Leadership Corner

This week in the Forest Service — May Leadership Forum

May 17th, 2019 at 3:25PM
Portrait photo of Alex Friend
Alex Friend, Deputy Chief, Research & Development, USDA Forest Service.

As the weather warms and daylight stretches, we find ourselves at a very important part of the calendar year. And yes, there are picnics, patio parties and bike rides on the very near horizon for many of us. However, this is also the time of year where field season kicks into high gear and our day-to-day work gets quickly filled with meetings and reports and taskers to complete. In short, we all get busy with work and busy with life. So, amid our hectic schedules, I would like to take some time and share some of my thoughts on the most recent Forest Service Leadership Forum.

This week we supported fellow employees at various locations around the Forest Service as they dealt with a serious safety threat and several employee health emergencies that occurred in the workplace. Therefore, I found it important to participate in the Thursday Leadership Forum hosted by the Work Environment & Performance Office. With the pace and volume of our work seeming to be ever-increasing, this week it was more important than ever to focus on taking care of ourselves, as well as building trust with employees and with the communities we serve. And that is what we did during the Leadership Forum.

The forum kicked-off with Leslie Weldon providing an update on WEPO and where we expect to be in the very near future. She talked about the first National Work Environment Survey, which will be sent later this summer. All employees will have the opportunity to take the survey. It will ask questions about where we are as an agency and serve as a benchmark for where we move in the future. Stay tuned next week for more information on the National Work Environment Survey and the annual Federal Employment Viewpoint survey.

Leslie highlighted the resources available for employees on the WEPO website (internal link). The site is filled with a lot of useful information about what we are doing as we continue working to improve our work environment. When you get an opportunity, explore the website. Be sure to visit regularly, as more information is added frequently.

Following that, we were treated to three different panelists—Anthony Jackson, employee advisory group member and Conflict Management and Prevention Center specialist; Steve Koehn, director, Cooperative Forestry, State and Private Forestry; and Jeanne Weihrauch, special assistant to National Job Corps Director—who shared their perceptions of what it takes to be a leader during a time of change. All three, in their own voice and manner, reminded us why This is Who We Are was created. It is a way to get all employees back to that starting point, to a place where we are achieving the work environment we deserve, holding each other accountable and moving forward together in a positive direction.

Leadership Forum attendees broke into groups to share best practices and ideas on how to develop stronger trust in our employees. Once everyone came back together, four groups shared highlights from their discussions. It was clear from the feedback that “This Is Who We Are” is a concept that a lot of people across the Forest Service are getting behind. The energy and commitment from leaders across the agency is high and I attribute that to our collective desire to work hard at improving the Forest Service for us now and going forward.

As our summer agendas and our work calendars continue to rapidly fill up with engagements, please stay grounded in our core values of service, interdependence, conservation, diversity and safety. Continue your efforts in helping create a safe, respectful work environment where everyone is valued for their contributions. Every one of us deserves a workplace where we can thrive in our work, free from harassment and safe from harm.

Our jobs and the experiences we have with each other can be very stressful at times. As a member of our Executive Leadership Team, I want you to know that we care deeply about our employees. It was refreshing to hear straight talk about our workload and stress during yesterday’s Leadership Forum. And it was inspiring to hear about the ways people are stepping up with ideas and strategies to support each other and invest in trust and a healthy workplace. Let’s continue this dialogue. No target is more important than health and well-being—yours, as well as the people you work with and the people you serve.