Between the Classroom and the Job – Acquisition Training

“I will apply the new knowledge and skills to my job.”

It’s the last day of class. You’re filling out the course evaluation and get to the above statement. You’ve just had a great training experience and without a doubt you’re better now than before you walked in here. You confidently check “yes” and head home for the weekend. But will you apply your knowledge on the job? When?

Sadly, many acquisition professionals won’t be taking what they’ve just learned in the classroom and effectively applying it on-the-job—at least not right away. A lot of students taking acquisition or contracting courses are actively completing or maintaining certification requirements. While required certification provides essential foundational knowledge for contracting officials, it also leaves some individuals with noticeable performance gaps.

Acquisition certification programs, by design, cover a lot of ground. They have to. But this also means that, in some cases, it can be years between when a contracting professional learns something in the classroom and encounters it on the job. Even the best training can’t impact that kind of retention. Adults learn by doing.

While covering material to meet a certification provides a knowledge baseline, it doesn’t always transfer to performance. The many concerns over the performance of the federal acquisition workforce have been widely documented (here and here are just two recent examples). There has to be a better way to bridge the gap between foundational knowledge and effective performance on the job.

We’ve come up with a solution: our new Acquisition Workforce Performance Improvement service synchronizes training with an organization’s needs and pairs an experienced coach and job aids to ensure the mission is achieved. By providing point-of-execution learning and including all the members of an acquisition team, organizations can capitalize on the impact of training when it’s most important.

This approach shows contracting professionals how to do the work, goes over it with them, and oversees the application of these skills, on-the-job and in real time—leaving students prepared and confident to handle the work on their own the next time. More information on our five-pronged methodology is available here.

New FAC-P/PM Curriculum Kicks Off

116407928The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) 2013 memo outlined the major revisions to the Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Managers (FAC-P/PM) Program, which became effective on March 31, 2014.

OFPP’s move to update the program – particularly to incorporate issues surrounding the frequently troubled Federal IT project – shows the government’s dedication to strive for innovation and improvement. Training the Federal workforce should always be a priority, and the moves to update Federal Acquisition Certifications, along with the recently enacted FITARA, mean that we could begin to see some strong improvements to Federal acquisition.

So What Does This Mean for You?

If you had a certification before the March date, you are grandfathered into the new program at your current level of certification, as long as your continuous learning requirements are up-to-date. However, if you start working on a higher-level certification, you will need to meet the new requirements.  Anyone working on a new certification will also have to comply with the new requirements.

Key Changes from Old to New:

  • Applicability: All acquisition P/PMs must be certified at their appropriate level as determined by their agency, not just at the senior-level for major acquisitions.
  • Waivers: Waivers of requirements, either in part or in whole, by the Chief Acquisition Officer (CAO) are no longer allowed. However, the CAO may grant extensions of current certification levels.
  • Competencies: Competencies and performance outcomes for each competency level have been better defined to describe the required knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for successful performance. They include: Requirements Development and Management Processes, Systems Engineering, Test and Evaluation, Life Cycle Logistics, Contracting; Business, Cost and Financial Management; and Leadership.
  • Training Length Requirements: The fixed minimum hours of training have been replaced with a flexible range from approximately 80-120 hours for each of the three levels, depending upon agency requirements and the type of training to be received. This flexibility allows for the training to be better tailored, addressing each individual’s competency gaps.
  • Senior Level Experience: Senior-level P/PMs are still required to have four total years of program and project management experience, but experience on Federal programs and/or projects has been reduced to a minimum of one year of within the last ten years. Experience has also been broadened to include experience as a contractor.
  • Core-Plus Specialized Certification: General Core-Plus requirements have been added to the core FAC-P/PM certification along with specific requirements for an IT Core-Plus certification. The revised FAC-P/PM certification policy provides for a new Core-Plus specialty certification for those P/PMs involved in managing IT projects and programs. 
  • Management Information System: The Federal Acquisition Institute Training Application System (FAITAS) is now the official system of records for the FAC-P/PM program.

How Can We Help?

