With about 50 % of all government agency managers becoming eligible for retirement in the next five to ten years, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) partnered with AMA to prepare 45 mid-level managers for upward mobility and eventual leadership roles.
With information gathered from the agency about its mission, vision and competencies, AMA’s Washington, DC-based Government Services team designed a 30-day residential program to strengthen core competencies, enhance leadership skills, develop strategic thinking and sharpen the ability to handle change. Before the training, managers discussed with candidates which specific skills, knowledge and information they needed to be considered for advancement, and this information was incorporated into the program.
Agency leadership nominated employees they believed were most likely to advance to positions of leadership within the agency. The nominees were in various occupations at the GS–12 and above, as well as high potential GS–11s. They arrived from as far away as Canada and Germany as well as from across the U.S. Participants had different levels of experience, diverse responsibilities and came from a variety of disciplines.
The program was held at a state-of-the-art learning facility just outside of Washington, DC. AMA chose its best trainers—individuals with leadership experience and superior facilitation skills—to help participants develop their own leadership capabilities and serve as role models. The program utilized simulations, videos, classroom lectures, panel discussions and large- and small-group discussions with successful leaders in and out of the government. Speakers from the agency were also available to work with participants.
Program Goals: Strengthening Skills, Broadening the Candidate Pool
In preparing to move into more responsible roles, participants would take stock of their own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of the organization they worked for. They would also learn more about each of the agency’s functional areas and how all managers and staff contribute to a dynamic workforce.
Support teams were formed at the beginning of the program with the idea that members would be responsible for one another. The members bonded quickly, shared their project ideas and discussed their growth as they reviewed what they had learned from each session. In this setting, participants had an opportunity to master the first stage of team building, practice their leadership and team facilitation skills, and thereby increase their confidence in these roles.
Participants were provided with a 24-hour resource center with books, tapes, videos and articles from the Harvard Business Review. Many participants used the center to prepare for the next day’s activities, to practice making a presentation, or to work on projects. They could receive feedback from peers and, when requested, from a faculty member on site.
“This program put names and procedures on ideas floating rather intangibly in my head. Now, there is organization, focus on goals previously unnamed and a level of motivation I haven’t experienced in quite a while.”
Stepping Stones to Leadership
These topics were covered in depth in the course of a month:
Knowledge of Self. Effective leadership involves self-awareness and seeing oneself as we are seen. To help participants improve their image and increase their self-confidence, AMA administered a self-knowledge instrument to measure and provide personal feedback on the ways participants approach their work and relate to others within their organization. Each participant also had an opportunity to interact with others with different communication styles.
Team Building. By working in learning teams, participants learned from each other and discovered how to advance through the team-building process. They supported each other, offering ideas and solutions to problems, to create a motivational environment. Although the original support teams remained intact, individuals participated in other teams throughout the program.
Strategic Planning.From Day 1 of the program, each participant was responsible for developing a personal plan along with ideas to drive the agency’s strategic vision, goals and objectives. Participants looked at trends in their organization and discussed ways to effectively communicate change to others. Guest speakers from DLA and DCMA provided knowledge and perspective on the strategic issues facing the organization and helped participants relate strategic objectives to operational activities.
Communication Skills. Presentation skills were threaded throughout the program and a session on business writing was included to help participants present clear and concise written communications and presentation materials.
Each participant had an opportunity to make at least three presentations on video and receive feedback and one-on-one coaching from faculty or a staff member on selected evenings and every weekend.
Early on in the program, one individual froze when asked to introduce herself and tell the group about her job. She was unable to speak. With support, by the end of the month-long program she had gained enough confidence to deliver a 10-minute presentation that astonished the entire group.
Finance and Budgeting.A faculty member explained the “how to’s” of accounting concepts and how finance and accounting procedures affect business decisions. This section was highlighted by a speaker from the DLA who specifically discussed what participants needed to know to be successful.
Project Management.As each participant was responsible for starting a project that could be used back on the job, we invited a faculty member with project management expertise to discuss best practices and monitor participants’ progress.
Resulting return on investment has been swift and significant. Regarding one participant’s project implemented back at the agency, a sponsor wrote:
“The project for Distribution Planning and Management System Training was presented to management and the training tool will be used in the next two months. This tool will save travel dollars, enable vendors to use DPMS faster and allow DLA to reap the benefits of the system more quickly. The project has agency-wide implications in that we are resolving system-to-system errors that prevent customers’ back orders from being filled. [The participant] has been assigned to additional important responsibilities that have potential impact across the agency.”
Basic Management Skills.Participants learned more about motivation, delegation, empowerment, conflict management and how to manage change in light of their individual styles. They discussed how to increase their influence and power, the importance of building trust and how to lead by example.
Handling Change.Participants began to look at trends in their organization and organizational culture. They discussed the role of change in making processes and procedures more effective and how to contribute by suggesting and selling new ideas, creating new ways of doing business, and looking for opportunities for improvement and more efficiency.
Other workshops and discussions included:
- Negotiation Skills
- Problem Solving and Decision Making
- Personal Values
- Empowering Others and Yourself
- Performance Evaluation
- Customer Relations
A section manager wrote of one participant:
“Her attitude towards people and challenges changed 100%. She seems to have a much better understanding of people and how to deal with individuals. Her project was presented to management and is now being used. She is currently in charge of the largest Property Management Branch in DRMS. This is setting the stage for her to become a Logistics Manager. She has a promising career.”
Participants in the 30-day residential program for DLA and DCMA broadened their knowledge of their own agency and formed supportive relationships as they heard from each other about their jobs and how each position related to the overall mission of the organization. They were encouraged to look at their organizational culture as well as their professional goals and see their interrelation. Top-level managers were also invited to discuss major issues facing the organization and what participants could expect as they prepared themselves for increased responsibility and upward mobility. This afforded group members a broader perspective on the strategic issues facing the organization and helped them to relate strategic objectives and focus to operational activities.
The groups formed a bond that will most likely last for years. They communicate monthly via e-mail to provide updates and to encourage each other.
The success of this program is evident in the comments we have received from program participants as well as response from the second-level feedback questionnaire to section managers, whose reports speak of increased self-confidence and improved attitudes in addition to the successful implementation of projects, processes and strategies developed during the training.
But it wasn’t only the participants who praised the program’s worth. The managers who had sent participants to the program were queried six months after the fact to get feedback on the performance of the participants. AMA received comments like these from the sponsoring managers:
- “I believe the program has increased my staff person’s self-confidence. She demonstrated tremendous self-confidence in her presentations since attending the program. She presented a very good overview of the project she completed as a part of the program, and it appears to be adaptable to this operation and others within the agency.”
- “My staff member has a more confident and decisive manner. Since attending the program, she has sought additional training in job-related areas. Recently, she was named project manager of a new initiative to consolidate documents and files for multiple hardware drives into a single location for improvement structures and oversight. This encompasses transfer of over a thousand objects and their sub-components to a central location. We are very much pleased with the performance of our program graduate.”
Peter Nagrod, Executive Director of AMA’s Government Services Division, observes, “This was truly an exciting and rewarding project that allowed AMA to play a role in preparing individuals for advancement into positions that may be vacated by retirees. The greatest reward for us was to see actual change and growth in each of these future leaders.”
And, as one participant wrote:
“The intensity of the program created changes in myself and others which we will be obliged to carry with us. There is no going back! Reinforced principles have laid a new layer on my foundation; we will all be better for it.”
To learn more about how AMA can work with your agency call toll-free 1-877-262-6004 or e-mail PublicGovernment@amanet.org.