Congratulations are due to Katherine Archuleta, who stepped in to her role as director of the Office of Personnel Management on November 4. Her main objective: to champion federal workers. A noble goal and, as with most things worthy, not easy.
Let’s face it, it’s been tough to be a federal worker over the last few years; federal workers have experienced pay freezes, pay cuts, unpaid leaves, and projected limitations on retirement funds. It’s noteworthy that federal employees have remained so resilient during these difficult, uncertain times. According to Director Archuleta in her report on the 2013 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, “Over 90 percent [of federal employees] continue to be willing to put in extra effort, are constantly looking for ways to do their job better, and feel their work is important. Their levels of engagement are generally holding steady despite declining satisfaction.”
Do federal workers need a champion? Yes. Every team needs an inspiring coach, whether on the field or in the workplace. But what about when you feel like you are on a losing team? I was on one once, and it was demoralizing. With 12,000 co-workers, I watched as our nearly 100-year-old Fortune 500 Company plummeted into financial peril. It was hard not to feel powerless with so many of our challenges stemming from bad decisions of our leaders (many of whom had left by then) and a variety external events outside of our control. With the company in peril, we needed more than to be championed, we needed to be champions.
What is a champion? On the one hand, a champion is exactly what Director Archuleta strives to be: an advocate; someone devoted to tirelessly supporting the needs of others. Still, we must not forget that a champion is also a victor, someone who triumphs over adversity. To be both a champion and to be championed is the winning formula for engagement and employee satisfaction.
What makes a champion? There are common characteristics shared by champions on the field and at work. Importantly, these characteristics can be learned; they are skill-based and can be taught.
- Optimism: the ability to see beyond today’s limits or disappointments and maintain a vision of a better future.
- Honesty: a passion for truth, even when the truth isn’t easy.
- Accountability: a sense of ownership for the things that can be changed individually and/or organizationally.
- Perseverance: the discipline and commitment to surpass adversity.
- Respect: genuine consideration for the needs and feelings of others.
- Inclusion: a sincere desire to collaborate as members of a team and to recognize each other for the individual value they contribute.
How do we create champions? Briefly, Leadership, Learning, and Leverage. Leaders to inspire and demonstrate adherence to core values. Learning to provide shared experiences that enhance understanding of core competencies and expectations (e.g., to develop skills that support respect and inclusion). And ultimately leverage, providing people with a relevant and compelling vision of both success as well as the risks of failure.
In the meantime, thank you federal workers for the work that you do. We need you.