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GSA’s Tangherlini urges managers to boost collaboration, idea sharing

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Now more than ever, federal managers should be creating an environment where employees are compelled to collaborate and share innovative ideas, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

“We’re going to need to have strategies as managers,” said Dan Tangherlini, acting administrator at the General Services Administration. Speaking at the Federal Managers Association’s national convention in Washington, Tangherlini challenged managers to use existing resources, such as people and technology, to improve productivity and drive down costs.

“We are contending with a situation, which in my 22 years of service…is unique,” he said of the wide gap between federal spending and revenue, which has led to automatic budget cuts known as the sequester.

Tangherlini highlighted GSA’s Great Ideas Hunt as a means to pull innovative ideas from across the agency and engage employees at all levels. GSA generated more than 600 ideas last summer on improving agency efficiency, and more than 20,000 people commented on those ideas.

So far, five of those ideas have yielded $6 million in savings, including one to eliminate redundant surveys.

“We have to find ways to push people together and then find ways to get them to share their ideas,” he said.  “And we can’t just do it episodically with something like the Great Ideas Hunt. Everyday should be a Great Ideas Hunt. Every office should be running a continual Great Ideas Hunt.”

The initiative coincided with an agencywide review, following revelations of lavish overspending at a 2010 conference inLas Vegas. Several GSA leaders, including the former administrator, were ousted.

Tangherlini said some employees initially feared consequences for pointing out areas of wasteful spending. Instead, those employees were praised for rooting out waste, he said.

“The other thing we said is this can’t be about monetary rewards,” he said. ”We should create an environment where people aren’t saving their great ideas for a cash transfer.”

For now, the administration has instructed agencies to stop giving out employee bonuses. As a result of the sequester, the Office of Management and Budget last week issued a memo telling agencies to only give out discretionary cash awards if they are legally required.

When asked by a federal manger about the use of monetary rewards to compensate employees, Tangherlini acknowledged that all managers would like to have those types of flexibilities but generating good ideas has to be focused more on the outcome rather than the reward.

At GSA, employees became convinced that sharing good ideas would lead to more efficient work, a restored reputation for GSA and more business. “We tapped into a well of frustration at GSA,” Tangherlini said.

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