Many of my friends and colleagues are still “on the inside,” as in working for the Federal Government as civilian employees. I took the plunge 18 months ago; I retired and went to work in the private sector. This blog post is for my friends and colleagues who may be thinking about doing the same thing. I’ve got some points I’d like for you to consider that reach beyond the obvious.
1. You must stay informed. When working for the Federal Government, as long as you know the chain of command in your organization, the goals and objectives set by the organization, and the informal power structure therein, you really don’t have to pay too much attention to the larger world. If policies change the policy people will tell you – and even they have to be in touch with only their assigned area of responsibility. Sure, you are more effective if you continually survey the entire landscape, but you don’t necessarily have to do this.
In the private sector nobody tells you when to pay attention. Reading news articles, participating in LinkedIn discussion groups, monitoring trade journals is something you have to do now as part of your daily work habits. Suddenly it’s all about what you know that’s new in addition to who or what you know.
2. The bottom line is real and you must contribute. As a civil servant I worked hard to stay within budget for my projects. But truth be told, when unforeseen issues or needs arose, there was always money somewhere to bridge the gap. You do need skills such as anticipation, persuasiveness, and passion to get the available money before somebody else does, but somehow there’s always a way to keep moving forward.
In the private sector you have the money you have and that’s it. You also have the commitments you’ve made so you have to deliver while keeping costs below total funding. You have to pay the bills and have something left over or what’s the point of being in business? And every employee has a responsibility toward that bottom line either to keep costs down or find new business opportunities.
3. Freedom of speech is delightful. As a blogger in the private sector you get to share your opinion. When serving as a public official you have to say what the organization you serve wants you to say. Hopefully those two are in sync most of the time, making it an easy exercise. But not always.
In the private sector you are able to talk about the problems you see and offer suggestions for improving things that in the public sector may never leave your boss’ office. Over the last 18 months I’ve enjoyed digging into some of the things that have bothered me about how our Government works and then proceeded to “go public.” It’s like opening a window on a spring day. Oh, yeah, you have to watch out for the “pollen” (East-coasters, you know what I mean) so timing and how you say things counts!
So friends and colleagues still employed by the Feds, if you’re thinking about making the transition, I hope these thoughts will help you choose the best path. Others of you who have moved from a full Federal career to the private sector – what wisdom would you share?