Partnership for Public Service creates leadership institute for innovation

Thirty-two career federal employees will begin a seven-month leadership development program today at a new executive training institute created by the Partnership for Public Service (PPS).

Established with a grant from the Annenberg Foundation, the institute will help federal agencies find innovative solutions to some of their most perplexing management problems, officials said at the launch event.

Members of the first class will work to develop new approaches to problems such as hiring and retaining mission-critical employees, ensuring food safety and improving homeland security measures. “We’re calling it an innovation leadership laboratory,” said Tom Fox, the institute’s director.

Federal agencies provide many excellent executive training programs, Fox said. The challenge for PPS was to create a program that did not duplicate those efforts. Fox said the team focus of the Annenberg Leadership Institute sets it apart from other federal executive training programs.

“We met with over 100 individuals in the public, private and nonprofit sectors to get a real sense of what’s out there and what the gaps [are] and where can we really add value,” Fox said.

For example, the program will teach midlevel career federal employees new approaches to basic supervisory and management responsibilities. For that portion of the curriculum, the institute will use private-sector management experts at Lockheed Martin as instructors, Fox said. They’ve developed courses that don't just cover how to fill out a basic performance management form, he said, but rather how to set clear expectations and motivate high performers to even greater levels of achievement — and how to have those difficult, candid conversations with employees who aren’t doing their work.

The institute will also expose the 2008 Annenberg Fellows to innovation experts from IDEO, a design firm that created the first computer mouse for Apple. “They basically committed their expertise to help this group of 32 midlevel federal employees from seven different agencies learn those same sorts of skills and figure out how they can apply them to real issues confronting their agencies,” Fox said.

The institute’s inaugural class consists of six teams of five members each from different organizations within the same agency. The teams represent the Energy, Agriculture and Homeland Security departments; and the Veterans Health, Small Business, and Food and Drug administrations. Two officials from the Office of Management and Budget are also part of the class.

Among the 2008 fellows are physicians, law enforcement officials and research pharmacists with Ph.D degrees. The gender ratio is 55 percent female to 45 percent male. Most of the participants selected for the inaugural class are in their 30s to early 40s. About 40 percent of the class members live outside the Washington metropolitan area. Most are GS-13 and GS-14 career civil service employees.

One of them is Christine Edie, a clinical pharmacy specialist in pharmacoeonomics at VHA in Cincinnati who has worked at VHA for more than 10 years. “I felt I was at a point in my career where I needed to do more, and this is really going to be an awesome springboard,” Edie said. Her team’s project will be finding innovative ways to recruit physicians, nurses and pharmacists needed to fill mission-critical positions at VHA.

Agencies participating in the institute's first-year program will pay no tuition or fees for their employees to be in the leadership program, Fox said. “We want to use this year to figure out how can we provide the absolute greatest value to these agencies at the lowest possible cost.”

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