Reshaping the Local Government Organization: An Interview with Kevin Bruny, Chief Learning Officer, Chesterfield County, VA

ARTICLE | Dec 5, 2011

We all know that training dollars are scarce, what are some of the innovative ways you have seen to help public servants grow and learn in today’s tough times?

I concur, we have seen training dollars disappear or be diverted to must have certifications in critical areas such as IT and Engineering.  However, that doesn’t mean learning stops or isn’t reachable for others in the organization.  Particularly around general content areas such as leadership, customer service, communication etc.

I believe the economic challenges are offering government organizations opportunities to reconsider their training or learning paradigm.  Too often I hear employees describe their training needs as attending a conference or going to an external class when I believe we need to refocus some of that learning internally.

While Chesterfield County has been fortunate to create learning through Chesterfield University, much of what our employees are obtaining is internally created and delivered by our own employees, leaders and subject matter experts.  I believe strongly in the philosophy of “leaders as teachers” and would recommend you read Edwards Betof’s book, Leaders as Teachers: Unlock the Teaching Potential of Your Company's Best and Brightest.  We launched an Emerging Senior Leaders Program in January which had been designed for two year but wasn’t funded. Realizing the funding probably would never come as we might desire, we moved forward using many of the concepts that Ed describes and brought about eight of our Leadership Team members into the classroom as instructors throughout this year long program.  And you know what? They really enjoyed the opportunity to share their insights and knowledge with these future leaders.  The learning across division/departmental lines has been tremendous.

So my point here, is that as organization’s we have much that can be learned from ourselves and as the 70-20-10 Model for Learning and Development indicates 70% of all development occurs on-the-job, 20% from relationships, networking and feedback, and 10% from formal training opportunities.  Unfortunately, too many organizations have focused on the 10% which leaves 90% untapped and unexplored.  With the emergence of social media and new technologies I believe our training paradigms need to shift to more social learning within organizations.  This can be done through mentoring, coaching, communities of practices etc.

How do you see the workforce changing?  Are boomers retiring?        

Where I see the biggest challenge and change, and we are already seeing it here in Chesterfield County, is in the breadth of generations in the workplace.  As Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd lay out in their book The 2020 Workplace, we will see five generations in our workforce by 2020. That is eight years from now folks.  We’ve never see that before and it will take some intentional efforts by leaders to understand the needs and desires of these generational workers and create environments for which they each can flourish.  In some ways, society is pushing local governments to change, such as technology – i.e. two way communication; access to information, and second screen phenomenon. By that how many employees are bringing their smartphone, iPad -tablets to work to access information outside of your firewall.

Are boomers retiring?

I do see the workforce changing but maybe not as fast as we had originally thought a decade ago.  While many of us were ready for the great exit of boomers, the economy has softened that exit which I believe has been helpful for local governments.   We’ve seen individuals stay in place longer and when they do decide to retire, we often see them return in a part-time capacity which is very helpful when considering the institutional knowledge that we were so concerned about loosing.   Again, I’ll again plug focusing on the social learning aspects and the remaining 90% of learning.

Are milennials fleeing local government?

I believe our biggest challenges will be in the attraction of the millennial worker.  They come to us digitally confident having used technology to communicate, learn, and work.  They want to work for organizations that they believe in and are empowering, supportive and inspiring.  They want to be self-directed, blend their work and home life, and ultimately develop new skills and good career prospects.  For some organizations, this is a tall order but an area leaders must begin to have conversations related to the impacts of retaining young talent.  So the question should be are your organization’s systems, practices, and beliefs ready to meet the millennial worker? 

Do you think local government is an attractive and competitive employer?  How can we be better at that?

I do believe we are an attractive employer.  The competitive issues may be up for more scrutiny and debate, but I believe it comes down to what an individual values.  I’ve been impressed with our younger talent who is drawn to local government for the public service aspects of our jobs.  They want to make a difference.  They want to give back to their communities and it’s not always about the money.  With their focus on work/life balance, public sector organizations can offer that in many ways that private sector jobs can not.   I personally have used “snow days” as an angle for recruiting that often can’t be touched in the private sector.

I personally believe local government organizations will be challenged to adopt new practices and policies to become more attractive as an employer.  Much has been written and discussed on our use of technologies, mobile phones, social media and how governments can embrace those areas that seem to be standard elements for younger workers.   We won’t be able to ignore these areas if we want to continue seek the brightest and best of tomorrow workforce.  We will need to shift our thinking and practices to become more appealing as an employer.  That will take leaders who are open to change and willing to engage in the discussions.

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