FCW Insider


Does your agency treat you like a Twinkie?

A guest-post from FCW Editor-in-Chief John Monroe.

Call it the Twinkie factor.

Let’s say a federal agency made a strong hire in 2001, someone who was well-versed in all the current technologies and methodologies and who was ready and able to bring the rest of the agency along.

Fast-forward to 2011, and how does that hire look now? That depends on what has happened in the intervening years. If the agency gave that person the time and resources to keep their perspective fresh and their skills up to date, all might be well.

But that often doesn’t happen, according to one reader. Instead, agencies apparently assume that what passed for IT savvy ten years ago can still get the job done today – that like a Twinkie, technology know-how has a seemingly limitless shelf-life.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case, writes a reader named Steve. He was responding to a recent blog post about the challenge that federal agencies face in competing with the private for IT talent. Steve believes training is a benefit that the best workers will demand.

“To remain a ‘top talent,’ an IT worker has to constantly be upgrading her skills,” he writes. “My experience is that the government does little to help its IT workers maintain top notch current and relevant skills. Top talent does not want their skills to atrophy, so they are far more inclined to work for an employer that encourages and assists in keeping skills current.”

What do you think? Are agencies spending the money needed to keep their IT talent fresh, or are they treating their employees like Twinkies?

Posted on May 10, 2011 at 7:25 PM20 comments


Is the digital leash a blessing or a curse?

Without a doubt, smart phones have dramatically changed the workplace. But has it been for the better?

Perhaps most people would say yes. Not that long ago, stepping out of the office meant going off the grid. The cell phone made it easier to stay in contact, but it wasn’t much help when it came to reviewing documents or accessing websites.

The smart phone was the real game changer, making it possible to carry on a lot of daily work from just about any location with service coverage, including the home. Many people might grumble about the so-called “digital leash,” but most would agree it was a necessary evil.

But is it even necessary? Earlier this year, California Gov. Jerry Brown proposed taking away state-issued mobile phones from most employees, saying they represented an unnecessary cost. Some FCW readers agreed. Although some government positions require constant access, most don’t.

“Just because most people nowadays can't seem to function without a cell phone does not translate into its necessity to do the job,” wrote Olde Sarge.

But other readers see it in simpler terms: They say they aren’t being paid enough to be accessible at every hour of the day, every day of the week.

“So I say, take back the BlackBerrys, take back the cell phones, and if you're not going to pay us fairly for our talent and effort, give us back our lives,” one reader commented.

Even John Berry, the director of the Office of Personnel Management, sees a downside to constant connectivity. In a recent speech, he encouraged managers to spend less time checking their BlackBerrys and more time talking with their employees.

“Hear, hear!” readers replied.

“It is not just a curse of managers," one reader commented. "I've been in several ‘working groups’ with people who start looking at their electronic toys when colleagues are directly addressing them. Why anyone thinks this is not rude is beyond me.”

What do you think? Are mobile devices creating more problems than they are solving? Let us know what you think. We will publish the best of the comments in an upcoming print issue of Federal Computer Week.

Posted on May 04, 2011 at 7:26 PM2 comments


Federal managers: Room for improvement?

How good is your manager?

While it may be true that the federal workforce is top-notch, or at least, pretty darn good, it's also true that a bad manager can sink an otherwise good organization.

So how can agencies help managers improve?

In recent articles, one a feature on performance management and one on what agencies need to do to retain employees, readers who responded with comments offered some perspectives.

The answer could start with government leaders choosing good people to put into management positions, one reader wrote. “There are certainly a few good managers/leaders in the federal government that have actually earned the respect of their employees and deserve to be in those positions. Unfortunately, that number is far and few between. The federal government still does not know how to pick the appropriate people for leadership positions. As long as they refuse to address this problem, the government will always be operating at far below acceptable standards and will continue to loose the good employees that they need to retain.”

Training is important for managers, wrote another reader, a General Services Administration employee. “In the '90s, GSA pushed for a trained supervisory force whose sole purpose was to be supervisors. Much training was required and extra training encouraged. However, over the years, the atmosphere regressed to the 'Your supervisory duties are in addition to your normal ones.' attitude. Supervision training on even the basics for procedures, regulations and restriction have decreased, and extra courses on how to be a good supervisor are rarely encouraged. … It is time for a change in the attitude that supervision is not a career but rather an additional duty.”

Managers should be willing to tackle the more unpleasant aspects of the job – including denying step raises to poor performers even though they'll have to spend some time defending the decision, wrote another reader.

“Managers like the sunshiney, easy aspects of their jobs, but not the more unsavory aspects inherent to a managerial position,” that reader wrote. “I've worked in both private and public sector jobs, as a supervisor and employee. It's a fallacy to say that private sector management doesn't also have to do lengthy reviews of below-standard staff ratings and performance evaluations. They must do so due to myriad issues and ramifications that could result from such an unfavorable action.”

Posted on Apr 26, 2011 at 7:25 PM6 comments


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