The Business of Government Hour

 

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The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

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June Huber interview

Friday, August 17th, 2001 - 20:00
Phrase: 
June Huber
Radio show date: 
Sat, 08/18/2001
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Intro text: 
June Huber
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Friday, August 3, 2001

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of The Endowment for The Business of Government. We created The Endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about the Endowment and our programs by visiting us on the Web at endowment.pwcglobal.com.

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our conversation today is with June Huber, chief knowledge officer of the General Services Administration. Welcome, June.

Ms. Huber: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation is Steve Seca (phonetic), another PWC partner. Welcome, Steve.

Mr. Seca: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, June, let's start by finding out more about the General Services Administration or GSA. Could you describe the range of activities that GSA performs for our listeners?

Ms. Huber: Sure, I'd be glad to. GSA, I like to think of it as the business arm of government, because while most federal agencies and departments do most of their work to serve the taxpayer, GSA does its work to serve the other federal agencies and departments.

We are principally made up of four arms of business. Our public building service is the real property end of the business and we provide space and space-related services to other agencies. Our federal supply service provides supplies and services, mostly through a supply schedule. Everything from paper clips to motor vehicles to paint to medical supplies, anything that you might need or that an agency might need to do our business.

Our federal technology service principally provides products and services that are in two categories: telecommunications and information technology. And then finally, we have an office of government-wide policy that's responsible for providing guidance and policies to other agencies in areas like travel and information technology and other business-related activities.

Mr. Lawrence: How many people are employed by GSA and what type of skills are there? You described such a diverse range of activities.

Ms. Huber: Well, we do do a lot of interesting things. We've got about -- a little bit over 14,000 people on board right now, which is smaller than we've been in the past, because we do a lot of our work through private-sector contractors.

You know, in fact, we just finished doing a workforce analysis of our skills and our principal types of occupations in GSA are procurement specialists or contracting specialists because we do so much work through contracts. We also have a lot of people who do real-property management, like leasing or building management. We have a large number of information technology specialists of all kinds.

We also have a lot of what we call general administration -- people who can be project managers or program managers in a variety of different businesses in GSA, but not just in one of them.

Mr. Lawrence: June, now, let's spend a little time talking about your career. Can you tell us a little bit about your career development, how long you've been with GSA?

Ms. Huber: I've been with GSA a long time. At least it seems that way sometimes. I came to GSA in 1974 right out of graduate school. And I've been very fortunate, because I think of myself as kind of a general-purpose executive. I don't have a specialty. So I've been able to work in GSA in almost every part of the organization.

I've been in several staff organizations, including being a second-tier CFO and CIO, chief financial officer and chief information officer. I've also served in our real-property business as a portfolio manager. I've worked in our federal supply service, although that was quite a number of years ago. I've worked in our federal technology service during the last Administration part of the time, running a program called the blue-pages project, which is where we tried to take the government telephone listings in telephone directories, the blue pages, as opposed to the yellow pages or the white pages, and make them more user-friendly.

Mr. Lawrence: It seems like GSA is one of those places that give you the opportunity to move into areas that are of particular interest to you, because obviously, in your career, you've spanned many different parts of GSA.

Ms. Huber: It really does. GSA -- almost anything you want to do, you can do it there. There's a niche for people with all kinds of skills. And, in fact, we're actively looking for people to come to GSA and bring new skills to the organization.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, in researching for this interview, we learned one of your more interesting jobs was that you managed the presidential transition team during this most recent and very interesting election. Could you tell us about that?

Ms. Huber: GSA has a rather unique responsibility that it gets to carry out either every 4 years or every eight years, depending on the circumstances. GSA is responsible for providing direct business support to each presidential transition team. What that means is, ahead of the election, we select and we furnish space for the transition team. We provide computers and all kinds of computer support, which, of course, these days includes Internet and intranets. We provide telecommunications. We help them get organized. And we sort of live with them 24 by 7 from Election Day through Inauguration Day to help them do their very important job. They've only got 72 or 73 days between the election and the inauguration, and that's in a normal election year. To do a whole lot of work, they've got to make great inroads on staffing the new Administration with political appointees and they also have to -- they also have to look at how departments and agencies are organized and start to coalesce their thoughts about how do they want to put their stamp on the new Administration. And 72 days isn't a very long time to do that. So they shouldn't be involved in the day-to-day adminis-trivia of managing their people and running their shop. That's our job.

Mr. Lawrence: What were the management challenges of reducing that time period?

