Sandi Edwards

Posts by Sandi Edwards

Where will the next generation of government agency leaders come from?

This question surfaces for organizations at every turn, particularly in the wake of the baby boomer retirement wave, which is depleting the ranks of long-term executives with significant depth of knowledge at many government agencies.

In addition, cutbacks to in-house education and leadership development programs mean that many government organizations are relying on our schools to deliver graduates who are ready to fill leadership roles. Yet with the Obama Administration reporting that up to 82 percent of American schools are failing in their mission, it is clear our schools are not equipped to teach curricula that imbue students with the skills leadership demands.

The smartest organizations are realizing that success in the future will require them to undertake critical education functions to promote performance and develop the talents of those who will lead them to a future of excellence.

When parents, politicians and pundits bemoan the state of education in America, they often ask the shorthand question, “Why can’t Johnny read?”

But, generally speaking, that’s not a question employers have needed to ask of their workforce. Even with an inadequate educational system, the Johnnies that reach the workforce have the three Rs down-they can read, write and do arithmetic quite adequately to perform their jobs.

The trouble is that the modern government organization has established a much higher threshold for success.


Without the Four Cs, government organizations are severely handicapped in their effort to increase productivity and meet budget constraints while still delivering on their mission.”

In today’s information age, proficiency in the three Rs is not sufficient without the added ability to think critically, to solve problems creatively, to collaborate, and to communicate effectively. It is in these new skill areas that workers are coming up short, regardless of the quality of their primary and college educations.

In 2010, American Management Association (AMA) undertook a study to research the needs of government and industry organizations when it comes to building and nurturing the leadership pipeline. The “AMA Critical Skills Survey” revealed that, by overwhelming majorities, executives had begun placing emphasis on a new set of skills that is neither intuitive for most people nor taught in school.

We dubbed these skills “The Four Cs,” and they consist of:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving-the ability to make decisions, solve problems, and take actions as appropriate;
  • Effective communication-the ability to synthesize and transmit your ideas both in written and oral forms;
  • Collaboration and team building-the ability to work effectively with others, including those from diverse groups and with opposing points of view;
  • Creativity and innovation-the ability to see what’s NOT there and make something happen.

The survey revealed that government organizations are finding that their workforce doesn’t have this new skill set and, as a result, can’t do the job that an increasingly competitive and innovation-based environment demands.

Bridging this latest “performance gap” in American education is a critical challenge that all organizations will have to face head on in the coming years or risk losing their competitive edge.

The gap is one that must be addressed at all levels of government employment, but particularly at the leadership level because without the Four Cs, government organizations are severely handicapped in their effort to increase productivity and meet budget constraints while still delivering on their mission.

Already, executives have begun assessing employees on their acumen in these four “critical skills” from the perspectives of leadership development/potential, talent management, and succession planning. But even below management level, those employees who don’t develop the Four Cs will be left behind, as will those organizations that don’t make attaining them a priority.

Government organizations that develop their people have more success across all performance metrics. Educational investments should be targeted with precision to the Four Cs-organizations need to think of them across the enterprise in order to achieve excellent results and to develop a leadership pipeline that will guarantee those results into the future.

Indeed, everyone in an organization should be skilled in these areas. Without them, an organization is jeopardizing not only its day-to-day operations, but its ability to serve its constituents and support its mission long-term.

Sandi Edwards is senior VP, Corporate and Government Solutions, AMA Enterprise, specializing in developing enterprise-wide talent to support innovative, high performance organizations.

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