Perkins: Focus on empowerment from bosses and subordinates

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Empowerment is a two-way street between subordinates and supervisors, said Gen. David Perkins, U.S Army Training and Doctrine Command commanding general, during the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.

Perkins was the keynote speaker for the AUSA Civilian Professional Development Seminar, and his address was followed by two civilian panel discussions.

The first panel focused on improving the supervisor-employee relationship, and the second discussed professional development programs available to Army civilians.

Most of the empowerment Perkins has received throughout his career has not come from his bosses, he said, but from his subordinates.

"If you’re a battalion commander and you’re conducting a deliberate attack and all of a sudden your company commander goes out and sees that there’s two bridge crossings, now you can use either one," Perkins said.

This is empowering, he said, because, "now my subordinate has given me options. My subordinate is setting me up for success."

Perkins said empowering others is the best way to progress and develop your career.

"If you are a subordinate – which we all are – spend most of your time figuring out how you can empower your boss, not what your boss can do for you. Because then what happens is, they feel very comfortable with empowering you," he said.

While the Army has many programs in place to develop civilian talent, Perkins added that employees often learn the most through their relationships with coworkers.

"It’s that relationship between peers, supervisors and subordinates where most development actually occurs," he said.

Adding, "That’s not to say that the former part of it is not important. It is very important."

In the past few years, the Army has added new professional development programs and training opportunities for Army civilians.

The Army has created the Senior Enterprise Talent Management Program, or SETM, which focuses on continuing development for GS-14 and -15 level employees.

The Enterprise Talent Management Program, concentrating on GS-12 and 13-level civilians, will be unveiled soon, and the Army is also developing additional professional development opportunities aimed at civilians at the GS-12 level and below.

The Army also needs to invest time and effort into developing supervisors, because they have a singularly important role in the Army and in accomplishing the mission, said Ellen Helmerson, a panelist and deputy chief of staff, G-1/4, personnel and logistics, Training and Doctrine Command.

This is because supervisors set the conditions, environment, relationship and communications, she said.

"It really starts with the supervisor, although I believe employees have a very important role in that discussion and it is as important, but that supervisor really has the lead. And [the Army needs] to make sure that we are fostering and strengthening that supervisor’s ability to do that," she said.

Centralized supervisor training

To better train supervisors, the Army’s current 40-hour supervisor development course is being redesigned, according to Kim Summers, panelist and director of the Army Management Staff College.

"That is being looked at and will be part of the redesign and revision process that we’re going through with an expected deliver of sometime [Fiscal Year 2016] for that revision," he said.

He added that the "transparency, trust, and the commitment that you have for the workforce speaks volumes to the idea of developing skills as a supervisor."

Local training

Supervisor training can also be added locally at installations.

The Engineer Research and Development Center, or ERDC, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has established local performance management training for supervisors and members of the Senior Executive Service.

During the training, senior leaders receive realistic supervisor challenges and work with their peers to determine how the situations should be properly handled.

"It’s helped us put the trust back between the supervisors and our employees," said panelist Dr. Peggy Callaway, director for Human Capital with ERDC.

Adding, "Ultimately it’s about enabling our supervisors to enable our employees."

Professional development

"I think Army civilians interested in a TDY (temporary duty) and return mission are probably more prepared than you think," said panelist Ricky Yates, who participated in a SETM 179-day professional development forum at U.S. Southern Command.

Yates served on the Operations Security Team, where he conducted operation security surveys at embassies and security cooperation offices in South America.

He also transferred the Southern Command operational website from Special Operations Command back to Southern Command, known as SOUTHCOM.

The SETM assignment broadened his knowledge of the Army by giving him "a different understanding of the SOUTHCOM mission, their priorities and the host of challenges which they endure in a vast AOR (area of responsibility) of 31 countries and territories."

"If you’re interested in the SETM program, you’re going to find it both professionally and personally rewarding and challenging," Yates said.

The panelists urged potential applicants to speak with their supervisors and determine a plan to back fill their positions during their absence.

Panelist Clay Brashear attended the Army War College through the SETM Senior Service College, and panelist Bill Metheney attended the Naval War College through the Defense Senior Leader Development Program.

There will always be responsibilities that will fall to someone else while you’re gone, said Jenn Gunn, who completed a 90-day public affairs developmental assignment with Civilian Workforce Transformation in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

"Don’t withhold an opportunity like this from your deserving employees just because you know it’s going be painful to lose them from the office for a little bit. You can build on the skills of your organization and you might be surprised at who steps up to the plate when given a chance," Gunn said.