch, when talking to them, he said.

Audience members suggested ways to get face time with top executives. They suggested exercising at the same time and place, taking decision-makers out to lunch and building relationships with special assistants and assistant chiefs of staff.

Informal, off-the-record brown-bag lunches where senior officials chat with employees can also be effective, Raymie said.

“It’s amazing what you can learn that way,” Abbott said.

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