Ms. Huber: We don't have enough time to really talk about that. Needless to say, during the 30-some odd days between the election and when the Supreme Court finally settled the issue, my team and I had to work very closely with both sides to make sure that we were giving everybody the same kinds of information and keeping them updated on what was happening and what was the current status of the situation.

But in addition, we had to -- I'll describe it as put a lot of fine-tuning on the work we had done to prepare for them, because instead of having what normally wasn't a leisurely start, we had to start literally overnight, and we had to be very, very ready.

Mr. Lawrence: June, we know that GSA is the first government agency to appoint a chief knowledge officer. Now, you've recently stepped into that position. Can you tell us a little bit about what are the responsibilities around being a chief knowledge officer?

Ms. Huber: Sure, I'll be glad to. At least, I'll define it as well as I can, because it's still an activity, as is knowledge management in general, that many people think of in different ways.

In GSA, we created our first chief knowledge officer a little over 2 years ago, because our previous administrator saw a need for GSA associates to share more of what they know so that it could improve not only their individual performance, but GSA's business performance. And some things are easy to share and some things aren't easy to share.

The kinds of knowledge that you capture in documents or in automated systems, as long as you have a process and mechanism, those things are relatively easy to share. You copy things, you send them out or you provide people with access to automated information.

But it's the knowledge that lives in people's heads that's hard to share, because sometimes you don't even know what you know. We have employees in GSA around the country who have really perfected their skills in areas like telecommunications, in real property management, and in fact, some of the skills are even tactical skills, like carpentry and electrical management. And these people, those who have been around for 20 years or maybe 30 years, they've really learned a lot about how do you get things done and how do you get things done efficiently and effectively.

And we're looking for ways to capture that kind of knowledge and share it with less experienced employees or employees who have moved into a new field, so that they can take advantage not only of what they've learned, but of what their colleagues have learned so that they don't have to relearn it all over again.

Mr. Lawrence: Which of the positions you've held prior to this one prepared you for this job, and how?

Ms. Huber: I like to think that they've all prepared me for this job in one way or another, because part of educating our organization -- and we're still educating even after 2 years about knowledge management and the benefits of knowledge management, or think of it as knowledge sharing -- is knowing who to talk to. And since I've been in all parts of GSA, I have a pretty good network.

But it's also understanding all of the facets of the business. Because you don't just do knowledge management for knowledge management's sake. I mean, it is interesting; don't get me wrong. It's a lot of fun. But we don't do it just because it's interesting and fun. We do it because we really want to improve the business.

And so if you can -- if you know the different parts of the business, and know the people who run it and can keep yourself attuned to what are the organizational objectives, what are the kind of end results you're trying to achieve, what are the new initiatives, you can think about, okay, now, how can knowledge management -- how can knowledge sharing help that particular business or that particular manager achieve his or her objectives better?

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good stopping point, because it's time for a break. But stick with us, because when we come back, we'll as June Huber to tell us more about knowledge management at GSA.

This is The Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and our conversation today is with June Huber, chief knowledge officer of the General Services Administration. And joining us in our conversation is another PWC partner, Steve Seca.

Steve?

Mr. Seca: June, knowledge management as a concept is still rather new for a lot of organizations. What are the benefits you see to focusing on knowledge management?

Ms. Huber: That is something that my very small staff and I have been spending a lot of attention on right now. Let me tell you why. We have a new administrator because we have a new administration. And our administrator, Steven Perry (phonetic), has asked us to focus some close attention on how knowledge management can really help GSA achieve its critical business objectives.

We've been doing knowledge management for about 2 years now, and when you start a new initiative like this, particularly one that nobody has a lot of experience in, even in the private sector, it's good to start small and have a lot of local initiatives and let people experiment. And I think we've been very successful with that. But now we're at a stage 2 years later where we really want to take this activity and look at how can it be more closely focused on helping GSA's associates and GSA's businesses achieve the right kind of results, which is providing excellent service to other federal agencies. And so we're really looking at what are the principal benefits of knowledge management and what are the parts of GSA that can benefit from it.

I would say that the principal benefits include the ability to learn from others learning, so that you don't -- so that an individual, an associate, can spend less time experiencing and learning a field himself or herself, rather, can absorb some of the learning that other people have done and become more productive more quickly.

A second benefit is that it keeps, in some cases, associates from making the same mistakes as other people have made, because they've already heard about those situations in what we call lessons learned activity.

