Mentoring event serves up career advice in a flash

Friday - 3/23/2012, 8:26pm EDT

Emily Kopp, Federal News Radio reporter

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OPM Director John Berry's speech about mentoring

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Budget cuts are forcing agencies to shrink their staff development programs. In turn, federal workers increasingly are seeking career guidance elsewhere.

Nonetheless, agencies recognize the importance of mentoring, said Chief Human Capital Officers Council Executive Director Kathryn Medina.

"Agencies are looking to send people here to get those intangible pieces of advice that used to be done on the job," she said. "Today things are just so fast-paced and so busy that leaders find it difficult and challenging on a daily basis to give that feedback to their employees."

HR University, a joint project of the council and the Office of Personnel Management, hosted a flash mentoring" event earlier this week at the Patent and Trademark Office's Virginia headquarters. Human resources staff from 20 agencies rotated between conference tables every 30 minutes. At each table, they were greeted by a seasoned HR professional.

While questions ranged widely, there were some consistent themes to the advice the mentors offered. Below are some of those tips:

Master the nuts and bolts of your job. Then understand your environment.That's "strategic HR," said former General Services Administration Chief People Officer Gail Lovelace. "In HR, we tend to think about our own little world, and we don't think about it in terms of the bigger environment," she said.

Today's budget pressures are giving human resources staff the chance to develop new skills, she said.

"Those are learning opportunities," she said. In the 1980s, she volunteered to do a reduction-in-force at her agency and ended up letting a very close friend go.

"Those negative things aren't always easy because people struggle making those decisions," she said. "But we survived."

Go outside your box.Mentors recommend dabbling in different areas of your field. They suggest volunteering to shadow someone with an interesting job, applying for a detail assignment elsewhere, or even seeking a position outside your field to broaden your skills and perspective.

Pay attention to vacancy announcements.They say a lot about how innovative a human resources department is, said NASA Human Capital Strategist Stephanie Diamond. Most job announcements are boring, she said.

"I wouldn't want to apply," she said. "I get them online just so I can say, 'Who's got a snazzy announcement?' That's the place where I'd want to work because they're trying to do something different."

Surround yourself with motivated people. Don't let the naysayers keep you down, Lovelace said. Many people like to complain but aren't willing to address the situation, she said.

"Somehow you have to keep figuring out how to keep that motivation alive and you have to find some other positive people," she told one woman who complained about low morale in her office.

Be persistent.Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry spoke about conservation biologist Deborah Kleinman, who worked at the National Zoo until she died in 2010.

Kleinman tried several times to reintroduce into the wild the endangered golden lion tamarin monkey. She finally succeeded after letting them loose in Washington's Rock Creek Park, Berry said. There, they learned to fend for themselves. She shipped those monkeys to their native Brazil, where "they bred like rabbits," he said. "Today, from that initial population of 200, there are well over 2,000 in the wild."

HR University plans to hold three more flash mentoring sessions this year.

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