This Week in Grants News

Virtual Training“This Week in Grants News” is a resource Management Concepts provides to keep you informed of important grants-related news from the week.

  • OMB Official Speaks to the Grants Professional Association (GPA)
    Gil Tran from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) spoke to the GPA annual conference in Portland, Oregon last week. Tran discussed how the Uniform Guidance (“Supercircular”) will transform grants management for Federal awarding agencies and grant recipients. Tran explained that the primary goals of the Uniform Guidance are to enhance performance, transparency, and oversight of grant awards.  
  • Feds Should Keep an Eye on the Race to Replace Issa
    The House Oversight Committee has jurisdiction over many issues affecting Federal employees and grants management. Due to committee term limits, the current chairman of the committee, Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), must relinquish his gavel at the end of the 113th Congress. GovExec looks at the behind-the-scenes campaign to become the next chairman of the committee .
  • A Conversation with OMB Controller David Mader
    The Association of Government Accountants (AGA) recently interviewed OMB Controller David Mader. In the interview, Mader discussed the DATA Act, the need to improve government transparency, and challenges facing OMB. Read the interview here.
  • Watchdog’s View: An Interview with the DOE Inspector General
    The Washington Post interviewed the Inspector General for the Department of Education, Gregory Friedman. Friedman discussed the operations of his office, the challenges facing IGs, and the differing leadership traits of past Energy Secretaries. Read the interview here.
  • DATA Act Implementation Underway to Standardize Federal Financial Data Reporting
    The National Association of Counties
    (NACO) provides an update on the implementation of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act).  The DATA Act requires OMB and the Treasury Department to develop standardized financial reporting elements for all financial transactions. OMB is expected to release additional guidance next spring on this effort.


Hedgehogs, Foxes, and the Future of Federal Workforce Planning

Forest AnimalsAs reported by the GAO in July 2014, the Federal Government has a pronounced need to create more agile talent management capabilities to address inflexibilities in current systems.

How can the Federal Government accomplish this? It’s not about the systems themselves, but rather about the approach to Federal workforce planning. Most agencies plan like a hedgehog, but they need to plan like a fox.  Not following the animal references?

Greek poet Archilochus of Paros wrote: “The fox knows many things; the hedgehog one big thing.” He was describing:

  • The fox - who knows many things, draws from an eclectic array of traditions, and is better able to adapt to changing events; and
  • The hedgehog – who knows one big thing, locks in on one tradition and imposes rote solutions to even ill-defined problems.

This concept – of depth versus breadth, of strength versus flexibility, of innovation versus efficiency – describes the trade-offs we make in a variety of settings from predicting election results (as described by statistician Nate Silver) to making business decisions (as described by Wharton professor Philip Tetlock). It also applies to two competing approaches to workforce planning:

  1. Building a staff primarily with individuals with deep expertise about your organization’s core offerings like the hedgehog; or
  2. Filling out your workforce with people who have moderate amounts of expertise in a wide variety of areas like the fox.

So, who is better at workforce planning, the fox or the hedgehog? Like so many other choices, it depends on the environment.

In an environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA), plan like a fox. In a recent HBR blog, John Boudreau asserts that in VUCA conditions, the best approach to workforce planning is to envision the many possible futures the organization must plan for and build a strategic workforce plan that provides the most flexibility to meet the broadest set of potential future scenarios.

Boudreau suggests that the best workforce plan is likely to diversify your talent, building several different talent arrays that are each well-suited to a different future scenario, building a skillful mix of talent that provides flexibility, adaptability, and resilience to respond to a changing environment. 

But what if you have high certainty about the future environment? The hedgehog reigns when your agency has a singular, defined view of the workforce needed to execute their agency strategic plan. For example, in the event of a global pandemic, the CDC may develop a workforce plan neglecting other priorities and focusing on a workforce to address the pandemic. If a global pandemic occurs, that approach to planning would be logical given the scarcity of resources.

Such scenarios may seem extreme – and they are because the only thing most Federal agencies can safely predict is uncertainty. Nonetheless, many Federal organizations take “hedgehog” approach through default rather than intent: building their workforce based solely on achieving the strategic plan under current conditions with no allowance for changes to the environment in which the strategic plan is to be executed. This has resulted in inflexible talent management practices and systems that cannot easily adapt to ever changing needs, as highlighted in GAO’s finding that the Federal Government’s“talent management tools lack two key ingredients for developing an agile workforce.”

