Robert Davis

OPINION

How to develop your ex-govvie new hire for the best results

Former government employees can make great private sector employees but they need extra attention

 How many of us have witnessed companies, especially smaller-sized firms, hiring a former government employee to ‘open doors’?  I have observed this situation a number of times and observed rare success for both parties.

These people are often told, in more elegant terms, to “open doors” or “go find new business” or “find out about that new large procurement” by a senior manager in the company. This is interesting given that many of the people I met from the government, in these situations, had been career employees who had never worked in a company that was highly focused on revenue and profit each month.

Let me be clear – there are many senior government employees who are smart, well-educated and who have relevant industry experience. Plus, some government employees have an affinity for business development and some do not… just like in industry.

When government employees who have minimal industry experience, if any, and no business development framework are hired, how will they be measured as being successful? How will they actually contribute to the success of their new employer?

 I have observed these senior people being brought into the company and provided no business development process training; after all they are senior people and by definition supposed to know stuff.  Besides, don’t be ridiculous, they know the agency better than anyone else. Neither do they receive formal mentoring from a senior executive in the company after all they are senior and know stuff.

What happens after 6 months when they have not really opened doors that are important to the company’s objectives or generated plausible new business leads? Candidly, what is the company’s plan for these people?

Some industry executives have not thought through this eventuality. Government employees experience high churn these days just like industry. One industry survey, conducted in 2012, suggests that this churn in government exceeds 40 percent per year.

Government employees retire, receive promotions, transfer laterally and increasingly are given short- and long-term, fire-fighting assignments by their management. This means that the former senior government employee you hired to open doors within his/her former agency has a high-probability that key members of their personal network will not be there after 6 months.

What will the company do with this person as this situation evolves?

The company must have a Plan B.

Questions need to be asked and discussed candidly before the former government employee is hired, notwithstanding procurement integrity regulations. How will this person interact with the company’s business development function? Will they be provided business development training so that they understand the process and how they may contribute to the BD process?

Will they be assigned a formal company mentor, a senior executive, to guide them through “business issues” from the company’s perspective? What will be their measures of success? Has their role and purpose been explained to company employees? How will this person’s government experience and agency knowledge inform the company’s strategic plan?

Someone once said that, “former government employees, newly hired by industry, are ready for the business environment when they reach their second company. They spend the first industry job learning business.”

This is a poor reflection on our industry.

Reader Comments

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 Syvalia

I agree with the author, and this is more so for the Small Business Owner. The bottom-line, is that the most critical aspect of selling to the Government is the understanding of the customer. This relationship understanding will not happen until you win work. After you win work, then, and only then can you grapple with the many nuances that make the business development skills successful. I own my business, however I lead all business development as a small business owner of multiple small businesses, and the team that works with me on sales, proposals, and business development.

Tue, Apr 9, 2013 Retired Military

While I can see a certain amount of truth here, the writer seems to assume both industry and government seniors are just downright stupid. I was hired to do BD by a company when I retired from the USAF. While the company did want somebody who knew the military, what they really wanted was somebody who could elicit then translate requirements from milspeak to industry speak. This alone was a daunting task because at the component level (the company that hired me was a supercomputer vendor)the military tended (in the mid-90's when I retired) to assign neophytes who did a poor job of listing requirements. Overall the BD position to which I was hired worked to the benefit of the company and myself. I urge you to be careful when making what I feel are broad generalizations to the detriment of both military and industry.

Mon, Apr 8, 2013 Bill Breighner

The private sector is totally different than the government or military service environment. Successful GS'ers or officers have little or nor transition period to adjust to life in the contractor's world where revenue is king! Know before hand what is expected and the time frame to measure success. Select wisely on both parties!

Mon, Apr 8, 2013 Ritualizer West Coast

SPMAyor maybe did the right thing, because most former govt emps have little sense of business and, forgive me, often don't know how to work hard. Further, have known many who took about a year to stop meaning the govt when s/he said "we." I agree that most are failures. However, they willingly went along with these deals. The problem then becomes will their new employer have the cojones to fire these poor souls, thereby pissing off others still in the governmint.

Mon, Apr 8, 2013 SPMayor Summit Point, WV

Bob had made some excellent points. Industry's predisposition to bring in those with 'stars,bars and stripes' as immediate or near term 'rainmakers'is more often than not a failure and a discredit to the accomplishments and skills of those hired. While I consider my own career in industry a modest success it was because I accepted a position that was not revenue based but matched to the skills and abilities I possessed. All too often 'new hire govvies' are bedazzled by the descriptive opportunities of possible money to be made and fame to be had. The transition is more difficult than imagined, the money less assured than assumed & presumed and the consequences of falling short more immediate and drastic than realized.

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