Experts and Leaders Convene: How the Federal Workforce Can Thrive in an Uncertain Future

On June 29 in Washington, D.C., Management Concepts sponsored the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) event, “Stabilizing the Workforce in an Uncertain Future,” featuring our top experts and leaders in People & Performance Consulting as well as experts in Federal workforce development from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Defense and Treasury departments, and Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs.

In 2017, individuals, teams, and organizations throughout the Federal government must find a productive, thoughtful path through the disorienting churn of changing leaders, policies, and Federal workforce priorities. The presentations and audience discussions at this event covered the most pressing concerns in leadership and workforce development:

  • Leveraging learning programs
  • Adapting to change
  • Improving performance

Here’s our rundown with the top takeaways from the discussions, panels, and presentations at the event. (Note: Statements by the presenters have been paraphrased and summarized for convenience.)

Teresa Gerton (President and CEO of NAPA) and Stephen Maier (President of Management Concepts) welcomed the audience with remarks focusing on the clear need of Federal leaders to adapt to uncertain conditions in the Federal workforce—such as the looming White House directive for workforce reduction, government reorganization, and agency transformation.

  • Gerton: For leaders, getting the most out of your Federal teams may be as hard now as it’s ever been. But it’s never been more critical. How leaders approach uncertain circumstances today will help organizations thrive in the long termWorking toward solutions should be as encouraging as they are challenging.
  • Maier: Uncertainty and signs of trouble are always present. Are we making sure every staff, every team, every individual member of the Federal workforce has a plan? People must be treated with respect and integrity throughout the process of change. Are management teams prepared to handle the questions their employees have? Changes and challenges must be looked at from the bottom up so everyone at the organization understands them, but also from the top down, so senior management gets the change effort right.

In a spirited fireside chat, Tim Bowden, General Manager of People & Performance Consulting at Management Concepts, teamed up with Jason Miller, Executive Editor and Reporter for Federal News Radio, to explore the results of a recent survey (conducted by Federal News Radio and sponsored by Management Concepts) of CLOs and CHCOs on the state of training opportunities within the government.

Here are the takeaways from their discussion:

  • In the new survey, CLOs/CHCOs prioritized closing skills gaps over needing bigger budgets for training.
  • Lately, there’s been an increase in collaboration between agencies sharing resources, planning, and strategy. A growing spirit of collaboration between agencies is helping leaders address and close gaps.
  • There’s a lot of interest in changing and improving performance management systems. We’ve got to make a shift from a punitive performance management mindset to one that’s more clearly about giving people the opportunity to improve. And if the right training and performance measures/management are in place, leaders have to develop a mindset of trusting their people to do good work.
  • Instead of worrying about massive institutional culture change requiring seven or more years of effort to take place, allow small, immediate changes to build up in the short time. Change starts immediately, personally, and contagiously. If you’re committed to individual, personal change starting with yourself, and you encourage everybody else up and down the chain, you have the key to meaningful culture change.

Amy Rogers

Amy Rogers

And here are key points from the keynote address—Leveraging Learning Programs to Navigate and Adapt to Change—by Amy Rogers, Director at the Treasury Executive Institute, U.S. Department of the Treasury:

  • Learning programs must enable the three-step process of change transition: letting go of present norms, making time to be open and to explore, and then beginning work under new norms.
  • Learning program offerings should be connected to a series, and should involve subjects like resilience. They should be personal, have peer-learning elements, and content should be curated for and reusable by the audience when possible.

Annie Levin

Annie Levin

Following the keynote was a discussion on change management and performance improvement, guided by Annie Levin, Managing Director of Performance Improvement Consulting at Management Concepts:

  • Groups have to be willing to compromise and negotiate when it comes to engaging change, especially mandated change. New leaders should show respect for the existing process and make an effort to develop relationships, and existing staff should show likewise respect.
  • To support major change efforts, begin communicating the change as early as possible to as many people as possible in the organization. The sooner you send the message, the sooner people start getting on board, and the sooner you’ve got everybody on board. And remember that communication is a two-way process that allows for feedback and perspective along the way.
  • Uncertainty loves company, which can be good for teams banding together to accomplish change.


The event concluded with a panel discussion moderated by the Honorable Dan G. Blair, Former Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The panel, “What Can Governments Do to Successfully Practice Change Management in an Unstable Future?” included Ann Conyers, director of talent management at the Defense Human Resources Activity (DoD), Anne M. Khademian, professor and director Virginia Tech’s School of Public Affairs, and Nancy Kingsbury, managing director of applied research and methods at the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Here are some of the key points from the panel:

  • It’s important to communicate the pace of change, and to explain why the pace needs to be a certain way.
  • Empathy is critical, and so is a well-communicated vision. Change is more palatable when people understand their role in the bigger mission and vision—and leaders need to find ways to engage their people in defining that vision and supporting it.
  • Leaders can support successful change by advising their people to take things one day at a time while also having an idea of the big picture. Communication should be personal when possible, not merely existing in large-group or org wide announcements. This helps people to connect personally to the change.

For more solutions to change management and workforce development challenges, check out our other recent writing on our workforce management insights blog, and subscribe! And check out our change management consulting practice webpages for more on change management practices that deliver results.

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