A third example of where it can really benefit, and this goes into the whole idea of having a productive workforce -- is that when you have a group of associates who share common interests. Let's say procurement specialists, for example. And they're located all around the country and they're located in lots of different businesses but they still have the same kinds of common objectives and do a lot of the same common work.

If you can get them to develop what we call a community of practice that shares their good ideas, shares their lessons learned with each other, voluntarily and helps each other out when they've got problems and issues, your own associates have a greater sense of belonging to the organization and belonging to the community. And I really think that can make a difference in having good people stay with the organization and look to enhance their contribution. Because they're not only getting reinforcement from their supervisor or their manager, but they're getting reinforcement from their peers as well.

Mr. Seca: Let me ask you how that's really done. What are the processes or what are the steps you do to actually do knowledge management?

Ms. Huber: Knowledge management is not a one-size-fits-all solution. We like to think of having a kind of tool kit of different solutions.

When you have an organization or a group of people who are looking for more effective ways, more efficient ways to share information -- you might want to look at developing what I just called a community of practice. A way of getting people who might be dispersed in lots of different geographic areas together, usually helped by technology, and there are a number of different software packages on the market that can help you do that. The one we use most frequently is called Lotus Quick Place, but I'm not trying to sell that more than any other. And it gives people a place on the Net to be able to talk with each other and share documents and share ideas and have two-way conversations that can help them have this sense of community in between the times when they actually see each other.

Sometimes technology doesn't fit, thought. We have a part of our real estate operation with -- that has employees who really would rather not do it through technology. And so in our national capital region in Washington, D.C., they've set up what they call NCR guilds, and it's a little bit like the old guild system in the Middle Ages, where experts in a certain craft would take on apprentices and would teach those apprentices on a one-to-one or a one-to-a-group basis. And so that's another example of doing knowledge management even without technology.

Other examples depend upon what kind of issue or problem you're trying to solve or improve. If you're looking for ways to pass information, in general, from a seasoned manager to a less-experienced employee, you might want to consider having a mentoring program where someone would try to match, like I said, a seasoned manager or executive with an employee whose looking for help in his or her career and help in learning how to deal with people and how to make decisions. Because some people find mentors just in the normal course of business. But other people just don't run across the right kind of person accidentally, so it helps to have them matched up with someone.

Mr. Seca: How is structure introduced into that project? You described that there might be written things for people to learn from, so someone has to take the time to write them. Perhaps there also is oral communication, but someone has to ensure the right people are providing that information. How is that done?

Ms. Huber: That's what I see as the difference between knowledge sharing and knowledge management. Knowledge sharing occurs in all organizations, everywhere. It occurs around the water cooler; it occurs in the hallway. Knowledge sharing sometimes can be nothing more than gossip, because it spreads information very quickly. Whether it's right or wrong is another story. But I like to think of knowledge management as the deliberate and structured process to share information from one place to another.

And you're right; sometimes it does require a lot of advanced thought about, first, how are you going to capture the knowledge? You can capture them in systems and in documents if you have that knowledge readily available to be captured, or if you have people who have the time and the willingness to either go through interviews and, like, have it captured on video. And that's a very popular way with people who don't have the time or inclination to sit and write things down or enter things into a computer.

But once you've captured the information, then you need to have a way to organize it because it's all very well and good to have useful information captured somewhere. But if people can't get at it, if they can't find what they're looking for, they're going to get frustrated. So that's where it almost ties into the whole issue of internet taxonomy. How do you create a mechanism to search for and find the information you're particularly interested in, without getting frustrated a lot of stuff that you don't care about?

And then, finally, on the back end, you want to make sure that you have users of information who know where to go to find it and once they do find it that they actually find something that's useful and that can help them improve their own work, improve their own productivity and, hopefully, in the end improve the productivity of the organization.

So you've got to capture it on the front end, you've got to organize it in the middle, and you've got to have a way of using it productively on the back end.

Mr. Seca: You've talked a lot about capturing information and how important it is to share it throughout the organization. I was just wondering, what kind of specific efforts do you have underway to make sure that that's happening and do you have some examples of where it's worked well?

Ms. Huber: We are still struggling with the part of knowledge management that involves measuring the degree of success you get out of the projects. Because often an organization or a group of people will set up a community or will initiate a knowledge management project with the general, but sometimes vague, belief that sharing information is going to help people work better. But if you don't really think in advance about, what is the end result I'm looking for, and is there a way for me -- after I've been doing it for a while -- to answer the question, did we succeed, then you might be doing some good things, but on the other hand, you might just be putting a lot of effort into something that's fun to do, but not -- doesn't have any terribly important results.