Our revised FAC-P/PM curriculum is now FAI-verified and available for group onsite delivery – we’ll provide the training at your location for your group, team, or division. Keeping with OFPP’s modernization of the FAC-P/PM Program, our courses are all offered live or online, and we’ve developed pre-class assessments and eLearning modules to best prepare you for the training – making the most of your time away from the office. Management Concepts Mid Level FAC-P/PM courses also meet IT Core-Plus competencies.

Teidi Tucker also contributed to this post.

Teidi Tucker is a Product Manager and Senior Business Development professional at Management Concepts. She has more than 25 years of experience developing client solutions in the areas of program/project management, business analysis and IT. Teidi lives in San Diego, California with her husband and menagerie of animals.

Building Leadership Capability: A Roadmap for Improving Employee Engagement

187490183Just a couple short months ago, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released the results of the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), measuring whether or not the characteristics of successful organizations can be found in agencies across the Federal government.  The FEVS results, and in particular the employee engagement index, are used increasingly by agencies to identify areas for improvement and compare their agency to other agencies and the private sector.

Reinforcing the need to focus on engagement in the Federal government, in December 2014 OPM and the Executive Office of the President released a memo outlining a renewed focus on employee engagement and establishing policies for measuring, monitoring, managing, and holding agencies accountable for improving their engagement scores.  The memo recognizes the value in improving engagement, not for its own sake, but because they know that engagement is linked to important mission-related outcomes that include retention and productivity.

This increased interest in understanding and improving employee engagement usually leads to the question, “What impacts engagement?” There has been a great deal of research conducted to answer that question. One set of findings in particular suggests that leadership may be one of the most significant factors affecting engagement. The good news is that leadership can be taught; leadership skills can be learned and practiced, and with a planned approach, any agency can build the leadership capability and capacity across its workforce. 

Here’s the five-step process we’ve developed and recommend for building leadership capability that enhances employee engagement:

  1. Define what leadership means for your agency. Given your agency’s current mission, future mission and goals, and history, you may need more emphasis on some specific leadership behaviors than others. Many Federal leadership competencies already exist and can serve as a good starting point for discussions on what your agency needs to focus on. Many clients we’ve worked with have incorporated the process of identifying mission-critical leadership competencies into a few of their regular planning sessions. Others have convened a cross-section of employees to narrow down the competencies in one long planning session. Regardless of the process, ending up with a set of 8-10 mission-critical leadership competencies is a good starting point.
  2. Measure the competencies. Top management generally has a good sense of where the agency as a whole is stronger and where it needs improvement. But they often don’t know how it breaks down from there. Conducting a leadership competency assessment is a way to get more detailed information on different parts of the agency. This information can be used to create a workforce development plan that is data-driven. In addition, a leadership competency assessment can be a valuable tool for supervisors to understand their team’s leadership skills and for employees to understand exactly where they can improve.
  3. Plan an integrated approach to improving leadership competencies, along with other factors (e.g., shared organizational values, the availability of resources to do the work) that are known to improve engagement. Developing shared values, communicating, going for quick wins. Monica Linhardt of the Partnership for Public Service gives an example of a State Department employee who made a suggestion for showers in the basement of the headquarters building for employees to use after jogging at lunchtime. This change reflects shared organizational values of work-life fit and also of listening to and acting on employee feedback. The showers were installed, positively impacting work-life fit and therefore engagement.
  4. Improve the leadership competencies.  Competency assessments provide quantitative data on areas where you can invest to grow the leadership capacity within your organization. Whether it’s through a formal learning program, individual coaching, or self-directed learning opportunities, making an investment in leadership development is key to the long-term success of any organization. Whatever you chose to do to grow leadership within your organization, be sure the efforts are closely linked to your leadership competencies and that there’s a structure in place for promoting (and reinforcing) the application of new leadership skills throughout the organization.
  5. Measure…again. While the FEVS provides a great source of data on employee engagement, the fact that the data is only collected and available once a year means it can be hard to measure the impact of leadership development on engagement over time. As you invest in growing your organization’s leadership, also plan to invest in periodic pulse checks to see how engagement may be changing over time. Brief, periodic measures can provide information that can be used for minor course corrections, ultimately leading to better return on your development investment.

