Leading Like a Multiplier in the Public Sector: Learning from 2 Multipliers

By Jon Haverly, Master Multiplier Practitioner
February 27th, 2017

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Introduction

Having spent the past several years working with government organizations leaders to apply Multipliers disciples, the question I encounter often is: “How is leading like a Multiplier different in the public sector than in the private sector?” Due to various organizational restraints many people believe that leading like a Multiplier is more challenging – if not impossible – in the public sector. I, however, have witnessed inspirational Multiplier leaders who demonstrate not only that this is false, but also utilize and demonstrate techniques that leaders from any industry can learn from.

Over the past few years I have had the privilege of meeting many exceptional government leaders who lead with the mindset of a Multiplier – assuming that their teams are capable and will figure things out. I have come to appreciate some of the unique considerations of leading like a Multiplier in government. Recognizing that Multipliers exist in all types of organizations and industries, The Wiseman Group added the Military/Government category to our annual Multiplier of the Year (MOY) Contest.

The shortlist of four finalists to become the first Military/Government Multiplier of the Year included two New York State Leaders – Susan Filburn, Deputy Chief Procurement Office at the New York State Office of General Services (NYS OGS) and Marco Padula, Acting Deputy Director, Market Structure at the New York State Department of Public Service (NYS DPS).

Susan has played a major role in the implementation of the Strategic Sourcing Initiative at the NYS OGS, which provides essential services to state and local partners, as well as the general public in operating buildings and establishing procurement contracts. She was nominated for MOY for valuing and utilizing the existing talent and allowing them to “implement their own ideas” while putting Strategic Sourcing into operation.

At the NYS DPS, Marco spends a lot of time overseeing rate cases that ultimately lead to setting utility rates across New York State. Marco was recognized for being a driven leader who staff want to work for because he “allows staff to be creative and take ownership” by asking “questions of his staff and fostering growth and new ideas for solutions”.

Recently I had the opportunity of meeting with both Susan and Marco to discuss of their leadership styles along with the nuances of leading like a Multiplier in State Government.

3 Considerations

The most striking similarity between Susan and Marco is the growth mindset they hold toward their teams and everyone around them. They believe that the critical roles for leaders is to coach and teach their teams while making sure everyone feels like they are an important part of the team and are comfortable sharing their own ideas.
Together they identified four main considerations for government leaders who want to lead like a Multiplier.

1. Vast Stakeholder Community
2. Limited Candidate Pool
3. Rigid Hierarchical Structures
4. Reinforcing a Sense of Purpose

Susan came to New York State from a Military background where she served as an Aviation Officer – Captain in the US Army. During her Army tenure she had one person that she was responsible for reporting to – the General. In her current role at NYS OGS there are multiple stakeholder groups that need to be considered, including the Governor of New York, the NYS OGS Commissioner, the NYS Division of Budget, the vendor community, internal and external customers, and of course the New York State tax payers. Susan shared that the result of having such a diverse set of stakeholders is that she needs to consider many differing viewpoints when making key decisions. In Marco’s work at the NYS DPS the stakeholder list also includes rate payers (including low income families) and utility companies.

When you work under Civil Service rules, there are constraints that do not exist in the corporate world. One of these is the restriction of the candidate pool for hiring staff. Typically when filling a position only a limited pool of candidates exists, based on candidate exam results and current grade levels, from which candidates can be selected.

Additionally in most government organizations there exists very defined, rigid hierarchies with associated rules – such as job titles and responsibilities – which limit the ability to create new positions, reward high performers by means of pay increases and promotions, and provide staff with responsibilities outside of their grade or title.

As leaders in the public sector it is more challenging to define and remind teams of the purpose of the organization and resulting impacts to customers. As Marco noted, the rate setting services his agency provides are not tangible products such as the telephone in the conference room we were in, but it is critical that he helps his people connect the dots from the work to the impacts on stakeholder groups (such as rate payers) in order to fuel purpose and ultimately ownership within his teams.

Best Practices of Public Sector Leaders

These considerations can be addressed by public sector leaders by through leadership practices including: Decision Making, Managing Talent, and Driving Results.