We've got two examples in GSA where we think we've done that fairly successfully. In our public building service, we put together a good practices community where people share the best things they've been doing in their areas and were able to improve their customer service ratings, significantly and measurably.

Secondly, in our property disposal area, as a result of their putting together a community of practice, they were able to improve their employee satisfaction scores.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, it's time for a break, and when we return, we'll ask June Huber of GSA how the long-term benefits of knowledge management are balanced against the need for short-term results.

This is The Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and today's conversation is with June Huber, chief knowledge officer of the General Services Administration. And joining us in our conversation is another PWC partner, Steve Seca.

Well, June, one of the things you did mention in the last segment was technology. Is knowledge management all about technology?

Ms. Huber: Well, I certainly don't think it's all about technology, although technology can be an important part of it. I like to think about the relationship between knowledge management and information technology, or IT, a little bit like the relationship between you and your treadmill. If you wake up one morning and look in the mirror and decide it's time to start an exercise program and the first thing you do is go out and buy a treadmill and set it up in your basement, but if you don't really have a serious commitment to doing this exercise program, your treadmill is going to sit down in the basement either collecting dust or serving as a clothes horse. And I think most people can relate to that. I know I can.

But in terms of knowledge management, you need to have an organizational will, and it's got to be supported from the top, to share information. And once people want to do that, then technology can really help you do that, particularly among people who aren't in the same location. But if you just decide that we're going to do knowledge management in our organization and go off and buy a complicated software system and set it up to do knowledge management and assume that, just because it's there your associates are going to enter knowledge into it and miraculously achieve knowledge management, you are absolutely wrong.

Mr. Seca: Knowledge management is something that really cuts across the entire organization. Has it had an effect on the culture at GSA? And maybe you could speak a little bit about the culture you're trying to create at GSA.

Ms. Huber: I think knowledge management has had an effect on GSA's culture, although it has, in fact, been gradual. As I said earlier, we've been experimenting with knowledge management for a couple of years now. And one of the things that we've tried to do is to share throughout the organization the stories about what we've been doing and encourage people who've been involved in knowledge management activities to share their lessons learned and share the results of their experiments with their peers.

Another thing we've done is, we've established a knowledge management newsletter, and every week or so, we send out to various managers and employees in GSA information about what is GSA doing in knowledge management, what is the federal government doing in knowledge management, and then just generally, what's new information in the field of knowledge management?

So educating people is a very important part of it. But most of that education -- when people really grab hold of the idea, it's not going to be because the chief knowledge officer or either of my two knowledge managers are telling them that it's a good thing. It's going to be because they're hearing from other people in GSA who've actually used it and gotten benefit from it from their peers -- yes, it is in fact a good thing. That's going to be a lot more believable.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, skeptics have suggested that knowledge management is very difficult to implement. Has GSA had this experience?

Ms. Huber: It's difficult, because sometimes it's hard to find the right solution for the right problem. It really does depend upon the nature and the culture of the organization.

In GSA, we have everything from very, very high-tech-savvy organizations, particularly, for example, in our federal technology service, or in our office of government-wide policy, which is heavily involved in e-government to organizations that are much more comfortable with people sitting down over a brown-bag lunch and talking to each other.

We also have parts of the organization that have built a pretty substantial level of trust among their associates. And they're comfortable and willing to share information because they've seen the benefit of it.

And we've got other parts of GSA where, for a variety of reasons, people may not trust each other enough at this point in time to be willing to share what they see as the knowledge that's their property and what makes them special, from everybody else.

And so it really -- those are some of the challenges. You've got to build trust, and you've got to find a solution that people are going to be comfortable using. It can't take a whole lot of extra effort because people are busy already.

Mr. Seca: There's this contrast that you've got to deal with. And one is that knowledge is sometimes considered to be a long-term effort. And yet your leaders are saying, you know, show me some immediate results. And I'm wondering what kind of evaluation kind of processes that you've put in place to see how things are going and, you know, what kinds of results you've seen from that?

Ms. Huber: Well, we're focusing on that right now as we look at what kinds of knowledge management activities we should be devoting our resources to in order to really make a difference in our business performance.

And the framework that we're looking at right now, before we begin an activity is, number one, are we using it to help solve a business problem that already exists? In other words, we don't want to make up an issue so that we have an opportunity to use knowledge management. We want to apply knowledge management to something -- to a business issue -- to a business problem that somebody already believes is an issue and that's got to be the manager of that organization. So we want to help solve a real problem.

