How New Agency Leadership Should Build Positive Relationships at Agencies

March 28, 2019

The full version of this article was originally published in The Washington Post and is available here

Cabinet secretaries and other top political appointees can learn a great deal from career civil servants. In the past, career employees often have been excluded from key decisions out of concern that they may be loyal to the prior administration or not on board with the new president’s policies. This can impede cooperation, information sharing and agency effectiveness.

Political and career executives often go through a cycle of accommodation that, in most cases, eventually leads to teamwork and trust, but this takes time. The administration’s political appointees should seek to shorten this cycle by creating departmental and agency leadership teams comprising both political appointees and career executives.

In addition, top political leaders should hold meetings with a range of career executives and managers to inform them of their vision and priorities for the agency, and seek the advice of these individuals on a range of topics. Where do they see waste and inefficiency? What redundancies do they encounter? What are some simple process improvements they would like to implement?

Another way agency leaders can build positive relationships is by fostering a culture of recognition, one that rewards high performers and encourages good work to improve government effectiveness. Recent survey results demonstrated that about half of the respondents felt that they are not rewarded when they do good work, a finding consistent with the government-wide employee survey conducted annually by the Office of Personnel Management.

One encouraging sign? All of the administration’s Cabinet secretaries signed a letter praising the work of federal employees in honor of Public Service Recognition Week (May 7-13). Now it’s important that recognition of good work become part and parcel of life at agencies across the government.