Being an Ambassador of Public Service

For those of you in the Willamette Valley, I wish I could infuse this message with some bright rays of sunshine for all the rain we’ve had, but this will have to do!

I’ve been contemplating what being an ambassador of public service means to me and felt compelled to share with you. If this resonates with even just one of you, I will feel fulfilled.

I’ve noticed lately a type of state employee who both inspires and worries me. You may recognize them. They are committed to doing a good job, keep their head down, follow their beliefs and values, get their work done and don’t make waves. They are engaged in their own work. They are the reason state government keeps going. Among the climate of constant change, they just do what they know they have to do and keep going. What’s the problem with this, Lisa, you might be asking? It worries me. They appear to be in survival mode. They are skeptical and resistant to change and new ideas, new methods for collaborating and new ways of doing things. They just want to do what they do and go home. I realize that in my 3 ½ years of public service at the Department of Administrative Services (DAS), I’ve had 4 directors, 3 appointed and 1 interim. It would be very easy for me to fall into this survival mode. “No matter what happens, just keep your head down and do your job.”

When our employees fall into survival mode, we are losing out on opportunities for creativity, collaboration and teamwork. As managers we have a lot of power to influence how our employees feel about and how they perform their job. I know we are operating very lean. I know we’re being asked to do more with less. I know many of you feel like you are sinking and can barely keep your head above water. So what can we do to keep our employees engaged and positive and connected to each other?

Employees watch their managers for body language. Are they distracted, are they stressed, do they look happy? And they are listening for appreciation and feedback. Now more than ever, they need to be reminded of why we’re doing what we’re doing. They need a manager who puts their head up, smiles and says “Thank you for what you do each day, we couldn’t do it without you.” Because the truth is, we couldn’t. I recognize that we still have to uphold standards and we have to hold people accountable for performance. I also want to point out that when a manager has shown appreciation, has communicated clear goals and expectations and has built trust, then, when a critical conversation has to happen, the employee acts out of a desire to please and to collaborate and make things better as opposed to reacting out of fear and shutting others out.

To quote Greg Sanker and Brad Cunningham in their article on DASH this week, “what we do in government truly matters,” and “state government has outstanding individuals and offers a wealth of employment opportunities.”

Be a ray of sunshine to your team today. Lift your head up from your work, your computer monitor, and your phone. Put a smile on your face and acknowledge your team for what they do. Moments of connection like this will change a person’s attitude from just showing up and doing their job, to being more engaged in what they do and in those around them.


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