Can Better Governance Deliver Better Government? And Early In A Career, Can You Contribute?

June 06, 2022 00:23:55
Can Better Governance Deliver Better Government? And Early In A Career, Can You Contribute?
I See What You Mean
Can Better Governance Deliver Better Government? And Early In A Career, Can You Contribute?

Jun 06 2022 | 00:23:55


Show Notes

In Part 2 of our discussion, Richard Spires talks about the subject of his upcoming book - running government programs effectively and efficiently. We discuss the importance of governance not only for delivering program results, but also for building relationships and problem solving capability, generally. Richard also explains how cultivating mentor relationships and expertise - two of the 12 traits he wrote about in his first book - can help young professionals make valuable contributions to how programs are run. 


Visit to check out his first book, "Success in the Technology Field - A Guide For Advancing Your Career," and watch for his second later this year. Here are a few of my favorite ahh-ha! moments for Part 2 of our conversation. And please forgive the occasional audio "scratches" I couldn't edit out. 


1:58 - Open and honest governance conversations lead to a better informed team with more options to solve problems

5:42 - How a senior governance team prepared the Internal Revenue Service to take electronic returns in a much shorter time than anyone thought possible.

9:35 - The trusted environment - even people who want to be open and honest will become guarded if they're not sure then can trust others in the room.

12:31 - The value of mentorship for young professionals learning project and program management ropes.

14:27 - The value of cultivating expertise that you're known for, especially early in your career.

20:54 - Can running programs effectively and efficiently restore trust in government?

