Leadership Corner

Stay the course! The work environment we all deserve

April 12th, 2019 at 2:12PM
Portrait of Chief Christiansen in uniform.
Chief Vicki Christiansen, USDA Forest Service

This week I testified before the Senate Energy & Natural Resources committee and the House subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands. In both appearances I focused on our progress to actively steward the nation’s forests and grasslands, shared our ground plan for Fiscal Year 2020 and discussed our work to champion a strong workforce and a healthy workplace. It continues to give me great pride to talk about the great work you do every day.

During one of the hearings I was asked about our progress on creating the safe and respectful work environment we all deserve. If you watched the hearings, saw media coverage of our work environment this week or are otherwise tracking our progress in this area closely, you may sometimes wonder if the pace of change is fast enough.

I have said from the very beginning of my tenure as your Chief: I have a deep personal commitment to effecting lasting change in our work environment. That lasting change will come through the actions we take together at every location in the Forest Service. I am here to stay the course with you.

We have made a good start toward lasting change. Last week, Leslie Weldon, our senior executive lead for the Work Environment and Performance Office, updated all of us on the progress of that office

During my testimony this week, I also announced we are adopting a policy of no alcohol use in facilities for our seasonal employees. We know alcohol impairs judgment and has played a role in many of our serious cases of misconduct. Allowing alcohol consumption in our facilities potentially puts our employees at risk. Safety is a core value for the Forest Service and a part of the workplace environment everyone deserves. It is important for our core values to anchor our policies. More details on this change are forthcoming this spring. 

We have heard loud and clear the need to support all our employees. Through WEPO, we are striving to ensure that we provide our supervisors with the training and mentoring they need—so that they know how to address conflict, harassment and bad behavior at the outset. Ultimately, we want to have supervisors who can recognize conflict early on and address it in an objective, thorough manner. Although currently we are focusing on supervisors, we fully expect these efforts will benefit all employees.

Our goal is continued sustainable change in Forest Service culture and employee behavior as the foundation for fulfilling our mission. Toward that end, we need to stop the silence, because we can never fix what is broken without talking about it first. Accordingly, the performance measures for all Forest Service supervisors include fostering a culture of listening and learning and abiding by our Leader’s Stance and Habits and our Code and Commitments as an agency.

This is mission-critical work, as important as everything else we do. Let’s stay the course in changing our culture for the better, in the spirit of our five core values: safety, diversity, interdependence, service and conservation. Please continue to make our core values part of your workplace life every day.