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By Justin Zaun
DCMA Garden City
For Defense Contract Management Agency Garden City Director Neil Mintz, listening is a crucial component of effective leadership, so when his contract management office employees identified areas for improvement on a confidential survey, he listened. Then he acted.
“Management doesn’t have all the answers,” he said. “Employees have answers as well. They know where the opportunities are.”
The intent of the survey, called the Organizational Climate Survey, which is administered by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, was to collect employee feedback on issues of equal opportunity and organizational effectiveness. Garden City employees highlighted leadership development and communication as focus areas in the survey. In response, Mintz assembled a team and tasked it with developing a program to train supervisors on leadership principles with an emphasis on obtaining and implementing employee feedback.
“One of the keys I took away from the survey was we were kind of mission focused, but I learned we could do that and also take better care of our people,” Mintz said. “You can do both.”
He selected Joseph Cox, the Quality Assurance group leader, and Henry Stewart, a team leader in the QA group, to shape and implement a training program that would teach leadership skills to supervisors. Cox and Stewart began by gathering feedback from employees within the QA group.
“We wanted to listen and get them engaged,” said Cox. “We wanted to find out how to provide them what they needed so they could get the job done.”
Stewart assigned research projects on topics such as teamwork, communication and other leadership principles to QA supervisors, who presented their findings at leadership forums, “stand-down” training days and staff meetings. Much of that research was integrated into the emergent leadership program. He also incorporated concepts into the program discussed at the DCMA Supervisory Skills Development Course, or DLEAD, a basic supervisor skills training course for new agency supervisors.
After refining the program over the last year, Cox and Stewart introduced it with a presentation called “Building a Professional Environment through Leadership” that emphasized developing the workforce, empowering subordinates, opening communications, building trust and recognizing employee achievements. Stewart took the reins as lead instructor and taught the inaugural class, consisting of six QA supervisors, last spring.
Now that the first batch of supervisors have been trained and given time to apply their new skills, Cox has been assessing the effectiveness of the program, and the results have encouraging, he said.
“We discovered that communication improved between supervisors and employees,” he said. “We started to share ideas with each other, which really inspired folks because it made them feel like part of the process.”
Cox said communication between leadership and specialists has focused on constructive problem solving and teamwork, which enabled the QA group to implement detection to prevention measures at a pilot contractor. Detection to prevention is a DCMA initiative emphasizing contractor accountability and mitigating risk. In addition, the QA group reduced product inspections by 2,000 annually, eliminated seven contractor process reviews, and streamlined five quality management system audits. These improvements are also being applied to nine additional contractors based on communication of lessons learned..
“Communication is a big piece of what changed,” said Mintz. “By opening that communication, it makes us all better. It makes us one team.”
The program has also given employees a chance to expand their knowledge, demonstrate their skills and learn from their colleagues, said Stewart, who is currently training supervisors in other DCMA Garden City functional groups.
“We are reaching out to teammates for assistance in areas we may not be as knowledgeable in,” he said. “You can’t replace the value of having experiences outside your comfort zone. We are trying to work better as a team and communicate more effectively.”
Part of being an effective leader is inspiring people to follow you, said John Clouse, a QA supervisor who was a member of the first group to participate in the leadership training.
“Leadership is not something that can be taught from just a book,” he said. “The training allowed me to find out where my weaknesses were and where I needed to improve my skills.”
The creation of the leadership training program has resulted in more teamwork, better communication and more frequent employee recognition, said Mintz, who stresses the training program is a work in progress and always evolving.
“No one is saying our system is perfect, but we are listening to our employees,” he said. “The more engaged people are, the more they feel part of the team.”
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