Secondly, we like to make sure that the top management of that organization not only buys in to the use of knowledge management to make a difference but, in fact, visibly supports it, because his or her people are going to be spending some time in learning how to use knowledge management tools and then implementing them. And that needs to be seen as a valuable contribution to the organization.

The last item -- or, excuse me, the next-to-last item -- is that we -- as I said earlier, we want to make sure that there is a way of identifying when or whether you've achieved success. Say you're going to establish a community of practice in a certain area. You want to be able to say up front, we're establishing this community of practice in order to create more -- greater employee satisfaction in this business unit so that they will work better together as a team.

So you want to see that up front and you want to have an objective to look at the satisfaction scores of that organization the next time that there is an employee survey and see did it do (interruption) a difference.

Mr. Lawrence: In some organizations, employees have incentives to hoard information: Job position, job security. How do you overcome this incentive and encourage employees to share information?

Ms. Huber: That has been something that my colleagues and I in other federal agencies are still grappling with everywhere. The old hierarchical organizational culture, where A reported to B reported to C reported to D and manager D guarded his or her turf religiously and the whole concept where knowledge is power. And if I have the knowledge and nobody else has the knowledge, that means I'm more powerful.

That kind of organizational thinking is changing, but it's not changing uniformly, and it's not changing everywhere at the same rate. And convincing people -- teaching people, usually by example, that an organization is going to be more efficient and more productive and, in the end, more successful. If more of their associates have more knowledge and if managers share what they know with their other manager colleagues for the good of the whole organization, so that everybody's heading in the same direction -- that that's going to deliver better results.

I believe that that's the case. Most people believe that that's the case, but getting an organization and getting individuals to not only hear it, but actually believe it and practice it is another thing. So that's another organizational challenge that goes beyond knowledge management itself.

Mr. Seca: June, for those agencies and organizations that are out there that are trying to kid off their own knowledge management efforts, what would be the lessons learned that you'd want to share with them?

Ms. Huber: I believe that what we did in the past, which is think big picture, but have local initiatives and let people experiment with it in the beginning is a really good approach, because it allows an organization to devote relatively few resources to it in the beginning, so you don't take a big risk. And it lets you learn, but also, lets you make mistakes and find out what works and what doesn't without having a big impact right in the beginning, when you're more likely to make more mistakes. And it gives people an opportunity, also, to try different things and find out what's more likely to be successful in your organization, rather than having a bunch of managers sitting around in a room make a decision that we're going to go with solution X, without knowing whether solution X is really going to fit in your agency or your organization.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, it's time for a break. And stick with us through the break, as we continue our conversation with June Huber of GSA. When we come back, we'll find out if knowledge management could solve the human capital crisis.

This is The Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and today's conversation is with June Huber, chief knowledge officer of the General Services Administration. And joining us in our conversation is another PWC partner, Steve Seca.

Well, June, how will knowledge management affect or have an impact on the impending retirement wave within government and, I assume, even GSA?

Ms. Huber: Paul, I'm not the only one who things that knowledge management can contribute to helping the federal government deal with that particular issue.

One of the first people I heard speak about that was David Walker, our comptroller general. And I know he's spoken about it a number of times, about how the number of government employees who are currently eligible for retirement, and will become eligible for retirement over the next 5 years or so, is really a substantial percentage, obviously, more in some agencies and more in some occupations than others.

But it's important that the government find a way -- actually, not a way, many ways -- of addressing this issue. And I believe -- and he has stated, as well -- that knowledge management is one tool or one technique that can contribute to the transfer of knowledge from experienced employees who will, in fact, some day sooner or later, be going out the door, to less experienced employees who are going to have to take their place.

There are several different kinds of techniques that you can use to affect that. One of them is to actually have automated software-supported tools where people can -- can capture information and share them out to a wide variety of people. Other solutions include getting managers and other experienced employees to sit down and do interviews and videotape those interviews, or even interview audibly, like we're doing here on this show, so that at a later date that information can be shared and that kind of less structured way of sharing information can almost be more effective, because it allows people to tell their story the way they want to tell it, and storytelling is actually another key part of knowledge management, although it's not -- it's a less-structured part of it.

Other ways that information can be transferred is, as I said before, you can set up a mentoring program. And it might not even be a one-to-one mentoring program, but it could be a program where seasoned managers sit down with lots of people, maybe over a brown-bag lunch and do a Q and A session and talk about, you know, how -- what experiences have you had in this kind of area and how did you deal with these sorts of problems?

