As 2017 starts, a new administration will assume responsibility for leadership and direction of the federal government. Many federal employees are concerned as to how top-level staffing and policy changes will affect the security of their jobs and the climate in which they will work. In the federal government, maintaining behavioral standards of professionalism and civility is vital for effective performance no matter what happens in any election cycle. In this period of transition, here are leadership keys for maintaining a workplace where your group can deliver top individual and team performance.
1. Focus on your mission.
While the operational direction of your agency may change, your mission, and that of your team, of public service is constant. You all share a common responsibility to your agency, to one another and to the public to perform your duties professionally and in a way that fosters teamwork. No group does its best work when members are insulted, demeaned, ignored or threatened. That’s also constant and doesn’t change no matter which party wins an election or who is in place to run a particular government department. Now is a time to remind everyone of the importance of your agency’s mission and how critical it is to provide an environment where each person can work effectively and do their best work.
2. Remember that behavioral standards are about more than compliance.
Adhering to federal regulations and processes is, of course, vital. Yet too many workplaces, while seemingly “in compliance”, tolerate behavior that diminishes employee focus and commitment, undermining daily efficiency, quality and safety. Just complying with the law won’t enable leaders and team members to do their best work and thereby best serve their public. Make sure your professional standards address not only illegal behaviors but “legal ones” that disrupt, minimize, interfere with or squash the performance and talents of others.
3. Identify key behaviors that make values and principles come alive.
Knowing what agency values linked to respect, professionalism, integrity, inclusion, and excellence are central to your charter is critical but not sufficient. You need to go a step farther and identify a few core behaviors that demonstrate each value in action. Ask those you lead to think about what they say and how they say it; remind them that everyone is anticipating and being affected by change. Your simple reminders can go a long way to keeping your agency’s core values alive and effective.
4. Emphasize leadership skills not just knowledge.
Sometimes, leaders assume that knowing what to do is their core responsibility. However, it takes skill to activate knowledge so it has an impact on others. If your staff is uncertain about what their roles will be under a new direction, personally demonstrate how to “live” agency values through your own actions; talk about your agency’s values and behaviors in plain language, and intervene, as necessary to keep standards alive.
5. Standards apply even if senior leaders don’t always apply them.
In some organizations, senior leaders don’t adhere to core values and behaviors. This is true no matter what political party or administration or leadership team is in place in the public sector. It’s also in every kind of private workplace. Dealing with unprofessional senior leaders can be frustrating and dispiriting. Even so, employees look to their immediate leaders—frontline supervisors, mid-level managers, office heads, as examples, —as representing the “agency.” You can have a positive impact on the work lives of your teams through your behavior even if senior or other leaders engage in conduct conflicting with those standards.
6. Don’t lose sight of the importance of employee-to-employee behaviors.
Employee-to-employee interaction[s] occur more frequently on a daily basis than leader-to-employee exchanges. Productivity and teamwork can be damaged by employee interactions just as surely as by those of abusive leaders. Yet employees are often left out of the loop when it comes to applying values and standards to one another. Get employees to manage their conduct and give them “behavioral tools” to work out disagreements among themselves; that will help keep your workplace civil, focused, and productive.
There is always controversy about the direction of one set of policies vs another; that’s why we have elections. But this is a time for leaders at all levels to continually communicate the importance of what government service delivers to the public. Emphasize what’s constant and will endure: ultimately, a key part of your responsibility is to provide principled service to our nation by maximizing the efficiency, commitment and team behavior of those you lead.