Thursday, October 13, 2011

ECBC Executive Potential Program Provides Insight Into Executive-Level Management, Improves Leadership Skills Amongst Workforce

As a program that first started as a short-term, developmental assignment, The Edgewood Chemical Biological Center's Executive Potential Program (XO) has turned into a long-running opportunity for ECBC employees (GS-12 and above) to work closely with members of leadership and gain a 360-degree perspective of the entire Center.

The XO Program selects one employee from each of the Center’s three directorates and temporarily places them on duty in the Front Office of one of ECBC's directorates (not necessarily their home directorate) for a six-month time period with the possibility of a temporary pay increase. Participants apply through a competitive process and are selected by the Center’s Directors. While in the program, XO participants get exposure to a multitude of responsibilities that increase their interaction with the senior members of the Directorate.

“Participants of the XO program get a lot of visibility within the leadership of ECBC,” said Chief of ECBC’s Workforce Management Office Mary Martinez,. “They work with leadership on a large variety of issues that concern the Center.”

The primary purpose of the program is to enhance the XOs’ awareness, provide insight into executive level management and decision making, improve leadership skills and contribute to the effectiveness of the organization. XOs also have the opportunity to attend meetings with customers like the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense (JPEO-CBD) and Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), help develop business plans and have regular individual meetings with division and branch chiefs.

Current Engineering Directorate XO Dr. Vicky Bevilacqua said she applied to the XO program to gain a better understanding of the different Directorates and how the Center operates as a whole.
“The expertise across ECBC is so vast; it’s great to have the chance to understand how different individuals’ skill sets apply to the Center,” Bevilacqua said.

Bevilacqua previously spent nine years working as a research chemist in the Research and Technology Directorate. In addition to learning about the Center, the XO program has given her a tangible understanding of ECBC’s role within the larger Department of Defense (DoD) organization system through various visits and meetings she has participated in with representatives from the JPEO-CBD, DTRA and the Department of Homeland Security.

Adam Seiple, current XO for the Research and Technology Directorate (R&T), said he applied to be an XO because he wanted to get a taste for something outside out of his regular routine, to see how a front office of ECBC functions and have the opportunity to get to know members of senior leadership.

“I get a big picture look at how the system works within the Department of Defense,” Seiple said. “I also get to interact with many different people who I would have never met if I wasn’t an XO. As an engineer, I only interacted with other engineers, and the way we got a task done and thought were similar. Within R&T, people work differently. Having the opportunity to work with such new personalities is strengthening and builds people skills, giving me a huge appreciation for the differences that everybody brings to the table.”

A common trait that Martinez says she sees in people who become XO participants is their demonstrated initiative. Participants have a genuine interest in the Center as a whole and how the Directorates function with each other.

“An important part of the XO application process is not just explaining an interest in the program, but also describing exactly what you will bring to the table from your specific job background and how the Center will benefit from these experiences,” Martinez said. “The program tries to draw from a diverse group of skill sets.”

While most XOs take on the same basic duties of attending different meetings and supporting their directors, the actual day-to-day and specific responsibilities of the XO vary. Bevilacqua is involved with the Biological Defense School within the Engineering Directorate, while Seiple does individual projects with strategy and business in R&T.

“A large part of the professional development aspect is for the XO to be able to take the reins and see which parts of the Directorate need their support,” Bevilacqua said. “The XO has to also know his or her personal strengths and areas of improvements so that they can focus on different learning opportunities and find additional support to aid in their tasks.”

Amanda Dubbs, current Public Affairs Specialist in the Public Affairs Office and former Engineering Directorate XO, said she valued her experience as an XO, as it provided her with the opportunity to familiarize herself with the many operations performed at ECBC.

“The highlight of the program was expanding my network to include leadership both at the directorate level and at the Center level,” said Dubbs, who worked as a biologist with Chemical Biological Applications and Risk Reduction in the Directorate of Program Integration. “The two most important lessons I learned as an XO were to listen before you talk, and that sometimes when advancing in your career you must work laterally and broaden your skills first before moving up.”

Dubbs said working as an XO gave her the confidence to try a new position outside of what she was used to. “As an XO, I realized that I can work outside of my comfort zone. My XO position gave me skills to be successful in such an unfamiliar position,” Dubbs said.

The XO Program also takes place at a more senior level with the Executive Trainee Program. In this program two XOs are selected to work for a year. Six months of the program are spent in the ECBC Technical Director’s Office, while the other six months are spent working at the Pentagon in Virginia. Each XO sits at a different location and swaps at the end of the six-month period. Members of the Executive Trainee Program get the same opportunities as those participating in the Executive Potential Program, but at the Center level. Engineering Director AJay Thornton is among the myriad individuals that have passed through the program.

“I have seen a lot of people get permanent promotions after completing the XO Program,” Martinez said. “Some people have also gone on to work for other organizations, and while we do wish they stayed, they get to leave with the values and professional development learned in XO. It shows other organizations that ECBC has high quality employees here.”

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