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

Speaker 1 00:00:06 Let's segue to the, the book you're working on. Now imagine a large project, like you've talked about large, a large, uh, modernization. There are a lot of different parties to it. Have they have different stakes in it? Mm-hmm, <affirmative> some, I, Lou could see something very different than, than Richard putting aside reasons of personal agenda. I might rep I might feel like I represent a business interest or, or, or, or a cyber in some aspect of the program that is at odds with where you're going. Now, if I'm doing it in honorably, in earnest, I'll have the open conversation with you. I won't play a game mm-hmm <affirmative>, but what if we could clash on some things for legitimate business reasons that affects performance and results and, and that is your that's what you're writing about now. Correct? Speaker 2 00:00:53 Yeah. Well, let me just set the stage and I'll try to, to get to your point. So I I've served, as I said, two times in the us federal government agencies, and I saw, um, on the positive, I saw some amazing things. And in fact, when we were on the same page as a team, it's amazing what some we got done in government. Yeah. But I also saw a lot of dysfunction and a lot of the dysfunction for various reasons, right. That we can go into if you'd like, but so I'm writing this book about, you know, from an operational practitioner standpoint, okay. How can government agencies be more effective in the delivery of whatever service they deliver and product and more efficient in doing it? And so that's really the, the Genesis of the book and a lot of the topics. I mean, governance, we've talked about here at a, at a program level, I talk about government governance at various levels at a program level, at a portfolio level, at a whole agency level. Okay. Speaker 1 00:01:58 Right. Speaker 2 00:01:58 Because the very concepts we talked about, about being on the same page, they apply at all three of those levels. Yeah. Uh, to be effective yeah. As an agency. And so governance is a key theme in the book about the government, uh, performance or agency performance. And so to your point, yeah. I mean, let's take your example. I mean, you may be representing, I mean, cyber's a great example. Maybe you're the cyber specialist and have, uh, you know, real concerns about where we're going from a cyber protection standpoint with this program and the systems where we delivering. And of course, I've got the business people all over me as the program manager about wanting more functionality and why are these cyber people kind of getting in our way <laugh> right. Because they, right, right. I mean, this is pretty classic. And, and so that's a tension that is a perfect example of why you need a governance body where you Lou, as cyber expert, get to come in and talk about the risks and the, and what could happen on a bad day if we deliver this and we don't have the right kind of protections and the like, and the business people can come in and talk about, you know, all the functionality delivered and you know, what, what we're gonna end up with is probably something that maybe doesn't meet everybody's expectations, but, but it's probably best for the agency or the, or the customer in this case. Speaker 2 00:03:21 Mm-hmm <affirmative> or whoever. See mm-hmm <affirmative>, I mean, we need to have the cyber protections, but we also need to deliver business value. So, you know, it's, these are the classic kind of tensions you run into, and sure. You're gonna have a different view and you're gonna be representing your interest. But that doesn't mean as you say, if you do it in an open, honest trust environment that we all have, you can make really good progress in that kind of environment. Yeah, yeah. Right. Yeah. You really can. Yeah. And frankly, if you, if you do that over time, what will happen is we'll be able to deliver a lot more business value and we'll be able to deliver it in a lot more secure way. Yes. Than if we don't have that trusted yes. Governance kind of model. Speaker 1 00:04:03 If you do that. Yeah. If you have those conversations in good faith, you, I think you build a team capability for doing that better and better over time. Speaker 2 00:04:11 I, I absolutely you do, Speaker 1 00:04:13 Because what would, what could come of that? If we could get, if I would like some degree of protection, but the group agreed that it, it could accept some risk with a somewhat lesser degree of protection. If that's a group decision Speaker 2 00:04:26 Mm-hmm <affirmative> Speaker 1 00:04:27 That covers me. Speaker 2 00:04:28 Well, the, yeah. Okay. Yeah. I mean, there's that self-interest that it ultimately comes into play here too, but you're right. I mean, you, you, Speaker 1 00:04:35 I have a response, right? Speaker 2 00:04:36 You you've you've brought the issues forward. A business decision was made, uh, we're gonna take some risk and we're gonna live with them. Speaker 1 00:04:43 And then we have also had a conversation about how to manage those risks. Speaker 2 00:04:47 Yes. Speaker 1 00:04:47 That's the thing is that the more, I think the beauty of the governance process, the way you've described it and the conversations that should that happen there, when it goes, well, these things get vetted. You don't want some of this conversation going on in the hall or outside of the meeting, not in the meeting. You don't want people, things, people, things, people are worried about or ideas they have for solutions not shared. You want that shared because it opens up options for the team. Speaker 2 00:05:16 Agree. Absolutely. That's you said it so well, I can, I couldn't add to that. That's exactly the point. Speaker 1 00:05:24 I mean, probably narrow differences that way we might not be able to agree on everything, but you probably can narrow differences that way and get more agreement. And apart from the particulars of any situation, if two of us, five of us, 10 of us learn to do that together, there is a lot of value in that for the, for the individuals in Speaker 2 00:05:42 The organization. Oh, tremendous. So I I'll give you a, a real world story if I can, if you, if I can take just a couple minutes. Sure, please. Cause I think it's such a good one. When I was at the IRS, we were building a system called modernized E file. And the commissioner at that time, mark eon was wanting to be very aggressive mm-hmm <affirmative> and growing this out. And