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Keeping the Ball Rolling at the VA

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Wed Aug 10 2016

Keeping the Ball Rolling at the VA
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Our CIO, a political appointee, came on board with the VA a little more than a year ago. She considered the situation of our struggling IT department, and although she had time to tinker around the edges during her tenure, it was going to be impossible for her to fully overhaul the department.   

Identifying numerous improvements that could be made, she devised an integrated, enterprise plan to transform the IT department to better serve our internal customers—and ultimately, the veterans. The strategy was sound, well-organized, and took a holistic view of how an IT department can function. However, the long-term strategy extends beyond her expected time at the VA.

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We’re now a year into the plan, and we’ve made quite a bit of progress. We plan to make more progress in the six months she has remaining with us, but, as she is likely to leave no matter who is elected, it’s important to not let the strategy begin to stagnate upon her departure.

To keep the momentum going, it’s important that leadership in the VA think about how they can sustain and even accelerate progress. This requires a shift in the thought processes of the workforce. In other words, I need more minds that think like her, that understand her vision.  The VA needs to strengthen the strategic thinking skills in the IT department, as well as among middle- and senior-level managers.  For instance, the GS 14 and GS 15 areas are very influential, and by making sure these leaders are on the same page, we can sustain the CIO’s vision.

Currently, the VA is planning to select 110 high-potential individuals and put them through the CEB IT Leadership Academy, which focuses on planning and implementing an organized strategy to improve customer service, which aligns well with the strategic vision of the exiting CIO. However, it’s important to realize that this training will only be effective if there is a way for these individuals to apply what they are learning in the workplace. 

In any leadership development effort people need to see how implementing the methods they are being taught can lead to better outcomes. To do this, we will establish teams and charge them with developing projects with real-world goals that will accelerate the overall progress we’re making.

Additionally, we’re going through the process of thinking through a succession planning strategy, which might be a first for a federal IT department. I’m currently identifying and preparing all the senior leaders not only for the CIO’s departure, but also for the departure of any executive.

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Ultimately, the worst-case scenario would be losing forward momentum on the transformation of the VA’s IT department. Everyone is busy with their day-to-day tasks, and it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. By keeping them engaged with the vision and working towards realistic, measurable goals, I hope to keep the ball rolling.

To learn more about efforts at the VA, join me September 7 at the Government Workforce Conference.

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