Agency Leaders as Puzzle Solvers

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Many people like to solve puzzles. It’s fun, exciting, and a path to increased brain activity. The more complex the puzzle, the more challenging the process, leading to increased feelings of satisfaction. Navigating an agency environment can present some of the same opportunities for puzzle solving. True business problem solvers use similar techniques for strategic success.

Like a puzzle, maneuvering the right pieces into the right spot at the right time can create immediate success. However, what do you do when the very puzzle that will move your organization from a systematic stalemate to a streamlined stalwart only has one piece? That piece is the knowledge gap.

A knowledge gap is created when an agency has a set of desired results or outcomes that are unknown by the workforce that is charged with achieving them. Often, some of this knowledge is proprietary. This proprietary knowledge is often taught to employees as they transition into an agency. There also are distinct differences from organization-specific themes or philosophies versus the day-to-day operational duties and responsibilities.

Some businesses attempt to put these different types of knowledge together and thus the gap widens. Explaining how individual roles fit into the overall mission can create synergy and lead to an engaged workforce.

Creating organizational and employee synergy starts with leadership. When you pick up a puzzle, you often can determine its complexity by the intricacy of the design and the number of pieces it contains. Many agencies are like complex puzzles.

Organizational puzzles include mission statements, vision statements, and goals that are articulated in various documents and settings, letterhead, websites, and the like. One of the most critical questions to ask is, are those words, phrases, and sentences actually connected to the work being performed by the agency?


Secondly, have these evolved with the ever-changing climate in which the agency operates? Tying statements to evolving measures of organizational success can be challenging and requires hard work, commitment, and frankly, some puzzle solvers.

Each agency should plot out clear short-term, mid-range, and long-term strategies. Each strategy should be tied to the work being performed within the organization and communicated through all levels of the organization.

Once created and communicated, divisional and unit leaders can align work plans and individual activities to this strategy. Those who are effective at communication and dissemination of information should anticipate questions from the workforce about certain actions that do not align. Managers should support this line of questioning because it can demonstrate that employees understand the strategy and how their individual activities support it.

Creating alignment with various checkpoints and metrics of success will allow the leaders to know if they are headed in the right direction, and if not, navigate in a different direction.

For a deeper dive into this topic, join me September 7 at the Government Workforce Conference.


About the Author
Timothy D. Howell is an HR professional who has held director-level roles in the private and public sector for more than 15 years, including most recently of director of human resources for the District of Columbia Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. Timothy has held other leadership roles as well, working directly with senior leaders at various Fortune 100 companies. He has consulted and coached many corporate leaders and executives in managing change, cultural diversity, conflict resolution, and implementing customer service initiatives. With an 18-year track record in public speaking and training engagements, Timothy’s ability to captivate his audience has allowed him to build a career spanning many industries.
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