Help Your Federal Team Hit More Home Runs

sb10068701ab-001According to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), performance information’s effect on Federal managers’ decision-making has remained largely unchanged in six years.

Despite the increase in the amount, variety, and availability of performance data and analytics tools to drive decisions, performance data’s promise in the Federal Government has not yet been realized. There are many theories as to why this is the case, but I would argue that the shift to data-driven decisions in the Federal Government requires disruption of the mental models most commonly used in making decisions.

Despite the Nats’ absence from the World Series this year, Major League Baseball serves as a great example of how disrupting a mental model may enable a leader to improve decision-making and organizational performance. One recent revolution in the baseball world is the now-accepted practice of applying empiricism and analytics to performance data, to drive strategy and tactics. Analytics helps baseball executives find hidden value in player effectiveness and situational game tactics that lead to the ultimate criteria of success: wins on the field.

The rise of this new field — Sabermetrics — pioneered by Bill James, has been well-documented in Michael Lewis’s 2003 book-turned-movie, Moneyball. Embracing this approach — gathering data and performing analysis to determine what skills and behaviors contribute to wins on the field — is one of the things that help teams from smaller markets bring greater competitive parity to the game.

For over a century, baseball talent evaluators relied on conventional wisdom to assess players using generally accepted criteria regarding the “5-Tools” of baseball: running speed, arm strength, hitting for average, hitting for power, and fielding. During a player’s early career, scouts would assess all players on these traditional success criteria. Usually these assessments were made simply by watching the players perform. Little effort was made to systematically gather data in a way that permits players to be compared. Despite these haphazard attempts to measure raw skills, some players who excelled on the 5-Tools metrics were not able to perform under game conditions to produce wins. This indicates that while raw tools were important, they were inadequate as sole predictors of success.

In addition, baseball’s conventional wisdom — informally referred to as “the Book” — around game tactics: when to bunt, steal a base, position the defense for certain hitters, and even make player substitutions has relied on time worn, but not necessarily rigorously tested presumptions about what actually produced wins. By asking the same questions for over a century, baseball scouts and executives relied on consistent criteria, analyzed in the same way, to make player assessments.

Over the last 15 years, more focused measurement, the rise of behavioral economics, and the improved willingness and ability to perform statistical analysis are testing these assumptions and causing new wisdom to be applied to baseball. This approach is yielding greater insights into what skills, behaviors, and tactics lead to team wins. While 15 years ago very few teams would have been aware of or invested in this approach to discovering and benefitting from objective truths about baseball, now every team has staff dedicated to measurement and video and statistical analysis to identify and leverage a winning edge.

By scouts and executives shifting their viewpoint, asking different questions, measuring performance differently, and then performing analysis on the data they measured, they learned to value different things that had been proven to affect performance.

Federal leaders can shift their viewpoint to apply lessons learned from the MLB by:

  • Being Prepared for Data to Dispel Beliefs
    Every organization has tightly held beliefs that are, in fact, not true. As you shift to data-driven decisions, it’s likely that some organizational myths will be disproven. Individuals may hold on to those beliefs tightly despite strong contrary evidence. Part of your role as the leader is to take your team on the journey of not only questioning data when it is counter to anecdotal evidence, but also accepting the truths the data reveals.
  • Assessing Situations and Options Based on Analytics
    Just as assessment of a player evolved from visual assessment to quantitative measures, leaders can seek out data to inform assessment of situations and options in decision-making. Ask your team to be prepared to defend their recommendations with analysis results. Ask about the data and analytics they used to inform their recommendation and be sure it’s from a valid source.
  • Reexamining the measures of performance
    Are the performance measure you use driving achievement of mission objectives? If they aren’t, which measures do? As a leader, the more real-team reliable performance measures you can access, the better you can drive performance. This approach applies both to organizational performance and assessment of individuals. In the case of your team members however, consider whether the competencies on which you assess your team members are the right ones to drive performance. If they aren’t, work with your HR team to change to those that get the job done right.
  • Evaluating the Effectiveness of Data-Driven Decisions
    As part of your regular hot wash processes, evaluate how effectively your team used analytics in making decisions. Did using analytics result in better decisions than just instinct? How could you change the game with the data you have now? If analytics is not helping to improve performance, determine what can be done differently. Sometimes there is an issue with data quality. Sometimes teams need better analytics skills. Most often, however, it’s a combination of both.

Bottom Line:  Measure more intentionally, ask better questions, and you may find that you get different — more insightful — answers that can lead to significantly improved performance in the areas that matter.

Leadership Skills Critical to Federal IT Project and Acquisition Success

shutterstock_fedITWe all see Federal agencies focusing more on the importance of cultivating strong leadership skills, including team building, problem solving, and effective communication, particularly for Feds in IT.

Take the 27th annual GCN Awards Gala; it showcased Fed IT ingenuity, teamwork, honored 20 standout projects for their achievements and impact across government.

Among the awards was the ground-breaking effort by the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the CIA, Doug Wolfe. Wolfe’s outstanding leadership enabled the CIA to set up cloud services for the intelligence community, bringing about a new phase in collaboration and information sharing across the often siloed agency.  

With an ever-changing set of demands in government, it’s no wonder that leadership skills such as innovation, collaboration, and information sharing were key to the success of these award-winning Federal IT projects. Agencies need leaders who can champion innovative technologies and tools to streamline their operations. The ability to set a strategic direction at the program and agency level is a highly-sought critical skill.

As both the President and senior government officials have identified this year, procurement of IT within the government needs an overhaul. As such, building effective and strong leadership skills in IT acquisition and project management will be a particularly critical aspect of reform.  A multitude of Federal agencies are putting more energy and resources behind training the acquisition workforce.

A professional acquisition corps with both leadership skills and subject matter expertise can improve the success of IT projects. According to a recent survey conducted by Federal News Radio, a majority of the chief acquisition officers and other senior level acquisition managers believe that hiring and retaining the right people with the right skills is driving their current agenda.

Educating the Federal workforce on basic fundamentals, fostering an environment where the leadership mentality is rewarded, and creating a workplace where individuals are allowed and expected to make tough decisions is integral to success.

What Federal agencies seek now are the innovative IT leaders of tomorrow; those who can adapt within the complex Federal IT environment.

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.