Photo of the National Archives Building by WallyG via Flickr
For those of us in the metro D.C. area, it's sometimes hard to see ourselves "outside-in." As in outside the Beltway, in New York or California or Florida or the Midwest.
You might not actually care about perceptions of Washingtonians naturally. Except there are a few reasons to do so. For one thing, bias against the federal worker ("lazy, overpaid, incompetent") means automatic negative judgment when budget times get tough.
For another, it just doesn't feel good to be laughed at. Hey - we Feds are people too!
It occurs to me that maybe we government employees don't know how to fight those stereotypes. It's not - to me - about saying what we're entitled to but rather proving our worth every single day. A totally different paradigm than what people are used to hearing from us.
Here are a few ideas:
1. Think private sector. Dress & think corporate. Get that MBA or at least read the business journals.
2. Air things out a little with partnerships. Federal, state, local is only part of the story. We should be working with the private sector, engaging entrepreneurs, bringing in the interns. D.C. should be an open door for the rest of the country to get engaged in government.
3. Make customer service our #1 priority. We are paid by the taxpayer, we serve the taxpayer, we ought to be delivering on what they need. Similarly inside our Agencies we ought to be falling all over ourselves to help out our colleagues - let's get the work done. No more "I don't handle that" type of talk. If you get called about an issue, it becomes your issue, even if only to direct someone to the person who really ought to help.
4. Be a living brand ambassador for good government. There are always going to be things going on you disagree with. You're a citizen too. But that has nothing to do with your commitment to doing public service the right way. In every interaction take the time to explain what you do. Do this in terms that make sense to the person you're talking to. You don't have to proselytize for Administration policies but rather for the concept of a highly functional civil service.
5. Be yourself on social media. All of us government employees are specialists in subjects that have both public and private sector applications. Yet we are all part of a special family as well. (Don't laugh when I say "special" OK? I hear you.) It's important when you're out there "branding yourself" to establish your professional expertise, that you also are unafraid to stand up as a proud member of the civil service. Of course you have to follow the law and ethics rules - you don't ever want to speak for your Agency, for example, unless you are a designated representative. And you should use a disclaimer - "all opinions my own." But nothing prevents you from making it clear that you have a lot of value to contribute. Go ahead and do it, in a positive and direct way.
There will always be snots who throw those "Walmart is more efficient than government" emails your way. But a lot of that has to do with jealousy and frustration.
If you are a "govie," hold your head high. You're worth it.