Growing Innovation across Government Agencies

Bringing the Accelerated Innovation of Apple and SpaceX to Government

Sabra Horne

November 1, 2022

BMNT recently hosted two 3.5-day events for public sector government agencies. The focus was on helping the workforce learn the skills and processes to enable innovation and mission acceleration. There was a palpable buzz of excitement running through the venue.

Throughout the events, participants shared why their departments attended the course. The overwhelming answer? They wanted the US government to enjoy the same benefits of mission acceleration as the private sector.

BMNT was able to provide training that left participants with an in-depth toolbox of resources, protocols, and processes. BMNT’s inboxes have been full of positive feedback about how the implementation of the new knowledge is already creating actionable changes.

Imagine what is possible with more widespread access to this kind of training.

Why Innovation?

The United States benefits from  its strong military and national security. However, the Innovation Navigators course was created, in part, because of an overall concern about the federal government’s ability to keep national security strong amid the changing technological landscape.

With ever-evolving threats to our nation’s security, the government is focusing on strategic competition with China. Specifically our government is responding to concerns regarding protecting American intellectual property and data against Chinese cyberattacks.

In this landscape, adaptable, flexible, nimble innovation is more critical than ever.

What Holds the Public Sector Back from Innovation?

The private sector has long thrived on the successes of innovation and entrepreneurship. 

From Apple’s ever-evolving technical solutions to the achievements of SpaceX in reaching the stars, these innovative companies fuel our economy, delight our imaginations, and show us what the future can bring. These organizations, with their iterative and “fail fast” approaches, are built, organized, and managed to thrive under innovative processes.

By contrast, governmental progress can be slower because of the care and process by which planning, programming, budgeting, and execution take place. Governments often fail, despite their efforts and intentions, to capitalize on innovation for three main reasons: bureaucracy, risk aversion, and difficult-to-achieve consensus building. 

But there are many powerful exceptions we can point to where our government wildly succeeded. Two such examples include NASA’s success in achieving the “moon shot,” at the behest of President Kennedy between 1963–1968, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which created the building blocks of the Internet in the late 1960s and ’70s.

These serve as potent examples of how innovation can drive the mission focus of virtually every government and public sector organization. However, these types of public-sector organizations—and the workforces that shape them—are few and far between. 

Putting Tax-Payer Dollars behind a Talent Pipeline

Government organizations and bureaucracies are established, built, and supported by tax-payer funding. As stewards of those precious funds, they must carefully invest resources and divert focus to projects and programs that will ultimately be deemed successful. They must diminish the risk of wasting time or money on efforts that aren’t guaranteed to contribute to the mission. The deliberative process of building consensus ensures speed is lost when seeking this unanimity. 

Adding to the above challenges, there are not enough people trained to bring about accelerated mission impact across government agencies. How can we fix this issue so we know change will be in the hands of skilled transformational personnel?

We can begin now, with the start of our new 2023 fiscal year. This is an opportunity to train government workers. Preparing the workforce will empower the government to confidently put dollars and consensus into accelerating mission impact.

Traits That Bring about Innovation and Acceleration

We understand the characteristics of innovators. They are those who:

  • Act with deliberate speed
  • Have a bias toward action and getting a yes
  • Are risk tolerant and persistent
  • Are collaborative, creative, and flexible
  • Are resilient

How can we train or hire personnel who epitomize these traits?

To increase the talent pipeline of innovators across the US government, we need to develop an innovation competency model. This will better define the skill sets, tasks, and knowledge necessary to execute innovation.

There must also be an innovation talent strategy to ensure a robust and renewing source of government workers with innovation capabilities. The right training will shift the skills and mindsets of the public sector workforce to align more with the traits and knowledge needed for innovation.

How to Develop an Innovation Competency Model That Creates the Workforce Needed to Accelerate Mission Impact

We see brands like Apple, Amazon, and SpaceX rapidly iterating, improving, and building world-changing programs and products. This doesn’t happen in governments. Why? The government does not contain a sufficient cohort of employees that are steeped in the skill sets, processes, and methodologies that enable fast, effective mission impact to occur.

Some of these skills are:

  • Innovation methodologies, such as agile, lean, scrum, and human-centered design approaches
  • Rapid and flexible acquisition and procurement authorities and methods, including OTAs, which reduce the speed of acquiring new capabilities
  • Project and program management skills, with a focus on iterative processes, the end user, and reducing costly and unnecessary steps
  • Methods of stakeholder management and communication

Training for Innovation Skill Sets

In the true spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, we don’t have to create competency models from scratch. We can lean heavily on other models used to drive the innovation talent pipeline.

One such model is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) Framework. First published in 2014, it delineated the skill sets required to mature cybersecurity within an organization. Prior to this, there was often an ill-defined and opaque set of responsibilities for keeping organizations safe from cyber threats. The NICE Framework articulates dozens of work roles necessary for building cybersecurity. For the first time, organizations had a concrete plan to create cyber job descriptions, enact performance plans, and hire for uniform roles. A similar document for innovation would make real the necessary skills required to bring innovation to an organization or agency.

We must recognize that training for innovation skill sets and knowledge is a necessary step in maturing innovation across government agencies and throughout the public sector. Although many tools exist to develop innovation within the private sector, few are specifically intended to support innovation in the public sector. The seminal book Creating Innovation Navigators was written to provide public sector innovators with a foundation for using the levers of government to bring about innovation within an organization.

The corresponding Innovation Navigators course provides a 3.5-day in-person experience designed to build the tools necessary to execute innovation within a public sector organization and to achieve mission impact.

Immersing public sector agency workers and leaders in the literature and training opportunities is one clear path for agencies to move toward lean, agile, iterative development led by prepared, risk-tolerant individuals.

Incentives and Rewards Matter

Incentivizing new and existing personnel who have these key skills, knowledge, and characteristics demonstrates how much the organization values them. This helps retain workers who can galvanize progress toward mission impact. We should provide them with job roles and experiences that intentionally draw upon the skills and traits they bring to the organization. Like a muscle, unless tested and strengthened, these inherent skills dwindle over time. We should understand the value of innovation within an organization and articulate in performance plans how these skills support vital organizational activities, which accelerate the mission impact.

We also need to reward innovators for their skills, knowledge, and achievements. Rewards demonstrate their value to an organization as well. Individual bonuses should be tied to innovation successes—and sometimes even failures. If those failures advance important program or project knowledge and development, they deserve recognition.

Innovators should be promoted within organizations. By building inherently innovative leadership within an organization, we are more likely to create innovative organizations. Too often, innovators can be perceived as not central to an agency’s mission, but these critical human capital factors are the best bet in building a pioneering organization.

Finally, leaders must seek to develop a culture of innovation. It is difficult to create innovation within an organization unless you have leaders who recognize and value these characteristics and work hard to bring them to an organization. We must be intentional in growing and supporting a culture of innovation to achieve mission impact.

More work remains to be done in maturing our approaches to public sector innovation, and we don’t have time to waste in doing so.

Take the First Step toward Innovation 

The steps you can take right now to bolster your government workforce toward mission acceleration are clear. Obtain the right resources and training to guide them to influence the present and future of government.

BMNT has already scheduled two additional dates for the Innovation Navigators Course in 2022, with remaining opportunities to schedule additional training dates in 2023.

Ready to get started? Speak to a BMNT leadership team member to discuss scheduling the Innovation Navigators course today.

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