Leader’s perspective: In-person interactions more refreshing than online

By Anne Talbot, 419th Contracting Support Brigade deputy to the commanderJuly 7, 2022

Leader’s perspective: In-person interactions more refreshing than online
Support staff from the 419th Contracting Support Brigade and deputy directors from throughout the brigade’s field offices met in June to discuss and collaborate on relevant topics involving the brigade’s mission and priorities at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (Photo Credit: Anne Talbot) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT BRAGG, North Carolina (July 7, 2022) -- I had the opportunity to gather most of the 419th Contracting Support Brigade deputy directors from throughout the field together in one location at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in June to discuss relevant topics, capture our dialog and share our leaders’ thoughts.

Mind you, nothing I am sharing from the meeting is new or revolutionary. This is just a recap of good discussions and collaboration on topics regarding daily operations, problem-solving solutions, contracting operations and relationship building.

It was the first gathering since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and was refreshing to see the interaction between brigade staff members and deputies. The ability to watch everyone’s facial expressions and body language as well as feel the energy in the room does not happen when sitting behind a screen in your home office.

If you haven’t taken the time to listen and really look around, you might want to take a step back to see that our employees are in a very fragile state. And who wouldn’t be? Our employees are going through life at a pretty fast pace -- COVID-19 took the lives of many loved ones and remains unpredictable; we are experiencing high workforce turnover; and external contract reporting demands seem to be increasing. Just one ping in the wrong direction can possibly bring an office down to its foundation. With the increased stressors on our employees, why are we so critical to get to a 100% solution? Mistakes can happen, but that is how we learn. Fix it, apply it and move on.

Work-home life balance

We have witnessed many employees working more hours while at home. Leaders must set the example for work-life balance. Employees will stay connected as long as they know their leaders are connected. Suffer and permit is not the right answer, but at the same time, employees face a challenge to get the work done under possible distractions at home.

How can we ensure employees are balancing their work and home life while teleworking? Discuss available work-schedule options such as multi-flex with your employees. Have a crucial conversation to encourage employees to work their scheduled hours for the day and then take a break. The work will be there tomorrow. Request overtime when supported or earn credit hours or compensatory time when feasible to meet surge demands.

Hiring incentives, recruiting and retention

Limitations create challenges to hire, recruit and retain employees. Additionally, we have found competition from other contracting agencies offering 100% remote work and higher-grade structures are affecting our ability to hire to our authorized positions. Onboarding more people is always great, but hiring to the right grade structure to be competitive with our contracting agencies is even better. Direct hiring authority and permanent change in duty station incentives are some recruitment programs we can use to recruit and hire. However, there are very few monetary recruitment and retention tools available for current employees. We are actively supporting available Office of Personnel Management programs such as flexible work schedules, telework and the fitness program to incentivize current government employees to stay. All of the deputy directors meeting in June agree that the acquisition workforce personnel demonstration project, or AcqDemo, is a good incentive tool and believe the pay-for-performance system would yield greater employee effort.

Improving the hiring process

Accepting the fact that the MICC is a training ground for new contracting professionals helps manage expectations for turnover. We should embrace it and train right. There is no greater gift to a leader than to see an employee grow and move up. Realizing we grow contracting professionals to go onto better opportunities is half the battle. The other half is the process. We have to be able to have the flexibilities to hire our intern positions in advance of our vacancies to train to capability. As an observation, it takes three years for a newly hired intern in the 1102 contracting career series to master systems, gain an understanding of the contracting process and work independently. We must learn to balance hiring at all levels as well as training to ensure we have a steady workforce of journeyman-level positions, professionals and interns to ensure mission success.

Mission partner relations

We often hear that our mission partners have a difficult time defining a requirement, maybe for a new start. However, for re-occurring services, using the conformed copy of an existing requirement 18 months in advance is a best practice to ensure the success of the follow-on contract. As leaders, we have to start empowering our contracting processionals to be more proactive and assertive in the follow-on phase of a requirement. If we just wait for something to happen, we will be scrambling to get a contract awarded through another process that will create additional work.

When was the last time you went to your mission partner’s office to see how well your contract was performing? Did you actually buy what you thought you were buying? Post-award reviews and quarterly meetings with the contractor and mission partner are also good practices. Frequent engagement with our mission partners influences behavior in the right direction to create a win-win situation for all stakeholders.

Mentoring, new hire training and leadership programs

Other potential solutions shared to open opportunities to streamline the contracting process included considering providing ordering authorities to multiple contracting offices and developing contracts to meet the needs of a multi-state area for such requirements as agriculture cleaning. Before developing a contract solution, think about who else in the command might benefit and increase the scope to gain efficiencies.

Each contracting support brigade is responsible for training interns. The MICC headquarters staff hosts new hire training for interns that focuses on an overview of the organization. Our discussions led to a recommendation that scheduling intern training for the duration of the intern program in advance is a plan for success. Too often, we have heard interns are not able to get into courses, which delay graduations. Scheduling all required training courses in one setting creates a road map for success.

Over the course of our gathering, we also had the opportunity to accomplish various training modules. They included discussion on interagency acquisitions, a review of request for service contact approval forms, DOD Acquisition Workforce Development Account program budgeting, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention training, use of contract administration systems, maintaining security measures, and vetting new hires.

We must continue to take advantage of in-person meetings wherever we can to build relationships and collaborate with each other and our mission partners. Meeting face to face helps to break down barriers, builds trust and becomes more efficient in our processes.

When we are transparent and share our successes and weaknesses, we gain an appreciation that all leaders face challenges. When we recognize our second and third effects of decisions on the workforce, we remain focused on taking care of our people first and delivering contracting excellence.

About the MICC

Headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, the Mission and Installation Contracting Command consists of about 1,300 military and civilian members who are responsible for contracting goods and services in support of Soldiers as well as readying trained contracting units for the operating force and contingency environment when called upon. As part of its mission, MICC contracts are vital in feeding more than 200,000 Soldiers every day, providing many daily base operations support services at installations, facilitate training in the preparation of more than 100,000 conventional force members annually, training more than 500,000 students each year, and maintaining more than 14.4 million acres of land and 170,000 structures.