With continued volatility in the Federal labor market, rethinking the process and tools agencies use to plan, manage, and develop their workforce is essential. Agencies must begin to plan for how they can create the workforce they need both now and into the future – like a fox.

What is your organization doing to plan for future talent needs? Does your strategic workforce management plan include efforts to hire more “foxes” or are you focusing on finding or developing “hedgehogs” with deep expertise in your agencies core mission areas?

Procurement Workforce Needs New Approach to Training

reform-460This week, Federal News  is airing a three-part special report called “The Missing Pieces of Procurement Reform” and it is well worth tuning in to hear how some of the leading minds on Federal acquisition workforce development are weighing in. 

 Yesterday’s segment, Acquisition workers as critical thinkers: A change that has to happen  zeroed in on some of the underlying challenges to improving acquisition workforce development, along with some of the innovations and approaches for better preparing the acquisition workforce. 

 A number of workforce development improvements are already in the works. For example, OFPP and FAI are working to flush out the CORE Plus tracks geared to provide specialized training in a given area once FAC-C training is complete. The initial track is for buying IT products and services and we’re told is due out by the end of the year.

 DAU, for example, would like for students to spend less time in the classroom and more time on the job. This “flipped classroom” approach would rely on e-learning capabilities for some portions of the training, such as policies and procedures, and follow up with custom scenario-based exercises in the classroom.

 If you’ve been in one of our classes recently, you know that Management Concepts is already increasing the use of activities in our contracting courses where students apply previously gained knowledge and critical thinking skills to work through case-based scenarios.

 These advances, however, need to be coupled with more focus on students demonstrating the proper competencies for their job — just because someone is “certified” doesn’t mean they’re demonstrating “competence.”  The gaps identified in competency assessments need to be closed, either by targeted training or a method of access to on-demand tools, how-to’s, OJT, coaching, or mentoring.

 For new approaches to development to have maximum impact, larger issues such as contracting’s risk-averse culture, one-size-fits-all certification programs, or pervasive budget constraints need to be addressed. And they won’t be overnight changes.

 So as this larger issue of procurement reform inches forward, it remains incumbent upon workforce development organizations to continue providing the most effective tools, resources, and approaches to arm individual contracting professionals—and their agencies—with the requisite skills, knowledge, and experience to meet the mission.



Teamwork More Beautiful Than a Waikiki Sunrise

SONY DSCMy heart leapt with joy as the sun rose over the beautiful beach in Waikiki, Hawaii.

But it didn’t leap because of the sunrise. It leapt because right at that moment I got a callback from my colleague Anna Mauldin.

It takes a lot to trump a sunrise in Waikiki – songs have been written based on lesser things. So why write about a business callback? What kind of priorities are we talking about here?

Think about a time when you really needed help. Something important was on the line for you, and you really, really needed support.

That was my situation in Hawaii. An important presentation was coming up, and I needed help with it. The clock was ticking fast, I was six time zones away from my colleagues, and I was on my way to another client site. I was busy, jet-lagged, geographically distant, and feeling the pressure.

After I briefed another, wonderful colleague, Briana Colescott about my need, she got the ball rolling and immediately called Anna. Minutes after I hung up from my cry for help, I saw Anna’s name on my phone as the call came in. I felt like the cavalry had arrived.

The feeling of relief was better than the sunrise.

Great teams are comprised of people who not only get their work done, but know how to connect with and support each other. There is a genuine sense of “we,” not just “me.” Team members sense when and where the need is, and seamlessly slot into position to help accomplish important goals.

This very organic, fluid functioning is a beautiful thing to witness or participate in. It usually creates a sense of synergy – a somewhat overused word that may even trigger eye-rolling. But, it’s true, and it’s absolutely related to high performance. Instead of people saying “That’s not in my job description,” they ask “How can I help?” or they just do it.

Ask yourself, “How do I reach out to help others? What do I do?”

The Law of Reciprocity is a law of life. Remember that when you help others, it creates a bond, in which they will show up to help you, too.

Which is why if Anna called, I would drop everything now to help.

Forget the Knowledge Management System: Mentoring as Knowledge Transfer

Knowledge-TransferAh, the perpetual threat of the Federal retirement wave. First, experts predicted it would come down on us like a “tsunami” in 2012.  Then it didn’t for reasons described by other experts (including myself). Now it’s expected to “skyrocket” in 2017. The good news is that the Federal Government has time to prepare for the brain-drain of boomer retirements. Sounds like a great reason for a large technology project resulting in a shiny new knowledge management system, right? The simple answer is NO.

