An open letter from Scott Harra, former Director of Oregon’s Dept of Administrative Services

Dear State Agency Leaders,

I hope this letter finds you well amid your demanding and impactful roles. As a fellow leader who has navigated the complex waters of state governance, I am writing to share insights and experiences that I believe could be of immense value to your own leadership journeys, especially during these challenging times.

Reflecting on my tenure as the Director of the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, I am reminded of the challenges and triumphs we encountered, particularly during the onset of the Great Recession. It was a period that tested our resilience and demanded innovative approaches to leadership and management. What I discovered was that, through implementation of a series of changes, we were able to positively impact the lives of our employees as well as achieve the core mission of our agency.

Our agency, formed from the merger of the Executive Department and the Department of General Services, initially struggled with a lack of clear direction and purpose. This struggle was a consequence of insufficient change management during the merger. The ambiguity in our mission led to conflicting roles and inefficiencies, a situation many of you might find familiar in your own agencies.

The Great Recession brought further challenges. We were compelled to make difficult decisions to navigate this turbulent period, including:

  • Implementing unpaid furloughs to cut employee pay.
  • Laying off 15 percent of our staff.
  • Reducing our budgets by 12 percent.
  • Freezing pay and eliminating annual step increases.

However, the core of this letter is not to delve into the process of our transformation but to highlight the profound impact these changes had on our team. We embarked on a journey of redefining our mission, establishing clear performance metrics, and embracing data-driven strategies. Initially met with skepticism, this shift gradually fostered a culture of trust, accountability, and renewed hope among our staff.

A striking example of this cultural shift was observed during the Great Recession. Despite the harsh realities of pay cuts and layoffs, we experienced a notable absence of union protests – a first in over thirty years in our state. This was a testament to the newfound sense of collaboration, understanding, and shared mission between management and the workforce.

Years later, a simple yet powerful encounter with a former custodian from the department reaffirmed the lasting impact of our efforts. When I asked what he was up to, his response was “Just taking care of the state’s assets, boss,” reflecting a sustained sense of pride and responsibility in his work, a sentiment we strived to instill across the agency.

I am sharing these experiences with you, hoping that they offer both inspiration and practical insights for your own leadership challenges. I believe that together, we can foster a culture of innovation, collaboration, and excellence in public service.

To further this conversation, I would like to invite you to a 45-minute collaborative session where we can share challenges, strategies, and successes. This can be a 1:1 conversation or a session with your entire leadership team. It is an opportunity for us to learn from each other and to explore new avenues for enhancing our agencies’ performance and impact.

Thank you for your dedication to public service and for considering this opportunity for collaborative growth. I look forward to the possibility of engaging with each of you and learning from your esteemed experiences.

Warm regards,

Scott Harra [Former Director, Oregon Department of Administrative Services]

Are you ready to improve your agency’s performance?

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