the first forms we actually took on, on modernized defile were not the 10 forties, the ones we files individuals, but they're actually the business, uh, returns. And so he got in his head that he wanted to mandate that the largest corporations in the United States have to e-file now. Okay. And so he brought in, um, Debbie Nolan and myself, I was a CIO at the time and he brought in Debbie and she was running the what's the large business, uh, part of the IRS mm-hmm <affirmative> that her division handled all the large taxpayers on the business side. It was really a, a challenge to us is that I wanna mandate this. Can I for the next filing season? And are you guys gonna be ready? <laugh> and so we didn't say immediately. Yes. But what we did was we went back and we already had a program governance board. So, uh, what we decided to do was that we took over cochair of it, the two of us. Okay. And really we would do it. And here's what we did every, we met every other week for a year Uhhuh as a government for Speaker 1 00:07:02 Uhhuh. Speaker 2 00:07:03 And the sole objective was to hit that date so that when the IRS mandated e-filing to large corporations, we would be ready. And the first agenda item, and pretty much the only agenda item is what is it we need to do to make sure we stay on schedule. And we got, we took care of so many issues in that governance. It was a tight board. It was a trusted environ. It was all the things we've been talking about. And we had success. And I'll tell you that was so big kudos for the IRS because when mark Ebers eon mandated the commissioner mandated that first, it was a laughing stock. You go the, the Iris, no kidding. And they, and we made it, it was a big deal. And, um, it's something that I'll always remember. You know, you remember you said it earlier, you remember those things. So what, yeah, yeah. That was a very, it was a great example of, and it, it wouldn't have worked. I, I guarantee you, we wouldn't have had success if we didn't do what we, I just described meeting every other week as a group and driving this thing is what it needed. Speaker 1 00:08:13 Well, so what lesson could you draw from that, for observations you're making in, in the second book about government effectiveness and efficiency, there's a lot of getting on the same page to make any organization. Yes. You, you, your church group, you know, Speaker 2 00:08:28 Uh, yeah. I mean, right. A lot of these are, are universal to every organization that wants to be, uh, wants to do better. There's a lot in the book. So I don't wanna, it's gonna be hard to describe it quickly, but this idea of, of having very capable people in, in the roles that they're in and then them working together in the right governance framework, because in order to get anything done in government, in particular, I mean, organizations are the same in some sense. Yeah. But government is a bit of an outlier in that they're even more coordination is required in government than in most private sector organizations. Yeah. And there are more stakeholders, frankly, and, and with the stakeholder means, you know, are more people that can say no, or they can torpedo something Speaker 1 00:09:16 Or call you up to Congress. Speaker 2 00:09:18 Yeah, exactly. <laugh> right. Um, so, you know, it's even more critical that you have the right kind of governance framework in place so that these very capable people you have in these roles can be effective on their roles cuz they have to work together to Speaker 1 00:09:35 Get things done. So, okay. So fair point. There's a lot in the book. There's a lot that meaning that there are many factors that you're gonna address, but, and I don't wanna oversimplify, but what, what I thought in response to what you said was create the environment. It goes back to an earlier point of view is create the environment for those people to work in. And then the second thing is have the right conversations. Meaning let's, let's talk about the real issues openly and honestly yes, Speaker 2 00:10:02 Yes. But that goes back to a trusted environment. Doesn't it? Speaker 1 00:10:06 I think so Speaker 2 00:10:06 People will not even people that want to be open and honest will get very guarded quickly if, if they feel like right, others are taking, you know, trying to take advantage of them or trying to correct. Yeah. Or not playing, not, not playing fair, whatever. However you wanna state it. Speaker 1 00:10:27 I I've a, a colleague in the, in the DC area that had this discussion with me sometime ago, not on a, not a pot, not an episode, but just that she was on a, she was, it was a Navy team. She was civilian, but it was a Navy team. And she said it was the best team experience she had of her life. And they had some rules for themselves as a team that they established. One of them was if we find a problem, anybody finds a problem. You bring it to the team first. Mm-hmm <affirmative> you have an obligation to take some cuz they all came from a different chain of command. Speaker 2 00:10:57 Okay. Speaker 1 00:10:58 We respect that. We all have an obligation to inform of the chain of command, but first you bring it to the team so we can, Speaker 2 00:11:05 We can yes. Speaker 1 00:11:06 Figure it out. What Speaker 2 00:11:08 Deal with it, have a plan of action. Exactly. Speaker 1 00:11:11 And, and, and what that does is it, it, it, it it's some that creates some safety. If you know that your team members are gonna bring things for discussion amongst yourselves first, and you have noticed if something's gonna be elevated by anybody, you just don't feel as risk. You feel more informed, you feel more aware. Speaker 2 00:11:28 Yes. That's a good, I like that. I like that a lot. Speaker 1 00:11:31 Yeah. I thought it was a great rule. Mm-hmm <affirmative> I thought it was a great rule. Well, let's bring this around full circle because your first book was about a guide for advancing your, a career, a technology career. You're not writing a second book about a guide for advancing your program career. But if you're talking about effective and efficient government, effective efficient government programs, a lot of young people in government today, what advice would you have for them being mindful of, of, of things they could do? Maybe it's their, their first project lead role. Maybe they're not the project lead. They're a project team member and they're trying and ask themselves, there's gotta be a better way to do this. There's gotta be a