Workers would rather get information from colleagues and often ignore databases, portals, and electronic repositories. So, does that mean we can rest easy and assume a haphazard process simply of individuals conversing with colleagues in the lunch room will preempt the problem? That’s also a negative.

To prevent “brain drain” before it occurs, agencies should create mentoring programs specifically for knowledge transfer from potential retirees to individuals likely to do their roles or tasks in the future.

These programs, however, must be distinct from traditional mentoring programs. Mentoring for knowledge transfer is essentially different from traditional mentoring in that there is a more emphasis on practical application with less emphasis on enculturation and building networks and the interpersonal relationship between mentor and mentee is far less critical.

As agencies build differentiated mentoring programs, it’s important to understand how knowledge transfer programs are the same as and different from traditional mentoring programs.

Let’s start with how they are the same. Both traditional and knowledge transfer mentoring programs require:

  1. Clear Objectives and Measurement: The more formal the program is, the more likely it is to meet program objectives. Both traditional and knowledge-transfer mentoring programs should have formal objectives at both the program and individual relationship and be measured as closely to real-time as possible. Moreover, both types of mentoring programs should have structured mentoring plans for each mentor/mentee relationship. Finally, both programs should be monitored to ensure the mentors and mentees are meeting program objectives.
  2. Visual Commitment of Leaders: Mentoring takes time out of the participants’ day. This time is only as important as the individual believes it is. The best way to ensure individuals believe mentoring is important is for leadership to demonstrate its importance. This means that leadership should be involved in sending communications about the program, reporting to the organization on the program’s success, and participating in the program itself.
  3. Training on How to be a Mentor and Mentee: According to a study by Clutterbuck Associates, “Without any training at all, less than one in three pairings will deliver significant results for either party. Training mentors alone raises the success rate to around 65%. Training and educating line managers about the program pushed the success rate above 90%, with both parties reporting substantial gains.” Regardless of whether your program is traditional or knowledge transfer, training both the mentor and the mentee is critical to getting a positive return on the agency’s investment.

And here’s how knowledge transfer programs differ from traditional mentoring programs:

  1. Focus on the Job, Not the Individual: Knowledge transfer mentoring should focus on practical application of job skills – both technical skills and the relationships you need to get the job done. Whereas as traditional mentoring can focus on developing the mentee as a whole person and across competencies, knowledge transfer is knowledge about something. It should focus on everything to get the job done, so “unwritten rules” and “tricks of the trade” still matter, but only in the context of the specified role. It’s not about how to get promoted or demonstrate executive presence, but it does include best practices, who to know, and tacit wisdom.
  2. Matching is More Yahoo! Answers and Less Traditional mentoring programs require a certain degree of interpersonal synergy between the mentor and mentee. This requires a matching process that takes into consideration factors that matter to the individual mentee such as personality, gender, career goals, and work-life fit goals. Knowledge transfer mentoring matches, however, are done based on the need to transfer the knowledge itself.  Given knowledge transfer is generally a shorter-term relationship than traditional mentoring, personality matters less and work matters more. The person who needs the knowledge matches with the person who has it as the primary consideration, personality is rarely a factor beyond participation in the program itself (i.e., is the person even suitable as a mentor or mentee?).
  3. This is not a monogamous relationship: Unlike in traditional mentoring programs where there is a one-to-one relationship with a personal connection requiring trust and confidentiality, openness and transparency are more important in knowledge transfer and both mentors and mentee should be share what they learn with others. Moreover, mentors and mentees in programs such as phased retirement, may have many relationships simultaneously. Finally, the types of mentoring relationships and activities will vary more widely in knowledge transfer. Knowledge transfer mentoring should integrate group mentoring, panel discussions, and even discussion boards. Use of technology, however, should only be done in an environment where it is already the norm. Knowledge transfer mentoring initiatives should not be used as a springboard for a new system or tool. Focus on the objectives of the program only.

Neither traditional mentoring programs nor knowledge management systems can fully meet knowledge transfer needs. Organizations certainly need traditional mentoring and knowledge management systems, of course, but if they want to surf the retirement wave, knowledge management mentoring can be the differentiator between hanging ten and a wipe out.

How is your organization using mentoring for knowledge transfer? Which type of mentoring, traditional or knowledge transfer, would most benefit your organization?