There was no shortage of tumultuous times over the past year and a half. A global pandemic, isolation, social unrest, a tenuous U.S. election, fear, anxiety and, what I keep hearing over and over again, a shortage of hugs. But as Mark Greenblatt, CFE, Inspector General at the U.S. Department of the Interior, said today, we can come out of these difficult times with lessons learned and tools to have for the next challenge that comes our way.
In his session, “Leading Your Anti-Fraud Team Through Tumultuous Times,” Greenblatt shared what he personally learned over the past year when leading the U.S. Department of Interior’s office of the inspector general. He focused on three themes that arose and how each serve as vital keys to unlocking your team’s success in the future.
Greenblatt said that his core values were tested during what he called figuratively a “Category 5 hurricane.” This is when you and your team face a threat that could change the way you function at your foundation. For the IG’s office, it was the challenges to its independency, one of its core values. In 2020, two IGs were removed from their positions. Typically IGs have stayed in their roles through different administrations and were previously seen as objective and independent of political affiliation. But, according to Greenblatt, this unprecedented couple of events led to tension, stress, anxiety and fear of what could happen next. He said he led with his core values remaining first and foremost in his decision-making. “My team and I stuck to our guns and told the truth,” he said. “We had to write reports about political figures for misconduct. Knowing in my core that I was doing the right thing gave me courage to move forward.”
Along with knowing and sharing his team’s core values, he also needed to share, exemplify and model them with courage. “I took a long view of the situation and kept coming back to integrity and credibility. Our credibility as fact finders is essential to our effectiveness. Our stakeholders have to believe we are maintaining objectivity and credibility. Once those are lost, they are very hard to get back,” he said. “I also needed to project and communicate that courage to my team. I needed to assure my staff that we were going to keep doing what we do.”
Greenblatt shared two ways that communication proved to be a powerful force for change and trust during a difficult time: sharing a clear vision and open to the possibility of reinvention. Before the pandemic, the IG’s office planned audits ahead of time and conducted them over a period of time, later providing the findings to key stakeholders. However, once the CARES Act and other initiatives were passed in an effort to get out as much money as possible to Americans who desperately needed help, a typical audit was no longer a viable plan. “I knew we couldn’t follow our traditional model,” he said. “I wanted to position ourselves to add value at the beginning of the efforts, not after. That would be two years too late.” Greenblatt said he communicated a vision with his team that a change needed to happen and fast. Then, he said he got out of the way and let the team create. They came up with the idea to create flash reports: high level, well-designed, fast-hitting snapshots that covered emerging risks, lessons learned, program analyses and more. The first one was created 10 days after the CARES Act was passed and shared with the department. “The department became big fans of a flash report. For auditors, how many of you had ever had the people that you were auditing ask for more reports? For me, that’s rare. Let’s be honest, that’s downright unheard of. That tells us that this was the kind of oversight our department needed.”
Greenblatt said he and his team deliberately created safe spaces to connect during political, social and cultural changes. He did this by focusing on transparency, connectivity, engagement, support and a little game of Family Feud. He said they created weekly executive videos to send to staff of what was going on in real-time. “We wanted to let them know we care about them, they are in our minds, that the health and safety of our employees are at the forefront.” He also planned contests, trivia, the department’s first-ever, all-hands award ceremony and tea time, a dedicated time and place for leaders to meet with small groups. He reminded leaders to connect with employees by recognizing when they are struggling, acknowledging their pain and offering support. “Don’t be afraid to show vulnerability,” he said. “It will make you more relatable and credible to your team.”
Greenblatt closed by saying that the survey scores from his team went up over the past year and that their team is actually stronger than before the months of stress, challenges and obstacles. A team now armed with not only new tools and knowledge, but the confidence that comes with simply surviving.