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Federal Coach: Obama asks federal employees for their suggestions on government efficiency

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

“What do you think?”

It’s a simple question, but one that federal managers routinely should be asking of their employees if they want an engaged workforce.

Last week, President Obama personally asked federal employees in a video message for their ideas about how to make government more effective and efficient, particularly around efforts to increase trade, exports and our country’s overall competitiveness.

The president’s message is a great example of how federal leaders can involve their employees in solving agency problems. It’s important to ask your employees for help, because as the president said, those on the front lines “know what works and what doesn’t.”

Of course, asking for help is just the start. For this effort to be a success, it’s imperative that you tap into the knowledge and skills of your employees. To do so, let’s examine the president’s initiative as a starting point for creating best practices for your own efforts:

  • Ask for help. The president’s video was a powerful message to employees across the federal government, and they responded by offering more than 3,000 ideas after the first day. When asking your employees for ideas on improving your agency’s effectiveness and efficiency, it’s important that you get a broad cross-section of your team offering new ideas (not only ideas from those who tend to speak up). Consider using a team meeting, email or a conference call–especially if you have employees in the field–to deliver your personal request asking for help.
  • Collect and select. You need to listen to your employees’ ideas. The White House has set up a website, http://governmentreform.ideascale.com/, where federal employees can offer ideas, vote on the ones they consider the best, or leave comments to improve upon the submissions. From this feedback, those earning the top votes will receive the highest consideration from the White House. While you don’t necessarily need a website, you will need a tool that allows you to collect, consider and select ideas to pursue.
  • Implement.This is perhaps the trickiest step, and we have yet to see how the White House will manage this process. The death of any suggestion program occurs when those offering ideas do not see signs of progress. You should also consider having a mechanism for making other great ideas–that for whatever reason did not make the cut–a reality. For example, you could send a personal email to those who submitted ideas, saying that you hope they’ll experiment with a smaller team to gather valuable insight and see if the approach could be viable agency-wide.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Apr 04, 2011 at 12:12 PM


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