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Federal Coach: Among Senior Executive Service, little job mobility

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

Events like Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill have brought to the fore the need for government leaders to work together, and share information and resources across agencies.
A new report, “Mission-Driven Mobility,” by my organization, the Partnership for Public Service, and McKinsey & Company examines the benefits of mobility within the Senior Executive Service (SES) — the elite corps of civil servants charged with overseeing and operating nearly every government activity in about 75 federal agencies.

The report revealed that only 8 percent of the 7,100 members of the SES have worked at more than one agency, and almost half have stayed in the same position in the same agency their entire SES career. Many senior executives interviewed said they want the experience of working at different agencies, but find it difficult because of system impediments, a negative perception of job mobility and a lack of financial and leadership support.

These leaders know that executive mobility increases government’s ability to fulfill cross-agency missions and allows agencies to build executive management skills and infuse new thinking into an organization. As a member of the SES, or an aspiring federal executive, here are a few steps you can take now to help you break through the system.

· Don’t hide your interest. According to the feedback gathered during the research, many federal executives have negative perceptions of mobility, seeing it as an unrewarding career move and as punishment, not advancement. While I can sympathize with that perspective, the most successful executives I’ve met have moved across agency program offices, management functions and even sectors. Don’t be a prisoner to conventional wisdom. Talk with your supervisors about your interests and the best opportunities for enhancing your career.

· Try different models. While it can be difficult to make the first move, the idea of mobility becomes far less daunting if you run a 5K before you tackle the marathon. Pursue a detail to another agency. Join a government-wide task force. Whatever your starting point, each opportunity will allow you the chance to gain a broader perspective, exchange ideas and improve collaboration.

· If experimentation is not your thing, try a more formal route. If you’re more comfortable with a predictable path, you might consider participating in a formal candidate development program (CDP) where a rotation is part of a broader leadership development strategy. Similarly, there is a group of agency pilot programs being administered through the President’s Management Council. Our nation’s military services get this right. To reach the top levels of leadership within the Department of Defense (DOD), you must complete “joint-duty” assignments — rotations into positions with other military services or parts of DOD. More recently, the intelligence community has established a similar joint-duty requirement for its top leadership.
Have you moved around agencies and sectors? What experience has helped you become a better leader? What more can leaders do to build these skills? I encourage you to share your ideas or experience by leaving comments below or sending an e-mail to fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.


Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Mar 26, 2012 at 12:12 PM


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