way we could do this better. Speaker 2 00:12:14 Oh goodness. Probably comes, Speaker 1 00:12:16 Probably comes back to some of the nine things you wrote about, or the sorry, the, Speaker 2 00:12:20 I was gonna say, I mean, as I said, there's 12 traits there's write about and, and you've just opened up the box here so I could, I could list them all or not Speaker 1 00:12:28 <laugh> yeah, true. The young person, but they do apply. Speaker 2 00:12:31 I mentioned a couple things that I think are really important that I'll hit on. Again, that go, I think to your 0.1, this idea of mentors, I'm very big on mentors. I've I've had some great mentors myself, mm-hmm <affirmative> and have mentored me. And I try to be a good mentor to a number of people. Someone is interested. I would certainly try to help others at this stage in my career, but it it's like we were talking about it. It can provide you perspective and it can help you learn things that might take you a decade to learn that you can learn, you know, very short time with the right mentor. True. If you're open to it now. Yeah. It's not like you just, you know, take anything and everything that someone tells you, who's your elder, so to speak. But you know, if you can, if you can find the right mentor or a few mentors, people that you trust, you really respect, they, they've kind of gone a path that you wanna in your career. Speaker 2 00:13:32 Oh my God, it's, it's a boom for you. Good point as a younger person. And so that, and I that's, one of the traits is to cultivate the right kinds of mentors. That's certainly one that can help you in this kind of situation. So you're on a project team. The team's struggling. If you've got a mentor, that's kind of been there, done it, cuz it's very difficult for you as a younger person to go to the project manager say, well, you're really doing this wrong. Yeah. And here's what you could be doing. And they look at you like you've never even done this before. Yeah. It's like, you have really little credibility when you're younger in some of these points. So we're talking about yeah. Cause you've not been there done it, but mentors can help you navigate ways in which maybe you can get that point across that more effectively or, or help in ways. I'm, I'm very big on building your own expertise, especially when you're younger. So, you know, and really this goes beyond the technology deal. Speaker 1 00:14:27 It does Speaker 2 00:14:27 Technology too. You know, if, if building credibility is important early in your career, how you do that? Well, if you're really become known as good for, you know, really known as someone as really, really good and becomes an expert, even in a particular topic, if it's technology great. I mean, what element of technology? I mean there's thousands, literally thousands of different areas you can, you can work in and it, and what's nice about it is in today's technology where the way things change. And like, it's not like this is a 20 year thing to do. You know, I talk about becoming an expert in about five years in a particular topic. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, which is doable, is doable. Mm-hmm <affirmative> now I don't think you're gonna become an expert in how to manage large scale pro programs from a standing start at, at 20 years old, in five years. Right. That that's Speaker 1 00:15:18 Not gonna happen. No, Speaker 2 00:15:19 There's just too much experience you need and you have to play different roles in the like, but if you wanna become a, an expert in some element of cyber security or some expert in some element of the development of systems or the lack, that's very doable in five years. And I mean, world class, I mean really know Speaker 1 00:15:38 What that's a great point. Speaker 2 00:15:40 And Speaker 1 00:15:41 That's a great point that Speaker 2 00:15:42 Has a number of elements that are really positive for you. It, it, not only that was it help you right then and there cuz you're, you're gonna get better raises. You're gonna get promotion opportunities like, but you're gonna build credibility. Okay. And if you do it right, you're not gonna just build credibility in your own company or own agency or whatever it is you work for. But if you, if you reach out and I talk about networking, right. And I don't need technical networking, I no, no networking with people, you know, through professional associations. Yeah. In other ways you can build a network of people related in that field, whatever it is. And all of a sudden you've got a worldwide network you've built and five years that you're part of, and this is Speaker 1 00:16:26 Doable. That's good stuff. This Speaker 2 00:16:27 Is definitely doable today. Now I don't say, you know, this, isn't just the cakewalk where you, you gotta put a lot of time and effort. You gotta, I mean, become an expert. You gotta, you know, either additional education or additional training. I mean, you're gonna have, this is, you know, this is well way above and beyond your normal 40 hours a week kind of job. But it's definitely Speaker 1 00:16:48 Dual. So as the return, yeah, that reminds me that's right. That reminds me of, Speaker 2 00:16:54 Yeah, go ahead. Speaker 1 00:16:55 I don't even remember what the, what the project was. Richard. It was so long ago, but I remember being asked to look into some data. I thought would be the most boring and tedious thing in the world to have to have to do. And somebody said to me, if you know that data better than anybody else, you have a valuable contribution to the team and the effort mm-hmm <affirmative>. So it wasn't even going, as far as you're describing of, uh, mastering something that would take some time, like years, maybe some certifications, it was really simple. It was nobody on the team knew all the data mm-hmm <affirmative> I studied it. I studied it upside down, inside, out left and right. And when questions came up, I, Richard, I didn't even have a view on something. It wasn't like I had a position or an objective. I just had the answers. Speaker 2 00:17:45 Yeah. Speaker 1 00:17:46 I knew it was, you were Speaker 2 00:17:47 Resident, you were a resident expert on that data. It was which all of a sudden becomes very Speaker 1 00:17:51 Valuable at at times it did. And it, and it, I was young. And I remember thinking, I remember feeling good about, well, it, it taught me something fast mastery. It may felt good about. Yeah. That was a simple thing to master. It wasn't mastering a complex. It was mastered a data set <laugh> but it felt mastery felt good. Mastery is mastery. I liked the master, my golf swing, and I'm never gonna be on the tour. It mastery felt good. