APG leadership cohort aims for community cohesion
February 18, 2011
- Along with the construction and renovations at APG, the civilian workforce is also changing
- Leaders at APG acknowledge the challenge and moved to support professional development
- Participants experience a program of hands-on instruction and preparation that focuses their efforts on real challenges
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - The state-of-the-art Communications-Electronics Command Mission Training Facility auditorium was an appropriate backdrop for the APG Senior Leadership Cohort graduation Feb. 9.
Both represent the future of APG.
Along with the construction and renovations at APG, the civilian workforce is also changing. Nearly 60 percent of current employees will be eligible for retirement within the next five years.
Two years ago, executive leaders at APG acknowledge the challenge and moved to support professional development.
Twenty-nine managers representing 14 APG organizations committed a year ago to participate in a unique professional development program. The Office of Personnel Management, with the help of leadership development experts and APG senior executive service members, designed the program.
The program is designed around OPM's Executive Core Qualifications with an emphasis on those that would create and sustain high-quality GS-15 or equivalent level managers at APG.
"The cohort is not a steppingstone to SES," said Cynthia Dewey, OPM custom solutions account manager, of the cohort program. "There are plenty of existing, excellent courses for that. The vision for the APG Senior Leadership Cohort was to create a sustainable leadership learning community that would help all APG organizations work more effectively and successfully together in the future."
Participants experience a program of hands-on instruction and preparation that focuses their efforts on real challenges they are facing - challenges that are meaningful to them - where they will see results in three areas: personal, organizational, and community.
On the personal level, participants work on a personal energy management project that reinforces the idea that effective, satisfied leaders bring their whole selves to their work - mind, body, heart and soul - and need to take time for themselves.
On the organization level, participants tackle an on-the-desk project that addresses a challenge they are facing in accomplishing their daily work. For these projects participants garner the support of their leadership, receive one-on-one coaching from the cohort faculty.
On the community level, participants work in groups of five on a project that meets a need of APG. For Cohort 2, these included:
- enhancing Morale Welfare & Recreation services to meet the needs of an expanding civilian workforce;
- facilitating the incorporation of Wounded Warriors into the civilian workforce;
- breaking down the barriers perceived by young people seeking to enter civilian service;
- defining the role of APG as the Army's science and technology hub; and
- informing the APG workforce about the cohort program.
"By participating in the cohort program, I got a sense I didn't have before about the need to raise up exceptional managers and leaders," said Ricky Grote, chief, system engineering and experimentation branch, Army Research Laboratory.
"Due to the experimentation role my branch has, I came to the cohort with an awareness of and a concern for the fact that to get our work done at APG we are going to need to add hundreds of entry-level people to the workforce as technicians, analysts and administrative support. Working on the community project enabled me to do something about that," Grote said.
Cohort participants had support for all their projects. This came in the form of sessions with SES cohort champions who shared their leadership expertise and vision for the future, and expert coaching from their instructors, Beverly Obenchain, Robert Melvin, Bob Devlin and Claire Meany.
Obenchain and Melvin helped develop the cohort program and supported completion of the first two cohorts. Devlin and Meany are local experts who will also be supporting Cohort 3.
"The most exciting thing for me in being part of this program is seeing the change in the participants over the course of the year," Meany said.
"When people shared reflections that they made on the first day of the cohort and compared them to what they're feeling about it now and what they've learned since, it's amazing to hear that going through the program has changed them as people and as leaders and as members of the APG community," she said.
"One of the most revealing aspects for me was the different assessments we took at the beginning of the program," said Patricia O'Connor, cohort graduate and CECOM chief information officer.
"One was an OPM 360-degree assessment where people from every aspect of my professional life were asked to share what they perceived to be my areas of strength and weakness. Finding out what my weaknesses are was a very humbling experience. But now that I know what they are I don't have to stumble around in them anymore; I can make real progress in turning them into strengths," she said.
When O'Connor told her supervisor she would be willing to participate, she had little idea what she was getting into. She hoped, though, that after investing two years as chief information officer to help facilitate CECOM's move to APG, it would help her make Aberdeen her new home.
"I'm from Fort Monmouth," she said. "I loved everything about my life there - my home, my installation, my work. Through the cohort, with the help of my colleagues who made me feel welcome, who showed me around and helped me with problems I encountered, and the SES community who educated cohort on the importance of the APG mission, I've learned to love everything about my life here," she said.
The benefit of having a network behind you is one of the key things leadership hopes participants will come away with from the cohort program. They are counting on these future leaders to be an integrating force for APG. During the cohort graduation ceremony, Maj. Gen. Randolph Strong, commanding general, Communication-Electronics Command, reiterated this hope.
"When you look at the post as a community, we are still quite fragmented," Strong said. "So, the challenge for the graduates of this cross-organizational leadership program is to help bridge boundaries and leverage the expertise, innovation, and imagination that each organization offers."
Cohort 3 begins this spring. Gary Martin, executive deputy to the commanding general, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, looks forward to continuing the program.
"We have an exciting future before us at APG and need the very best leaders we can get and develop. If you have what it takes to guide APG in the future, get your resume together and talk to the first SES in your chain who can recommend you for the program."
Martin promises that APG senior executive leadership will continue to make the cohort program available as long as civilians here seek the opportunity to achieve excellence for the Army, for their organization, for themselves, and for the next generation of leaders at APG.