Wednesday, November 18, 2015

SAWCA 2015 All Commitee Conference off to a Great Start

SAWCA’s All Committee Conference kicked off on Wednesday morning with a panel discussion regarding transition to government leadership positions. We had regulators from five jurisdictions sharing their experience of transitioning from the business world to government and all that entails.

The panelists included Abbie Hudgens (TN), Beth Aldridge (MS), Tom Hebson (Safety National), and Paul Sighinolfi (Maine). They shared their perceptions of whether new state appointees have a honeymoon in which to adjust to government service, and provided advice on how new appointees can effectively transition. The conclusion was a mixed reaction to that question with some feeling they enjoyed a honeymoon and others feeling that there was none. 

Tom Hebson stressed that workers' compensation systems in the United States do not tend to have transition plans for their leadership. Often, leaders are appointed to lead agencies, and those may or may not be individuals from within an agency, may or may not have prior government experience. He described key leaders leaving agencies, and not being replaced instantly due to the processes involved. He suggested that documentation and communication are critical for new regulators to acclimate to responsibilities.

Paul Sighinolfi echoed this sentiment, noting that there is often not a transition period in state government. He noted that in state government, there can often be no provision for a new key employee to be concurrently employed with a departing key employee. The opportunities for training, transition and continuity are frustrated. He felt that this makes transitioning into an agency more difficult than perhaps it needs to be. 

Frank McKay and Paul Sighinolfi each stressed that a critical element of successful transition is coming to the job with a goal or objectives in mind. Mr. Sighinolfi described his interest in providing a regulatory process that had been discussed but never implemented. He credits some of his success with the drive that comes from having goals and aspirations. There was consensus on the panel that goals and purpose help with a successful transition.

We learned that state systems are somewhat different. Beth Aldridge pointed out that she serves as an appellate judge of workers’ compensation claims. She is a physical therapist by profession, and described her position and appointment process. She said there were questions about her service by some who perceived that Commission position in a certain way based on prior Commissioners and their respective backgrounds. In other words, prior Commissioner's experience and background created expectations among some, and she did not fit the "mold" those people perceived. 

She stressed that in the transition, there is value in enunciating strengths and attributes that an appointee brings to the job. No one will be a copy of the “last commissioner,” but each will bring certain strengths, skills, and background to the job. Enunciating those skills and strengths will assist the marketplace with understanding how contributions will be made to the jurisdiction’s workers’ compensation system. A critical point is that everyone brings tools and skills. Enunciating those, defining one's contribution, may be helpful in making the marketplace more comfortable in the transition. 

Frank McKay noted that he found key agency employees were important to him in the transition. He recommended early discussions as to the functions, strengths and ideas of the existing agency employees. He described a comfort level achieved by having the right people in the right positions, and building a team that can address concerns and challenges. That may require changes in positions, and even replacement of team members to acquire the skill sets needed for agency excellence, and to achieve the goals and aspirations of new leadership. 

When asked to summarize their perceptions of a "key" to success in such a transition, the panelists were concise. They agreed that agencies need to be transparent and open, and leadership has to live that. The panelists agreed that interaction with other agency heads in similar positions through an organization like SAWCA is important, for collegiality, commiseration, but moreso for ideas and solutions. 

Abbie Hudgens moderated this panel through a variety of intricacies and concerns. They provided a conversational discussion, and critical take-aways for attendees. While there may be no absolute answer as to the way to manage such a transition, attendees were provided with concrete examples and sound advice for transitioning, building a team, and achieving goals.