Picture this: You're a large government contractor, tasked with keeping your team on the same page “” that includes employees, at offsite facilities. So, you send out lots of emails. And you post policy updates to your intranet site. Then comes the nagging question: How do you know your employees are even reading what you post?
For AMERICAN SYSTEMS, it's a question that the Chantilly, Va.-based government IT solutions provider is proving an industry leader in answering.
“Just posting policies on the intranet, that's not the best way to communicate with employees, because a lot of them don't even know the policies are there “” and a lot of them just don't have the time,“ says Joe Kopfman, vice president of contracts and administration for the corporation.
And so, over the past year, Kopfman's team has implemented a revolutionary communication tool: Learning Management System. An intranet portal, LMS offers a personalized approach to employee training and communication. Personalized “” that's the operative word “” with a total focus on individual curriculum.
Why does all this matter? One word: transparency.
Self-reporting: Get ready
Ever since President Barack Obama issued a memo in March 2009 ordering the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to lead an in-depth review of the government's contracting efforts, a series of new reporting requirements has ensued, making self-reporting “” all the way from senior management down to offsite employees “” essential. Even a simple error could become a reportable occurrence.
Which is where AMERICAN SYSTEMS' personalized LMS is proving indispensible “” with more than a few industry takeaways on how to stretch G&A bandwidth (and stay current) in the midst of increasing regulation.
“Every single employee has their own tailored LMS,“ says Kopfman, of the company's approach. Sometimes that content comes in the form of video, other times via the written word, on issues from ethics to expense accounting. The site also includes project management and technical modules.
“So, employees can select from various learning topics they're interested in, in addition to the ones we mandate, like ethics,“ says Kopfman. The goal, meanwhile, is ambitious. “We shoot for 100 percent participation,“ he says.
Transparency through enhanced communications
Participation comes through enhanced communications, based upon a simple premise: Pull, don't push, information out of employees.
Even before the government's new slew of reporting requirements, AMERICAN SYSTEMS was promoting a participatory approach to communications. That move started at the top, five years ago, with a call to action from AMERICAN SYSTEMS CEO Bill Hoover “” “a big advocate,“ says Kopfman, of employee communication.
The rationale is hard to miss, especially in a field like government contracting.
“Statistics show that employees who become whistleblowers “” or call a government hotline “” do that, many times, out of frustration,“ says Kopfman, who serves as chairman of the company's ethics committee. “We have not had a single hotline report in the past year,“ he says, adding, “While we have never had an abundance of hotline calls, we have also seen a reduction in the number of negative exit interviews “” that is not the time you want to be hearing about an employee issue.“
Online participatory tools include a suggestion box. Any employee can offer an idea. Or ask a question. If the latter, a senior executive within the company answers for all to see.
The intranet portal also includes online flashes, similar to email, released routinely. Each e-flash focuses on a specific area: IT, HR, contracts. “Basically, any particular topic that we want them to know about,“ says Kopfman.
“But probably the best way we've been pulling questions out of employees is [CEO] Bill Hoover travels to every single office twice a year, and holds town hall-type meetings,“ says Kopfman. Every question that Hoover's asked is later answered online. “We are finding that to be a great communication tool,“ says Kopfman.
More regulation: More response
The work continues. “We continuously upgrade, and enhance, our intranet,“ says Kopfman.
Sometimes, though, it's the low-tech tool that wins the day. Like a three-ring binder.
That approach has come in handy with time-and-material contracts. “We've instituted what I consider to be an industry best practice,“ says Kopfman. All program managers, he says, are required to keep a three-ring binder on T&M contracts.
“It includes a resume in there of every employee that we invoice for, and map it to the contract and any other correspondence that has to do with labor categories,“ says Kopfman. “We're finding that's the discipline we need to adhere to T&M contracts.“
Kopfman's team is also focused on another critical front: fixed price contracts. Program managers have always been required to have an estimate to complete (ETC). Now, they're drilling down further. “¨“¨That greater look occurs quarterly “” that's been the case for the past two years. “We don't want any surprises,“ says Kopfman. “Sometimes a project manager thinks they're at a certain level of completion but a review indicates otherwise.“
Additional regulatory requirements lay ahead. Like the interim FAR rule, which requires contractors to report executive compensation on subcontractors above a certain contract award tier. Kopfman recently updated teaming agreements and purchase orders to make adherence to the clause mandatory.
On a human level, Kopfman addresses any unease by stressing: The information will be used for its stated purpose and nothing more. “That should give them the feeling of confidence that only the proper government employees will see that data,“ says Kopfman, “because access is restricted within the government.“
Looking ahead, this longtime industry veteran “” he's been with AMERICAN SYSTEMS almost from the company's start “” sees a tough regulatory road ahead. That said, Kopfman is confident of the company's prospects. “Because AMERICAN SYSTEMS has a clearly articulated strategy, which is focused at fundamental national priorities and has invested in a lean, yet modern infrastructure and organization, we are able to be agile in our response to valid customer requirements “¦ this will ensure the company's continued success in what others may find are difficult times.“
It's the smaller companies, adds Kopfman, that he's worried about. “The increased reporting requirements are creating jobs for the G&A staff “” in my opinion those are the wrong types of jobs to create.“
With any luck, though, the smaller players can take a cue from AMERICAN SYSTEMS on how to come out ahead.