By defining what leadership is to the organization, measuring those competencies, adopting a plan to develop where needed, and enacting the plan, agency leaders can create measurable improvements in leadership.

Dr. Shelley Kirkpatrick also contributed to this post.

Dr. Shelley Kirkpatrick is the Director of Assessment Services for Management Concepts.  She leads all assessment design, development, and implementation initiatives. Dr. Kirkpatrick is an organizational psychologist with more than 20 years of experience in developing individual and organizational assessments for the federal government, including national security and defense organizations. Her work focuses on conducting skill and occupational analyses, developing online tools that effectively and efficiently collect skill and competency data, and creating actionable reports. A former professor at Carnegie Mellon University and The American University, Dr. Kirkpatrick has authored more than 50 articles on leadership, motivation, assessment, and evaluation in academic journals as well as practitioner-based publications. She holds a Ph.D. in organizational behavior and human resource management from the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland at College Park, and a B.S. in psychology from Bowling Green State University.

Telework: The “Just Right” Solution to New Types of Workspaces

TeleworkWhen it comes to office space these days, a lot of people are feeling like Goldilocks. For some moving to an open concept environment, all that space to collaborate is just a little too open and too distracting, but others feel like the walls of their cubicles are receding inch by inch in traditional spaces that are too small and too isolating. You may not have much influence when it comes to your workplace design, but many have access to what can be a “just right” solution to balance your need to be productive and collaborative: Telework.  

Consolidate to Collaborate? Maybe…

GSA is assisting high profile agencies like DHS and HHS to consolidate their real estate holdings across the U.S. to reduce costs and create operational efficiencies. Part of this effort includes taking different approaches to building out workspaces, not only to make more efficient use of limited space, but also to acknowledge that how we interact day-to-day with our colleagues must evolve. The pace of change and volume of decisions we experience daily requires us to be connected to our teams and maintain open channels of communication. New workspaces can facilitate that connectedness, but they also have implications we cannot ignore.

As some Federal organizations prepare to box up their belongings and transition to new work environments in smaller, government-owned buildings, they are learning the move will include more options to telework. In some cases, it’s no longer a choice but now a necessity because of space constraints. To many this is very welcome news, but not all.

While space may be less of an issue for those moving to state-of-the-art open plan offices, you may find the lack of personal space leaves you feeling more stressed, vulnerable, and less productive. The jury is still out on whether open concept plans deliver on their promise to improve performance, boost productivity, and foster innovation.

Striking a Balance

If you find yourself on the move to a new workspace and feeling reticent, telework can provide the crucial balance you need to adapt and continue to be successful in your role. Consider the following questions as you think about how telework could help you improve your personal work situation or help you more effectively lead your employees in a new environment:

  • Are you an extrovert who is energized by constant social interaction in the office?
  • Do you lead a team of introverts who are easily derailed by constant interruptions?  
  • Is your team centrally located or spread out across several locations?
  • Do you or your team currently  interact or share information using technology such as virtual meetings, instant messaging, video chats, file sharing, etc.?
  • Are you intrinsically motivated to get your work done or do you perform better when surrounded by your colleagues?
  • How often does your work require intense concentration to write or create?
  • What is your organization’s policy on telework?

Telework can take many forms and, in order for you or your team to be successful, you have to consider personality, team or interpersonal, productivity, and performance factors. Chances are every member of your team has different work preferences and telework is only valuable when it is structured to allow you to do your best work…but doesn’t prevent your teammates from doing theirs as well. 

