If you could rewind your career and start over, what would you change? Would your first day of work look the same the second time around? What advice would you give the one who took your place?
Having recently had the opportunity to talk with some of the new IV-D state child support directors following the National Child Support Enforcement Association (NCSEA) Policy Forum in Washington, DC, I remembered my early days as a state child support director in Louisiana. I learned a lot during those years of public service! I made some mistakes and I did some things right, and there were some things I would do differently. A first day today, with that experience available, would look a little different than my original first day.
Starting over again is not an option for me – or any of us! –but here are three tidbits of experience-based advice that I would give a new child support director, or other key government managers taking on new program responsibilities.
- Focus on your mission and make decisions based on the furtherance of that mission. Your business processes, budget, staffing, and schedules should all be based on fulfilling your mission efficiently and effectively. The child support program encourages responsible parenting and provides services aimed at locating parents, establishing paternity and child support orders, and collecting support for children. There will be emergencies and short-term priorities occasionally, but return to this mission focus as quickly as you can. You are responsible for leading your program to accomplish this mission. Keep that focus!
- Manage proactively based on a clear understanding of program data. Learn all that you can about the program, your state’s numbers, and the story behind those numbers. Review history and dig back into how and why changes were made. Identify the person in your organization who can pull reports and manage analytics for you, and have a regular date each month for reviewing trends, totals, performance indicators, and projections. Understanding where you are helps you chart the course to where you want to go. Be fully informed and prepared. Then move forward!
- Remember that you hold a position of public trust, so you must serve the public with integrity and honor. Become a champion for the children and families in your state. Build relationships and partnerships that will strengthen and support your mission and goals and will ensure that all families are served. Never miss an opportunity to share the good work that you are doing with other leaders. Respect others and become a person that others can respect. Be honest and forthright. Never give up and never stop learning. Serve with honor!
My job as Louisiana’s child support director was the best job I ever had. It was humbling and even frightening to realize that children and families were depending on me to do my best for them and for my state. I was thankful every day for the opportunity to work for them, and I gave it my best efforts. Our children are our future and they deserve our best. I hope these new directors love their jobs as much as I did, and I look forward to seeing what they will do!