So there's really a variety of different approaches to share knowledge and share experiences and lessons learned from experienced people to less experienced people. But it's kind of critical that we begin doing that because once people retire and leave, they won't be available to share those experiences anymore.

Mr. Seca: What advice would you give to a young person today whose interested in a career in public service and what kind of skills do you think they should have?

Ms. Huber: I think that education certainly is important. We -- in this country and, in fact, in the world, we're becoming more of a knowledge economy, more of a service economy rather than a manufacturing economy. And so having a good education, having a college degree is going to get you farther, and I think that in most parts of the federal government, although not all, that that is the kind of credentials that we're looking for people who are coming in in the front door.

In addition, I think that it helps if you have some flexibility about what you're interested in doing. Obviously, there are some career fields where you're going to have a specialty and that's the career field that you're going to stay in because you've trained for it and that's your interest area, whether it's health or, perhaps, in a scientific area or if you're in accounting and financial management.

But on the other hand, there are a lot of career fields in the government that can accept and, in fact, more of a generalist such as myself, who brings an analytical mind and brings good communication skills, both oral and written. And brings a sense of initiative and being able to be self-managed. If you bring those skills into a job in the federal government, there's almost nothing you can't achieve. And those skills can be transferable to a whole lot of different locations. So your potential for progressing to a higher level is going to be much greater.

Mr. Lawrence: When you look out into the future, say, 10 years, how do you think technology will affect the workplace and, in particular, will there even be a workplace?

Ms. Huber: If I knew the answer to that, I could probably make a great deal of money, because there are a number of futurists that I've listened to not too long ago who are grappling with exactly that question.

I believe that there will still be a workplace, because I think that people still need, on occasion -- and in some occupations more occasions than others -- to meet face to face and to do work together. And in fact, that's part of the philosophy of knowledge management, is that you want to keep people connected through technology when they can't be together. But technology doesn't replace the fact that human beings need to sit down face to face and talk to each other every once in a while, to build the trust and build the relationship that allow you to work together productively. Because when you're there in person, you can read body language and see people smiling or frowning. You can interrupt each other's conversations more readily. You can ask questions. You can try to do that electronically, but it doesn't happen very effectively. And even teleconferencing where you've got videoconferencing, they haven't perfected it to the point where you can -- you can read a person's expressions and body language the way you can in person.

Mr. Seca: This focus on knowledge and knowledge sharing, do you see that having an effect on the organization's hierarchy? And maybe put another way, do you think that GSA will become a flatter organization as a result of knowledge management?

Ms. Huber: Yes, I think that's probably true. Although I think GSA has gone quite a bit in the direction of becoming a flatter organization already over the past 5 to 10 years. I don't think knowledge management is going to cause that, necessarily. On the other hand, I don't think the flatter organization is going to cause knowledge management to happen automatically either.

I think we're going to move in both directions, and they're going to complement each other, but I'm not sure one is going to drive the other. The issue of the flatter organization -- as people become more highly educated and as our culture tends to encourage people to take more responsibility and be willing to exert more initiative personally, I think that's more what's driving the flatter organization, because there isn't the need for tight control the way there was at an earlier day.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you see knowledge management evolving in general, or specifically at GSA? I mean, what's your vision, and do you think it'll be something special in 10 years, or will it just be a common business practice?

Ms. Huber: I would rather that it become a common business practice. In fact, if I really could express a vision for 10 years ago, I would like to suggest that 10 years from now, there will be no need for a chief knowledge officer or no need for chief knowledge manager staff, because knowledge management has become a common way of doing business in GSA or in other organizations just as using e-mail and using the telephone and taking training and development courses become a common way of people communicating and growing.

Once people understand and know how to use knowledge management tools, pretty much throughout the organization we've done our job and I can go on to something else.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, June, I'm afraid we're out of time. I want to thank you for taking from your busy schedule to be with us.

Ms. Huber: It's been a pleasure to be here this morning, Paul and Steve. I would be quite happy to do it again on this subject or any other. And thank you for inviting me.

Mr. Seca: Wonderful to see you, June, thanks so much.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation on management with June Huber, chief knowledge officer of the General Services Administration.

To learn more about our programs in research to new approaches to improving effectiveness, visit us on the Web at endowment.pwcglobal.com. And at this website, you can also get a transcript of today's interesting conversation.

See you next week.

June Huber interview
08/18/2001
June Huber

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