Leadership Corner

Resume, Recover, Reset

Post-shutdown all employee call
February 8th, 2019 at 11:30AM

Photo: Portrait of Vicki Christiansen in front of American & Forest Service flags.
Chief Vicki Christiansen, USDA Forest Service

Week two of our post-shutdown efforts to Resume, Recover and Reset is drawing to a close; if you’re like me, you’re feeling tremendous relief but also a jumble of other emotions. I feel great pride in the Forest Service and in all the wonderful employees who do such great work for the people we serve. I am so glad to have us all back!

Before all else, please know you are valued and respected for all you do. I drew deep inspiration from the thousands of employees across the agency who joined me on the all-employee call this past Monday. The questions you asked energized me, demonstrating how dedicated you are to the mission of this agency and to caring for each other and the communities we serve.

Tested to the Limit

I will take this opportunity to share a bit of our experience leading and managing through a shutdown that lasted an unprecedented 35 days, testing us to the limit. Please be assured: this was not about us. The shutdown was by no means a reflection on the mission of our organization or the dedication of our employees. What was at stake was bigger than all of us.

Nevertheless, it had real impacts on everyone, both personally and professionally. I heard heart-breaking stories about what folks had to endure with respect to mortgages, rents, bills and more—plus all the stress and anxiety associated with the sheer uncertainty of when it would all end, particularly as the weeks dragged on.

In addition to that came all the professional anxieties. When we finally got back to work, what backlogs would we face? What would the impacts on our science be? What meetings, training, and other events had we missed? What momentum would be lost in meeting our program of work? How would all this affect our relationships with our partners and the people we serve?

Let’s not forget the impacts of the shutdown on the contractors who play critical roles in many of our systems. Let’s be mindful that these key partners may not be compensated for lost work.

Leading from our agency core values

As the shutdown evolved, our core values—service, interdependence, conservation, diversity and safety—were tested as never before. In every decision we made, we considered how it might impact our commitments to our employees, partners and the communities we serve. We followed an agency shutdown plan that outlined how decisions would be made. Our excepted work focused on health, safety, law enforcement and the protection of life and property. We also maintained critical work in programs where we had prior year funds available.

With so many of you furloughed, our value of interdependence became particularly evident. I, for one, deeply missed us as a fully functional agency. When so many parts are missing like they were during the shutdown, it’s easy to see how much we all depend on each other. When the full organization isn’t up and running, we are virtually on life support.

Recovery and Reset

Nothing like this has happened before, and it will take us all a while to recover. We will need to reset our own expectations as well as those of our partners and others, and we will need to adjust our program of work accordingly. So I ask all of us to stay together as we work through the effects of this shutdown.

This shutdown had real impacts on people, so I ask us to give each other time to recover. We need to acknowledge that our employees will be quite diverse in how they recover and reset their work.

I also ask supervisors to show empathy, knowing that there will be differences among employees, allowing them the time and space they need to resume their successful work. I ask us all to work through the reset together.

We will conduct an agency-wide assessment, taking a full look at what our reset needs are. We will still take our programs of work into account, but will measure the success of our conservation mission in terms of the long-term value of our work. The long-term value of what we deliver is what truly matters, so we will leave room to adjust accordingly.

Looking ahead

We are funded through Feb. 15, and after that I know there is still a lot of uncertainty. It is hard to handle, but I am confident in this agency and in every one of you.

Part of our code and commitments at the Forest Service is to learn from mistakes. I promise you, we will learn from this shutdown. We will continue to anchor to our core values, we will strive to get key information to employees, and we will make transparent decisions about the work we do with prior-year funds.

So wherever you are, please know that you are valued and respected for your work. In times to come, we will look back on this moment as a memory marker. We will not only recover from this moment but also grow stronger, having been through these challenges while supporting each other with both our heads and our hearts. That is my promise to you.

To listen to the all employee call, including the question and answer session, click here