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On May 27, the IBM Center for The Business of Government and the Partnership for Public Service co-hosted a Roundtable to discuss how effective leaders can help drive successful outcomes for the next Presidential term. An exceptional group of current and former senior officials from Administrations of both parties, leaders from Capitol Hill, as well as experts from academia and the private and non-profit sectors participated in a robust discussion. The meeting was the second of six planned Roundtables in our “Management Roadmap” series, part of a multi-pronged Ready to Govern (#Ready2Govern) initiative, through which the Partnership seeks to improve the transfer of power and knowledge between administrations (see discussion of the first Roundtable.)
The IBM Center is pleased to collaborate with the Partnership to help the next Administration get off to a strong start, and build sustained management excellence thereafter. We are grateful for the many distinguished leaders who contributed their time and insights last week, and to former Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Scott Gould for his expert facilitation of the session.
Why is Leadership Talent Key to Success?
The Partnership and the Center for The Business of Government have long advocated that attention be paid to leadership issues. Skilled leaders are a powerful determinant of organizational success. Investing time and resources in talent management has proven over time to improve outcomes from a mission, managerial, political and economic perspective. And this is not just a public sector challenge – fostering executive talent is a challenge in the private sector, where leading companies wrestle with very similar issues.
Effective leaders can set direction though building vision, allocating resources, and building a culture of ethics and trust. This frame enables leaders to guide results across the talent “value chain” -- in which organizations recruit, hire, compensate, onboard, train, manage, evaluate, develop and separate/retire a productive workforce. Indeed, talent is essential to a well-implemented performance management cycle that includes strategy, resources, operations, execution, and evaluation, as well as strong change management that includes communication, engagement, feedback, priority setting, and measurement to address influencers within and between organizations in the government ecosystem.
In the public sector, leadership talent includes a broad array of executives whose collaboration – or lack thereof – sets the tone for agency and program success or failure. These executives include political appointees and Senior Executive Service (SES)-level career officials in program and functional (Human Resources, Information Technology, Finance, Acquisition, etc.) areas, who guide civil servants and contractors and connect with State and Local government, Congress, and even the Judiciary to deliver on agency missions.
With this as background, the May Roundtable discussion started with three premises:
Building on the Current Leadership Talent Initiatives
Good management is a non-partisan issue. Roundtable participants from both parties recognize the importance of building on success. In the current Administration, key building blocks include two new initiatives aimed at strengthening leadership in government, highlighted in the FY 2016 budget request:
In addition, several agencies are piloting new approaches to recruiting, hiring and onboarding executives, with the goal of reducing the time to hire, improving the quality and diversity of new hires – foremost among these are hiring authorities for the US Digital Service in OMB, the General Services Administration’s 18F program, and expedited hiring processes for cybersecurity professionals.
Insights from the Roundtable
Roundtable discussions addressed five different aspects of the leadership talent issue. Following are some of the suggestions from each area.
Strengthening the SES. Participants focused on ways to strengthen the SES with regard to training, organization, and operation. Insights include:
Innovations in Executive Talent Acquisition. This discussion addressed how models of hiring could be replicated and scaled for the SES, as well as any hiring flexibilities that could be implemented. Insights include:
Incentives and Accountability. Participants examined how to drive accountability for performance, set objectives and expectations, and measure performance. Insights include:
Career/political interface. This discussion assessed ways to foster strong teams of SES and political appointees through effective training and onboarding strategies. Insights include:
Enablers. Participants discussed implementation strategies, and what tools and resources may be needed to be used to achieve the goals discussed above. Insights include:
People are the foundation upon which the next administration will implement its agenda. Focusing on the leadership cadre – both political appointees and career executives – a new Presidency can get off to a fast start and set up for success over the next four years. Incoming administrations face a complex set of urgent priorities, and focusing on senior leadership can seem like something that can be handled “later.” However, with an early focus on leadership (including during transition planning) the next President can greatly increase the capacity to implement policy effectively.
 The effort includes an education component for transition teams around four sets of activities: 1. strengthening the transition process, 2. congressional support for efficient appointments in a new administration, 3. preparing appointees to succeed in their new roles, and 4. the “Management Roadmap” to develop an agenda for sustained improvement in government’s effectiveness.