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Why breaking rank is sometimes a good thing

Breaking rank at a federal agency can land most employees in trouble. But for one brave fed at the Office of Personnel Management, breaking rank meant getting an on-the-spot award.

Speaking at a conference May 2, OPM Director John Berry recounted how one of his employees took the initiative to reach him directly during this year’s snowstorm and, as a result, saved the agency from a major embarrassment.
Berry, who was up late dealing with the weather, said he was still asleep at 7 a.m. the day of that storm in January. When Berry woke, he found a message on his Blackberry from an employee informing him that the Washington radio station WTOP was announcing it couldn’t get a hold of anyone at OPM to discuss the government’s operating status.

Berry explained that he called WTOP right away and avoided what could have been two hours of the radio station telling listeners, “OPM is still in bed.”

When Berry arrived at work, he said the employee – identified only as Seth – looked upset because he had been reprimanded for breaking rank and calling the agency’s director.

In response, Berry said, “Seth, you did exactly the right thing. You got information to the person that needed to know to solve [the problem].” And, Seth was given an award in front of the agency’s managers.

If it hadn’t been for that employee, “we would have gotten a big black eye that morning,” Berry concluded.

Posted by Alyah Khan on May 03, 2011 at 10:10 AM

Reader Comments

Mon, May 16, 2011 The Observer

Good news, but breaking rank can also mean breaking your neck. The government's chain-of-command structure (which attempts to model the military), continues to stifle innovative leaders from being recognized while the same ole' insecure guard is at the helm.

Thu, May 5, 2011 Dave K

No, this is GREAT news! It shows a senior manager not only did the right thing, but publically called out all the middle-managers who wouldn't have allowed it!

Wed, May 4, 2011

How horribly depressing. Its major news for one employee to just inform his higher of a possible public embaressment. Its not news when the hundreds of other motivated employees who do the same (and greater) things are disciplined (or immediately fired w/ even asking why if they're a contractor).

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