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and then the value I could bring to a con conversation, answer a question, correct. A misunderstanding. It was just, it was, it felt good in a matter it contributed something that when others would like in the, like in the governance conversations you've talked about, I could say something that somebody would go, oh, okay. I didn't know that. Or aha. Now I understand some right. Those, those light bulbs went off. And then mm-hmm, <affirmative> those folks advanced things in the conversation that I wasn't really, I couldn't keep up with, but I, I gave a piece of the puzzle. Speaker 2 00:18:48 Yes. Good example. Speaker 1 00:18:50 Great. Very good. Two, two good points, mentoring and, and build your own expertise. Well, is there anything else you wanted to comment on? Speaker 2 00:18:58 Um, no. I'm excited about, you know, I hope to get my second book published about improving government agency performance this year. Uh it's that's that's my plan. I mean, I've, I've got a complete draft, but I'm, I'm refining that. So I do wanna get that completed and published as well. And I mean, tell you to get that out, but as you say, it's a different perspective. I mean, my first book is about the individual. My second book is more about the organization and in this case I'm focused on government agencies cuz I know them so well, but I'm excited. I'm excited to get that done. So I hope it's, I hope it'll be valuable for people. Well, I, I, the first book I'm very proud of it. And, and to what you mentioned, like with your daughter giving, I think it's very, very valuable for those earlier in their career. I mean, it's really meant as a career art kind of book. Yeah. But it's more, I think it's most valuable for those that are either in school still or are, are just earlier in their career. Speaker 1 00:19:56 Well, and I thought the story of how the concept of the book emerged was, was interesting. It was a real organic thing that happened. Yeah. You described. Yeah. Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, there's a number of people at your level and anybody at that level has a perspective that's lacking at a, at, at lower level. So there's a lot in that book for, for a career, for, for a career. I learned some things in it at 61 and I'm not a technologist and I'm eager to see what you have to say about, I was, I, I worked at us EPA while I was in graduate school. Speaker 2 00:20:27 Oh, Speaker 1 00:20:27 Okay. In Ohio, where I, before I came to DC, I was in a local government. And then in DC, I worked at us EPA for about eight years before I left government. And then I've been consulting the government. And so mm-hmm, <affirmative>, I'm a big believer in the missions that the public has set for itself that would, that require a government mechanism to make them happen and go, and in doing that well. And so the effectiveness and efficiency notions resonate with me. And I look forward to what you have to say, Speaker 2 00:20:54 Well, you know, so much trust has been lost in government, particularly at the federal level. That's really very concerning to me as a use, as a citizen, we need to rebuild trust in government. And I don't know of a better way to do it than to actually government agencies deliver more effectively, more efficiently. That to me is how you rebuild trust. Speaker 1 00:21:18 Well, let's talk about that one another time. I remember I was, um, at EPA when it was Newt Gingrich and bill Clinton that went toe to toe and shut the government down for the first time. Wasn't it? Speaker 2 00:21:31 I believe that's correct. Speaker 1 00:21:33 And I remember Speaker 2 00:21:33 In the 1990s, Speaker 1 00:21:35 Yeah, it was, I remember being home cuz I wasn't going to work. And I remember turning into CSPAN and I remember watching then a Republican Congressman, not, this is not a partisan thing to say. He was Republican Congressman at a podium, then pounding the podium with his, with his fist. And he had a glass of water on the podium. Cuz there wa that, that was, there would even bottled much bottled water. Then it was glass of water and he, and he was saying he was gloating. Government's been closed for three days and who misses it? And I thought to myself, do you have any idea what it took to put that clean glass of water on that podium? Yeah. Federal state and local. Speaker 2 00:22:15 Yes. Speaker 1 00:22:16 Whole system organizations, science technology, policy, law, human health, ecological, um, factors just so much. And there's something good to be said for when governments faded into the background, like the wallpaper that you don't notice cuz it's probably working well, but that's not a good sales point. That's not a good marketing point <laugh> but I would say to people over time, I say you don't worry about opening a can of food and getting Bo you don't worry about getting on a plane and having a wing fall off. These are public and private sector functions, government and public private sector have come together to do some things that we take for granted. Speaker 2 00:23:00 Well stated Speaker 1 00:23:00 That doesn't help our, our, the problem you, you meant that you identified of lost of trust in government and, and how to get it back. But that's just a different conversation. <laugh> Speaker 2 00:23:11 It is. We just went another hour on that. Yes. Speaker 1 00:23:14 Thank you, sir. I've enjoyed this very much and learned a lot. I appreciate it, Speaker 2 00:23:18 Lou. Thank you again for having me on. It's been great talking Speaker 1 00:23:21 To you. I'll look forward to your next book. Speaker 2 00:23:23 All right. Thank Speaker 1 00:23:24 You. Thank you, sir. Speaker 2 00:23:25 All right, Lou. Thank you so much again. Speaker 1 00:23:27 All right. My pleasure. And I'll be in touch. Okay. Bye-bye and that's how we see it. My friends, I wanna thank Richard for recording today's episode. You can find it at, I see what you Plus all the usual places, send questions and suggestions through your app. Subscribe and give me a five star rating unless you can't. In which case, let me know why and join me next week. When we take another look at how to get on the same page and stay there unless we shouldn't.

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