By David S. Ferriero
Archivist of the United States
My past three columns have focused on three of the four goals of our
new Strategic Plan--Make Access Happen, Connect with Customers, and
Maximize NARA’s Value to Our Nation.
The fourth, and most important, goal focuses attention on the staff:
Build Our Future Through Our People. Our success in achieving the vision
articulated in the plan depends upon a well trained, informed, and
A staff of more than 3,000 individuals in more than 40 facilities
across the country needs to have the tools to succeed, grow, and advance
at the National Archives or to take those skills to another Federal or
non-government entity. We have a responsibility to train the workforce
of the future.
The goal has four initiatives:
Foster an employee development culture to promote learning and leadership by all.
Creating a learning agency means providing educational and
experiential opportunities, benchmarking best practices, adopting and
adapting what fits, and constantly assessing the effectiveness and
impact of our offerings. This culture fosters collaboration between
staff and supervisors in creating a development plan tailored to the
needs of the individual and the agency.
One of the pillars of our Transformation Plan is to proclaim
ourselves an agency of leaders. That means we deliberately seek input
from the staff, create opportunities for staff contribution, break down
the communication barriers that prevent full participation, and
celebrate the great ideas generated in this new culture.
A learning organization keeps on learning. We will act, revise, test, and grow.
Cultivate a robust, well-connected internal communications environment to support informed action at all levels.
Our experiment with an internal collaboration tool has demonstrated
the power of technology in connecting a geographically diverse staff.
Much of the work of the agency is now conducted online, affinity groups
across the country are sharing best practices and solving problems
collaboratively, and a new level of interconnectivity has been achieved.
This is a wonderful start to improving internal communication, but
won’t be the only initiative in this area. A culture that encourages
communication, actively trains staff on best practices—listening,
paraphrasing, group dynamics, written vs. spoken communication, etc.
Managers and supervisors play an important role in the communication
chain as role models, teachers, and mentors. Information is power and
communication is the tool to empower our staff.
Implement innovative practices and tools to recruit, sustain, and retain a 21st-century workforce.
Another of our Transformation pillars is A Great Place to Work. I
want NARA to be THE place people want to work. I want recruitment to be
so easy we have created a place where staff is supported and has
opportunities for learning, advancement, and contribution. And I want to
retain our great staff because they feel valued, appreciated, and proud
to be contributing to mission of the agency.
Create new career paths for NARA employes to ensure that we
have the necessary competencies and skills in a digital environment.
We have made a commitment to create career paths for staff at the
National Archives. When one signs on to work here, we need to provide a
glimpse of what a career might look like for that individual. And we
need to create the path along which that individual might travel to
achieve that long term relationship with this agency.
We have started this analysis with the 1420 and 1421 series for
archives aides, archives technicians and archivists. Individuals in
these series comprise half of our entire staff.
This foundational work will set the stage for review of other
occupational series until all employees can find and follow their path
to a rewarding career at NARA.
We won’t consider our job done just because we reach our strategic
goals. Whatever comes out of it must be sustained for future generations
of the staff of the Archives of the United States.
The National Archives is full of treasures---the Declaration of
Independence and the Constitution, historic treaties, landmark
legislation, secret war plans, census records back to 1790, and so much
But, as I have said before, the greatest treasures are the ones that
go home at night—the staff members who are custodians of all the records
and artifacts that tell the nation’s story.
Human motivation psychologist Edward Deci has written that human
beings have an “inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to
extend and exercise their capacities, to explore, and to learn.” That
is the culture we strive to foster.