Tip JarTip Jar

I have teleworked for nearly nine years with great success, but I’ll be the first to admit it takes consistent effort on my part, as well as support from my employees, my teammates, and those in key leadership positions at Management Concepts. Throughout my career I’ve managed fellow teleworkers as well as those who work from our headquarters, and here are a few lessons I’ve picked up along the way:

Take it seriously and make a plan: As you look to telework to compliment your office situation, it is very important to take it seriously and work with your supervisor to formalize a plan. Some organizations require formal plans while others do not; inquire about the policy in your organization as a first step. Once you have a plan in place, don’t let it collect dust. If the terms of your plan aren’t working for you—or others are finding it difficult to work within your plan—revisit it and make changes.

Make yourself available but set boundaries: Miscommunication or incorrect assumptions are most often made when you do not set expectations for the telework arrangement at the outset. Be clear about how and when you will communicate when working remotely, but set boundaries so you can tune out distractions and make the most of your time. One of the distinct advantages about telework is giving you the space to do work that requires critical thinking with less interruption; however, you should be intentional about connecting with those in the office to ensure other work can continue.

Setting boundaries also includes making sure you are teleworking for the right reasons and using the time appropriately. Telework should improve work-life fit, but isn’t synonymous for taking the day off for personal business. Your teammates and supervisor will support your desire to telework more when they see the results in your work.

If you telework routinely, don’t forget to sign off when you wrap up the day, too. It’s the equivalent of your commute home and some find it hard to shut down when you don’t have to physically leave your office.

Use technology to connect and maintain momentum: We do business on smartphones and tablets while on the move every day, but when you plan to work remotely for several hours or an entire day, you’ll likely need other technology to keep projects moving forward. First and foremost, make sure you have remote access to any critical systems before teleworking. Also, find out what access you have to virtual meeting tools that allow you to video chat or collaborate on a virtual whiteboard, for example. A teleconference may be sufficient for most needs, but it depends on how consistently you telework and the type of work your role entails.

Develop telework communication skills: Even though we communicate over email or instant messaging systems when we’re in the office, somehow messages can take on different meanings when you work remotely. Be cognizant of your word choices and tone. It may seem like a pretty obvious tip but misunderstood messages are the root of most conflict that occurs while teleworking. If you have a difficult or sensitive issue to deal with, pick up the phone, set up a video chat, or, if possible, wait to tackle the situation when you are back in the office. And, if you find yourself having persistent communication challenges while working, don’t ignore it. Talk to your team members and/or supervisor and find out what’s at the root.

Coordinate office schedules: If you and your teammates routinely telework, try to coordinate your schedules so a portion of your time in the office overlaps. Not only does this allow you to work together on projects that may be less conducive to teleworking, but it also allows you to focus on more independent work while you work remotely. 

For those of you telework gurus out there, what other tips do you have to share? We’d love to hear how telework is working for you.

How Leaders Can Bridge the Gap Between Where They Are Now and Where They Want to Be – It’s All in the Mind

461889525In a previous post I presented a basic approach to goal setting that could be used to help leaders acquire new skills as they set goals to make the required behavior changes necessary to close the gap between where they currently are and where they want to be in their careers. The steps to closing the gap include several elements that should be considered when setting behavior-change goals.

Goal setting for closing any skill gap is a process. The same process can be applied to any goal, whether professional, organizational, or personal. The basic steps are the same; however, the amount of time, rigor, and level of detail is dependent upon the gap to be closed and the reason for the gap. Writing down the goal and a set of action steps is easy. The challenge is getting down to the underlying motivation for the change and honestly thinking through the change elements. Throughout the change process not only do you need to know what you want to accomplish, but also clearly understand why you need to do it and all of the factors that influence how you do it.

Dr. David C. McClelland, in his book Human Motivation addresses the importance of motives on goal setting. He discusses that throughout the behavior-change process everyone has thoughts, feelings, and expectations that they think about and influence the goal accomplishment success or failure. Let’s take a look at each of these elements along with a professional and organizational example.

The Problem to be Solved – What is the gap you want to close?

  • Professional – I can’t get promoted without a formal credential
  • Organizational – Customer satisfaction surveys indicate that our project results are below acceptable standards

The Goal – What do you need to do to solve the problem?

