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News | Nov. 30, 2021

New developmental assignments build leadership competencies

By K.A. Zagata DCMA Total Force

Technical credibility, decisiveness, diversity, vision and integrity are just some of the competencies employees seek out in the leaders and organizations they want to work for. A new initiative at the Defense Contract Management Agency is matching employees with competitive assignments that develop these same competencies, leading to stronger employees and teams. 

An element of DCMA’s Leadership Development Program, developmental assignments are a centrally-managed, agency-wide initiative. It was designed to source assignments from across the organization and competitively match motivated employees with opportunities that will build their proficiency in prescribed Department of Defense leadership competencies.

“Experience is the best teacher,” said Kelli Zagata, the developmental assignment integrated project team lead. “These opportunities may feature something the employee has never done before or provide significantly more responsibility in something they have. Regardless, the focus is on providing experiences that help develop leadership competencies.”

The integrated project team consists of employees from across the agency. Zagata, deputy commander of DCMA New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, is joined by Karen Zinn, supervisory procurement analyst, DCMA headquarters Business Operations Center, Dallas; Deb Horne, management analyst, DCMA Special Programs Command, Fort Lee; David Fagan, senior policy analyst and training manager, DCMA Technical Directorate, Fort Lee; and Don Watt, quality assurance specialist, DCMA Technical Directorate, Fort Lee.

The team completed a comprehensive study through benchmarking, focus groups and interviews with both public and private organizations that led them to conceptualizing developmental assignments, a robust, multi-faceted approach to competency based development.

Horne helped guide the team in designing assignments that considered all employees, regardless of functional series.

“As a member of the management support office myself, it was important to me that we create assignment opportunities that consider a variety of career fields,” she said. “I encourage all organizations to reflect on that as they create assignments to be considered for the agency-wide rollout.”

The concept is rooted in the understanding that effective leaders develop their repertoire of skills throughout their careers and that a significant part of this development occurs through practical experiences. Employees who continue to reach towards new challenges, such as through developmental assignments, will find themselves in expansive situations that develop and refine leadership competencies.

Fagan understands all too well the critical role DCMA plays in the defense acquisition lifecycle, and says the agency’s specialized mission requires a well prepared workforce.

“As the independent eyes and ears of the DoD and its partners, developing leadership competencies at all levels ensures that our workforce is expertly prepared for the problem solving, conflict management, and strategic thinking challenges that come along with such a critical role,” said Fagan. “Developmental assignments offer our future leaders the opportunity to leverage their knowledge, skills and abilities in complex assignments designed to prepare them for tomorrow's challenges.”

Zinn believes the key to success is flexibility. “Considering the current environment, as well as budget constraints and other factors, the team took a proactive approach to building a framework that incorporated opportunities for a variety of assignment types and durations,” she said.

Zinn championed the idea to create both full- and part-time opportunities, in face-to-face, hybrid and virtual environments to meet the needs of the agency and workforce.

“I learn by doing, and I am very excited to now have opportunities available to me that provide the flexibility of working within my schedule either full or part-time, and as well as virtually,” she said.

As part of the proof of concept, the integrated project team partnered with the DCMA Central Regional Command to execute a two-phase pilot prior to the agency-wide launch. Both phases helped to ensure that the initiative captured key elements and controls that are essential to its success. Participating employees also had the opportunity to provide feedback before requirements were finalized.

Developmental assignments incorporate a tasking process, through the Total Force directorate, which solicits assignment opportunities from headquarters directorates, operational units and contract management offices. The assignments will be published through the participant application tasking. 

Through the centrally managed application process, interested employees will be asked to consider the knowledge, skills and abilities the assignment requires; what leadership competencies they are seeking to develop; and how they will apply their learning to their work and career goals.

The application process will require a completed application, resume, leadership competency assessment and supervisory endorsement. A competitive panel selection process will be managed by Total Force with panel membership representing headquarters, operational units and contract management offices.

“Our goal is to connect employees at all levels with new and challenging opportunities,” Zagata said. “Keeping the best people means providing them with opportunities to grow and develop, which leads to mission success for the agency, department, and ultimately the warfighter.”