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Matthew Fleharty

"Breakdown Activities" for the Contracting Workforce

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I'm drafting some thoughts/recommendations on improving training for the contracting workforce and I'd like to solicit input from those of you who frequent these forums. 

Specifically, I'd like to know what each of you think are the "breakdown activities" for our workforce. 

"Breakdown activities" are defined as those "tasks that differentiate high and low performers." 

The term comes from an article in Harvard Business Review that I read last month - for those of you interested in the complete article, you can read it here: To Better Train Workers, Figure Out Where They Struggle.

Thanks in advance for any input!

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Ability to distinguish between valid requirements and the way it's always been done?

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How to communicate and collaborate with thier clients.  Beiing a team player  when appropriate, taking total charge when necessary and knowing when to do each. 

All the training in the world will not solve someone being emotionally immature and unable to function on a team.  Or someone so introverted they block thier cube entrance with a filing cabinet and never leave thier cube.       

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I don't get the concept of "breakdown activities."

I read the article, but the main example that it gives--of a nurse observing and reporting on patients--does not help me understand what is a breakdown activity in contracting practice. (The article was really a sales pitch. HBR should be ashamed.) Do breakdown activities include all tasks in which poor performance can cause "mission failure"? Is breakdown activity another way of saying "critical task"? If so, what are the characteristics of critical tasks in contracting?

I need clarification and elaboration.

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High performers open the regulations and read them, frequently.  Low performers use the regulations book as a desk ornament.

High performers approach contract negotiations from all sides.  They envision multiple potential outcomes.  Low performers approach wearing blinders.

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Ability to effectively communicate with and assist the program office, especially pre-solicitation.

And this -

14 hours ago, here_2_help said:

Ability to distinguish between valid requirements and the way it's always been done?

 

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3 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

I don't get the concept of "breakdown activities."

I read the article, but the main example that it gives--of a nurse observing and reporting on patients--does not help me understand what is a breakdown activity in contracting practice. (The article was really a sales pitch. HBR should be ashamed.) Do breakdown activities include all tasks in which poor performance can cause "mission failure"? Is breakdown activity another way of saying "critical task"? If so, what are the characteristics of critical tasks in contracting?

I need clarification and elaboration.

I initially had a similar reaction (which is why I was only able to quote one sentence from the article), but two weeks later I'm still stuck thinking about what contracting activities high performers perform better than low performers.  Maybe I need a re-vector, in which case I'd be happy to hear any thoughts there as well.

As for trying to clarify and elaborate, I'd like to leave the prompt broad (for now), but here are some examples of "breakdown activities" I've been considering (so much for trying not to "lead the witnesses"):

  • Reading and interpreting contracts/regulations/statutes
  • Deductive reasoning
  • Negotiating

An example of an activity that I don't think fits the bill:

  • Using contract writing systems (PD2, ConWrite, etc.)

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  • A genuine passion for the business of procurement and acquisition, to the point of being annoying (which usually culminates in nerd fights over whether for example "the -7 or -8 clause is appropriate")
  • An understanding of, and a belief in, your agency's mission.
  • An understanding that contracting is not the mission of your (or any) agency.  Knowing where and how you fit.
  • Ability to be a calming influence in tense business situations (i.e., don't be an egomaniacal know-it-all, even if you know-it-all). Closely related : Ability to keep your mouth shut when necessary.
  • Talent for understanding competing interests and how to navigate a path between those interests. Empathy.
  • Ability to pull together complex, disparate information to create unique solutions.
  • Having enough confidence in your own abilities to share your expertise with others. 

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If I understood this correctly, I think your fundamental training issues are:

Researching, reading, interpreting, analyzing, and applying government contracting rules and customer requirements.

High performers go further than just following office norms or leadership instructions/expectations. High performers read and understand more than the face value of FAR. They add value to customer requirement source selections.

Researching - knowing the governing rules that exist; and where and how to find them.

Reading - intensive, extensive, etc.

Interpreting - forming opinions and arriving at supported conclusions based on wide knowledge of the rules (statutory law, case law, regulation, seminal and authoritative texts, etc.)

Analyzing - scrutinize for applying to a particular scenario.

Applying - harmonizing all of the above into a sound process. Executing a course of action that is appropriate for the particular circumstances.

High performers are interested and/or good at reasoning and argumentation. Without these skills everything else is less effective.

Writing skills are always a differentiator; thus, worth looking into.

In reality, those who want to learn and improve will find a way…the rest are just going to do the bare minimum their office or agency allows. Maybe its not a training issue…maybe its a motivation or hiring issue. We simply don't have offices full of leaders or workers who have the will to do what better or more training would require or produce anyhow.

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