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Government as a Learning Organization

A previous National Commission on the Public Service survey indicated that the best and brightest prospective new employees seek the following from their jobs:

-Challenging work

-Personal growth

-Pleasant working conditions

-Good social relations

-Job autonomy

-Service to society

-Job security

-Professional recognition

-Opportunity for advancement

-Pay and other financial rewards


 In itself, this list is not remarkable; these survey results are virtually identical to surveys conducted over the years by Fortune, Forbes, Inc. and other magazines as well as the Society for Human Resource Management, American Society for Training and Development, McKinsey, and various universities. What IS remarkable is that this particular survey was conducted in 1988. And, in the intervening 22 years, government has retreated from quality training and failed to establish potent learning environments where talented employees can thrive and contribute.

Of the cities and counties I visit, by far the most successful are those that value training and employee development. There is a commitment to development and in celebrating individual and group contributions. I find it deeply disturbing that so many public agencies choose to eliminate employee development and training programs at a time when productivity, efficiency and quality are critical. Job sharing requires cross training; multitasking to cover new service gaps requires higher knowledge and skill levels. These do not magically appear.

I propose that renewed effort be made to create a learning government by:

-Restoring employee training and education budgets

– Creating a new skills package for all employees

– Basing pay increases on skills and job performance, not time in grade

-Insisting on a new kind of problem-solving public manager…not paper passers

-Encouraging a new style of labor-management communication

 This list is not mine. It was originally published in the First Report of the National Commission on State and Local Public Service in 1992! I add the exclamation to emphasize that these recommendations were made 18 years ago and in the interim virtually nothing has changed OTHER than a further decline in employee and professional development. This must be addressed.

We have found that, done properly, employee development is not expensive, yet can positively transform the workplace. It can add stability while boosting efficiency, productivity, and quality. In turn, this can reduce costs and more than compensate for budget dollars dedicated to training and mentoring. 

Being prepared for current and future challenges requires competence in team development, greater communication and problem solving skills, and the ability to mobilize talent across departments and entire communities. High performing public agencies are committed to quality services. Outputs and outcomes are carefully planned and measured. Skill requirements are known and developed as a foundation for the future. What is happening in your agency or area of government? Is employee development and training a formal, respected, and integrated facet of the overall organization?  If not, why not?  After all these years, there has never been a better time.

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. John is the author of Operations Planning: A Guide for Public Officials and Managers in Troubled Times, and The Strategic Planning Guide, both published by the International City/ County Management Association (ICMA). An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges (public futures at http://www.futurescorp.com).

One Response

  1. Training and development: obvious solutions to employee efficiency, productivity, job satisfaction, etc.

    What holds public entities back from incorporating an ongoing improvement program for all employees? It seems an obvious component for the success of any organization.

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