  • Professional – Get a professional certification and qualify for a promotion within the next 12 months
  • Organizational – Increase customer satisfaction results by 60% by the next internal metrics audit

Once the problem and goal have been defined, then the “mind games” begin, during which time you think about all the factors to accomplish your goal. These thoughts are not just a one-time event to help you get to an action plan, they actually occur throughout the goal-setting process.

Underlying Need – How important is the need and how deeply do you want to attain it?

  • Professional – I want to advance my career, work on more challenging projects, and provide more financial stability for my family
  • Organizational – It is important to our reputation and on-going success to deliver the highest quality deliverables and customer support to our stakeholders

Positive Expectations – Successful leaders set realistic goals and are confident they can achieve them

  • Professional – I have a broad range of knowledge and skills and a lot of experience so I know I can do this
  • Organizational – With the support I’ve been promised from management and the talented team I have, I know we can reach the 60%

Realistic Expectations – Because goals should also be challenging, successful leaders also know that everything will not go as planned. This makes them work harder and plan more to reduce the chances of failure.

  • Professional – I know that with recent organization changes, promotion opportunities are limited
  • Organizational – We may be underestimating the amount of time and money it will take to overcome some of the external customer issues

Based on your overall expectations about your ability to accomplish your goal, you need to develop a logical plan and set of actions to accomplish it

Action Steps – What are the things that need to be done to be successful?

  • Professional – I have to make sure that all of my skills are thoroughly documented and that I work to get the required certifications for the position I want
  • Organizational – I have to do a comprehensive analysis of our internal and external customer satisfaction metrics, identify the gaps, and put in place an initial process improvement approach. I also need to conduct an internal self-audit before the next formal internal audit.

Once you start executing your action plan, it is important to realize that there are times when you will feel good and about your progress and disappointed.

Positive Feelings –Feelings created when you have made progress toward your goal, such as pride and satisfaction. These help to motivate you to continue toward your goal.  

  • Professional – I feel really good that my manager gave me some encouragement and gave me a list of certifications that are considered valuable within the organization
  • Organizational – I was really pleased when I realized that the customer satisfaction issues were limited to a couple of areas that will enable us to focus our attention.

Negative feelings – Feelings created when progress toward your goal does not go as expected or there is failure, such as frustration or discouragement. While these may be somewhat demotivating, they can cause you to focus on how to do better.

  • Professional – I was discouraged to hear that human resources is advertising for external candidates which may further limit opportunities
  • Organizational – I was frustrated to discover some of the managers were not as supportive of our process improvements as I had hoped they would be.

External Barriers – What could prevent you from being successful that is outside of your control?  

  • Professional – My current project load and family commitments make it difficult to take training courses and study for the certification exam
  • Organizational – The managers are not willing to commit resources and change their own process to improve project delivery.

Internal Barriers – Personal shortcomings and limitations that hinder your ability to succeed, such as   not having enough knowledge, the right skills, or enough self-confidence.

  • Professional – I have always had the fear of trying something outside of my comfort zone, and I am not very good at taking standardized tests
  • Organizational – I have a tendency to push my team too hard and expect more than they can deliver when they also have other projects on which they are working.

Help – Identify and actively seek out sources of help to overcome obstacles preventing you from accomplishing your goal. These obstacles may be internal or external. However, remember that you must retain ownership of the goal and the action plan.

  • Professional – I can ask my supervisor for opportunities to broaden my skills and I can ask the training manager to recommend some self-study courses.
  • Organizational – I think I can get my director to stress the importance of this initiative and get the other managers to support the effort.

Setting and accomplishing change goals can be challenging for a variety of reasons.  By critically thinking about your professional, organizational, and personal goals and the process to accomplish them, you are more likely to be successful.

As a leader, you are motived by something – accomplishing something, influencing others, or working with friends and peers. What motivates you, causes you to think about what you really need, why you need it, and how to get it? These thoughts also include your feelings about success and failure as well as barriers and how to overcome them.

What motivates you and what are you doing to be the leader you want to be?

Adapted from Lowell Dye’s presentation and paper “Goal Setting and Achievement Thinking” at the PMI Global Congress – North America, 2010.