Decision Making

Quality decision-making is critical to successful leadership, and Multipliers access collective intelligence through rigorous debate before key decisions are made. Our research has shown that during debates Multipliers spark the thinking of the group by creating a safe environment where people are called upon to see the merits and disadvantages of each option through a different functional or stakeholder lens. Therefore it is especially important for public sector leaders to consider the vast stakeholder community when making key decisions.

When faced with a high-stakes decision, both Susan and Marco avoid making those decisions in a vacuum and instead want to consider all points of view. During her decision-making sessions, Susan will commonly assume the role of a particular stakeholder to get others to think from a different lens. For example she will say, “I am representing the tax payer community. What is my perspective on this question?” Next she will have participants take the view point of the OGS Commissioner, and so on. She does this help others think through various perspectives. Additionally, she will invite disinterested parties from other areas with her organization to join her debates in order to tap into their knowledge and experience.

To support his decision-making process, one of Marco’s goals is to make sure others understand the gravity of the decision being made in order to spark their participation and insure their best contribution. Specifically he wants his teams to consider the impact of decisions on the stakeholder groups such as low income tax payers. His experience has shown him that allowing teams to weigh in as part of the decision making process will motivate them to quickly act upon the decision once it has been made.

Getting those involved in the decision-making process to take the view point of various stakeholder groups is one simple strategy that all leaders can utilize to make sure the perspectives of these groups are considered while allowing their teams to expand their thinking around key decisions.

Managing Talent

Multipliers are focused people watchers. They continually scan for talent in a way that transcends levels and job titles. They not only find people’s native genius (things they do easily and freely), but they label it and connect it to areas where it can be put to work.

Unlike their corporate counterparts, as leaders in State Government Susan and Marco are limited in who they can hire into their organizations. The candidate pools for most open positions are at least initially limited to existing New York State employees who are already in a title that will allow them to transfer to the position and are ‘reachable’ based on Civil Service exams scores. While this pool of candidates does contain employees from many other state agencies, it is very time consuming if at all possible to hire an external candidate.

These constraints make it even more critical for public sector leaders to observe the people around them in order to, as Susan says, “find the best fit for each person.” She is able to move people around within her organization to where they can contribute their best work as long as their assignments are still meeting the responsibilities of their grade level.

When leaders spot a native genius they can also utilize that person to assist other teams when they need help. In these cases Susan ignores unit boundaries and moves people temporarily to help other units. In one case, Susan temporarily reassigned an employee to help another unit, and the additional exposure and continued great work ultimately lead to a promotion for the employee.

While both Susan and Marco acknowledge that you cannot force a fit, with a limited talent and hiring pool it is even more critical that public sector leaders are proactive in identifying the genius on their team and finding the spot where each person can contribute at their highest level. Being a genius watcher can help all leaders to identify and best utilize the talent that already exists in their organizations.

Driving Results

Multipliers have a core belief that everyone can grow, and they invest in their people by letting go of work that rightfully belongs to others. They transfer ownership by delegating full responsibility for complete work (not piecemeal tasks) and holding people accountable, not rescuing them if they struggle along the way. It is this belief that allows Multipliers to drive both individual and team results by investing in the people around them.

Unfortunately, it is too often accepted that growth at work is only demonstrated through promotions and pay increases. While these factors may be barometers of career growth, Multipliers view growth in terms of increased intelligence and capabilities. This is an especially important distinction for leaders in the public sector because they typically have less control over providing promotional and pay increase opportunities.

Marco captured his mindset toward growth very succinctly as “growth through exposure.” Both Marco and Susan approach development by providing opportunities for the people around them to be exposed to more parts of a process than their job duties would typically provide. For example, due to the multi-discipline nature of rate case teams, Marco is able to provide the opportunity for people to play different roles on cases in order to give them a broader perspective of the overall rate case process. While these are voluntary rotations it allows him to identify areas where individuals gravitate to and excel.

This approach also allows team members to become exposed to the thinking and needs of a larger number of stakeholder groups. When Marco’s team needs to gather information from utility companies, instead of contacting these organizations himself or having more experienced team leaders do it, he will task less experienced team members with calling the utility companies. While this may be a surprising move to some, Marco wants them to learn the perspectives of the utilities through direct contact. After all there are no job title rules that prevent a junior team member from calling a utility company.

