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The Top 7 Traps When Moving from Business to Government

The Top 7 Traps When Moving from Business to Government

Peter Daly and Michael Watkins /

Trap 5: Overlooking Nonmonetary Incentives

One of the starkest contrasts between business and government is the differences in incentives for motivating workers. “The biggest trap for successful individuals entering government, is not understanding the structured nature of pay in government,” notes one HR professional in the survey. “Pay raises can only be given based on certain criteria, at a certain time and within the confines of a merit system. This is often a shock to former private-sector employees.” In business, motivation often means sharing in the financial benefits of a successful business plan. In government, financial incentives can conflict with the concept of professionals who carry out policies to best serve the public, not for personal gain. Leaders, therefore, must rely on other tools – a compelling vision, a culture that values and recognizes success, the potential for development and advancement, and the reward of engaged teamwork – that are more difficult to design.

Trap 6: Overestimating Control Over Critical Resources

Acquiring resources in government is heavily regulated by Cabinet agencies and Congress, creating a competitive environment where agencies not only vie against each other but must engage the political process and gain the support of allies. Even when support is strong, acquiring quick infusions of people, facilities or technology is unlikely, given complex personnel and procurement rules. Most new government leaders must start off largely with the resources they inherited.

Trap 7: Expecting Government to Move as Fast as Business

New arrivals from business “believe they can make change happen quickly,” says another survey respondent. “When they find out that they cannot make that change as quickly as they’d like, discouragement sets in.” Government’s rhythms are different from the quarterly and annual reporting deadlines of business. So for new leaders, getting up to speed could take longer than six months, which is typical in business. Still, they are not insulated from the impatience of stakeholders and are likely to face pressures for early wins. Targets for such wins should be selected wisely, despite insistence from some quarters for rapid action, because when they are met, they increase credibility and build momentum for success with longer-term changes.

Success in avoiding these traps will position you to get off to a good start and build personal credibility. If you fall into one, however, it will set up a vicious cycle that will consume your precious time and energy; it could even contribute to derailment.

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  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 5 years ago


    1. Don't write, say, or do anything you wouldn't want the world to see.
    2. Pick your allies carefully.
    3 & 6. The better you perform in your job, and department, the more likely someone will say, "They're doing a bang-up job in Blah Department. They don't need anything." If it works, don't mess with it.
    4. Maintain the status quo.
    5. Serving the public is its own reward. There is no "I" in team.
    7. Know what SLOW means? AND Pick your battles very carefully. A successful small skirmish is better than a lost campaign, no matter how brilliant it looked.
    I think I grasp the concept of government. Thank you for the information.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 6 years ago


    This is very important and useful information

  • Bjork_cover_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    These are wonderful insights! Very helpful. Thank you.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 7 years ago


    A good article that rings true about working for the government. I personally am transitioning from government service to the private sector for these exact reasons. I feel as if I am being underutilized at this point in my career, and due to the slow promotion rates within the system, I will not be in a position to effect change for another 8+ years. More power to persons wishing to move into the government sector. Just remember though, don't do it for the money or the praise, do it for the service. Your ultimate customer is the American people.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 7 years ago


    thanks for the informatiion. Would you be more job specific and the basic qualifiers for these positions. I am in a transition stage, want to go to work asap, I dont know how to address my resume and will most likely have to do some job training. Hopefully most companies do their own training requirements. My background is a varietyof experiencesand I am willing to learn.

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