Government, at all levels, often gets a bad rap as archaic when it comes to developing people and allowing them to creatively solve problems....think of waiting at the DVM on a Monday morning.
Whether it's the detailed (but limiting) job descriptions, structured organizational charts, antiquated technology, or command and control management; government does not have the same reputation for flexibility and innovation as some business sectors... think Silicon Valley.
Yet last week, I had two experiences that have given me hope that change is on the horizon. In particular, how Strengths can be used to improve government operations.
The first, was a wonderful conversation I had with Rose Gowdey. In her role as Director of the Center for Achievement in Public Service for Vermont, she's worked with her seven colleagues to train more than 300+ supervisors in Talent/Strengths-based staff development.
The second is this recent TED Talk by Haley Van Dyck (also viewable below). Here, she emphasizes the power of small, flexible teams in solving some of our national government's biggest technology problems. Even though she doesn't mention Strengths directly, her focus on utilizing people, who've developed their Strengths within other industries, is critical to her team's success. It also could serve as a blueprint for how government workers could/should be encouraged to think about their own work for the future.
Here are three takeaways:
Let's connect so we can figure out how a Strengths-based approach might improve your local governance.
In this past Saturday's Burlington Free Press Art Woolf had a wonderful piece contemplating the future of Vermont's labor force. In it, he points out that Vermont's employers are going to be (or are) facing some serious problems filling open positions at all organizational levels and across for-profit, governmental, educational, and for-purpose/non-profit organizations.
While I commend Art for starting the conversation, I don't think he went far enough.
Rainer Strack's 2014 TED Talk takes Art's thoughts a few steps further. In Mr. Strack's talk, he highlights the coming challenge won't be centered on finding high-quality talent, but an outright "war for talent". Companies, governments, and organizations will need to compete to simply find enough warm bodies to fill the necessary positions to get required work done. This challenge gets far worse if you focus on highly-skilled, talented professionals.
Here is the scary part for Vermont...this will play out on an international level.
So what can a small state like Vermont do?
As Mr. Strack points out (at about the 10:00 minute mark) that out of 26 possible work factors, four of them are most likely to help you find or keep your employees over the long-run. Interestingly these focus on the person, not on their skill-sets.
Mr. Strack also points out that to succeed in this new labor market, we must develop a "people strategy" and we must rethink our attitudes that people are vibrant, resources and assets, and not just head counts.
Vermont already has a reputation for being a welcoming state where we focus on people. Democracy plays out at a local, personal level. For the most part, most businesses in the state would be considered small.
Vermont's small, personal nature should make it easier for us as a state to start transitioning from an HR environment that focuses on benefits, head counts, and legal matters to an approach that is far more holistic. We, of course, can't abandon the legal side of HR, but we can do more to attract talent (especially top-talent) from elsewhere by developing practices that celebrate the wholeness of the people who come to work in our Vermont workplaces.
This is how we will solve Vermont's talent shortage.
Each of us stands on the shoulders of those who came before us. Here are five* TED Talks that inspire my views on work, leadership, and Talent.
"There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does."
This is probably one of my favorite lines from any TED talk. So often we make choices about how to treat people and situations based on anecdotal evidence or old business models. We should instead consider experimenting and tracking the data/performance.
I'm also a huge proponent of Dan's "big three" -- Purpose, Mastery, and Autonomy. When it comes to helping your colleagues and peers utilize our unique talents, keep the following in mind:
Just as the 21st century military is finding new approaches to new threats (e.g. decentralized command-and-control organizations and cyber-warfare), businesses and organizations need to rethink old management models.
What I appreciate about this talk is Gen. McChrystal's willingness to:
I've, on occasion, picked up the moniker "the 'why' kid"; so imagine my delight when I found Simon Sinek advocating that "why" is the most important question we can ask.
Why do you exist? Why do you do what you do?
Our distinct talents can only be fully realized if we can understand why they are important and how they be useful in accomplishing our life's work.
As each of us searches for connection -- whether at home or work -- we must keep in mind that we must be vulnerable. All of us must be willing to share our blessings and our faults so that we can live an authentic life.
In our organizations could this not be a deciding factor when we consider who we choose to be our organizational leaders?
Okay, so my fifth favorite TED Talk actually comes in two parts. I love Sir Ken Robinson, and I think the lessons he points out regarding our educational system can also be applied to our work environments.
In his 2006 talk he speaks about how our educational system kills creativity and pushes children to squander their unique talents. Robinson initially points out that "intelligence is diverse...dynamic....and distinct." The same can be said for our Talents.
This makes Robinson's follow up 2010 talk about the importance of "using our talents" all the more critical. The world of work is changing faster than ever before and it is making the old world of human management obsolete.
"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country." - Abraham Lincoln, 1862
Just as Abraham Lincoln spoke of the "old ways" when it came to slavery; we must realize that old command-and-control HR systems of the past are inadequate for the future of work. We must think anew and act anew by engaging our Talents in new ways as the world of work changes. We do not need reform but a revolution.
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