Allowing people to understand the big picture of their team’s purpose and understanding the impacts to stakeholders is just the beginning. Part of painting this holistic picture is making clear the connection between the team’s work and how it serves not only the purpose of the agency but their customers as well. In the case of public sector organizations, leaders can ultimately connect their teams’ work to citizens, visitors, or even wildlife of that state or municipality for local governments, which emphasizes the meaning of the public service they perform every day.

Once people can relate their work to positive impact on others, they are more willing to accept and maintain ownership of larger pieces of work. The role of the leader is to then delegate full responsibility and hold people accountable.

When handing over ownership Susan will delegate responsibility by defining the outcomes but not how to get there. This demonstrates confidence in her teams and builds trusting relationships. Marco is very direct when giving ownership and impresses upon the recipient that “you own this and the results will reflect on you.”

They both have a similar method for cementing ownership and making it clear to the entire organization that others and not themselves are in charge of particular initiatives. Both Susan and Marco bring these owners to meetings with Agency Executives and Commissioners. These guests are not there to be merely a fly on the wall but to actively participate and provide updates. While they are both there to support, it is made clear that their direct reports are expected to answer the easy and tough questions.

Kevin Manz works for Marco and has experienced growth not just by being present in meetings with the agency executives but also by having to provide information as well. He appreciates the opportunities that Marco provides and gains confidence by knowing that he “has important knowledge to share at the highest levels of the agency.”

Public sector leaders should also consider that providing opportunities for public sector employees to work above their grade level could lead to resentment or frustration if promotional opportunities are not readily available. In these situations Susan has very clear and direct advice to her teams: “Continue to work at the next higher level. If you continue to excel, eventually the payoff will come.” Susan explains to her people that if a Grade 23 is performing the role of a Grade 25, then when he has the opportunity to interview for a Grade 25 position he can demonstrate that he has already performed at that level, which is a great advantage. Unfortunately, many times promotional opportunities are more readily available in other agencies, which results in individuals leaving Susan’s team. In these situations, she is always quick to encourage people to move on and continue to grow.

Given the limited opportunities available to reward their teams, Susan believes it is even more important for leaders in the public sector to recognize accomplishment and celebrate successes.

Leaders can help drive both team results and staff growth by handing over ownership to their teams. As Susan and Marco have demonstrated this can be accomplished by first connecting the dots between effort and impacts to stakeholders and then handing over ownership of larger pieces of work. Helping teams understand the big pictures is a tactic that all leaders can use to help drive ownership and ultimately growth throughout their organizations.

So why is it so important to provide additional opportunities for their teams to learn? The answer is simple, Macro says, “We all have to learn.” And with a glace and smile at Susan, he concludes “after all nobody goes to school to do rate setting or procurement”.

Conclusions

I often hear that due to the nature of public sector organizational structures it is extremely difficult if not impossible to lead like a Multiplier in public sector. But the examples of Susan and Marco’s Multiplier leadership and dedication to growing the people around them show that this is clearly not the case.

In understanding and appreciating the nuances of leading in the public sector, I have concluded that although the industry and organizational considerations may be different, the specific leadership techniques shared by Susan and Marco can be applied by leaders in all industries to more fully utilize and grow the people around them.

How could your organization benefit by considering all stakeholder groups when making decisions, proactively connecting talent to their highest level of contribution or utilizing a “growth through experience” approach?

While these are just a few techniques for leaders in public sector to work within organizational constraints to find ways to fully utilize and grow the people around them, this is just the beginning. There are more nuances to leading like a Multiplier in the public sector to understand and share. If you have encountered someone who demonstrates Multiplier behaviors in the public sector, please considering sharing your stories and contributing to our research by contacting me at Jon@thewisemangroup.com.

jon_haverly

Jon Haverly is a Master Practitioner for the Wiseman Group where he leads Multipliers workshops, delivers keynotes and provides leadership coaching. During his workshops, he draws upon his extensive leadership experience to help business, government and non-profit organizations apply the Multipliers principles to more fully engage and utilize their teams. As a coach Jon helps leaders unlock the full potential of their teams and organizations to become even more successful.

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