Exec in Residence Yocom visits AGSM

by Andrew Hickey,

More than 25 years with the GAO: Team work, communication and always striving for better.

After spending just a half-hour talking with Carolyn Yocom, you start to wonder how the federal government might work if it we just had Carolyn Yocom in every role.

She’d remind you quickly that it would never work. In fact, for her team at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to excel, a team of diverse opinions, talents and backgrounds it vital.

But the more you learn about Yocom and her approach to management in government, you can’t help but hope her style spreads through the federal government.

Yocom, MBA ’88, is one of the directors that oversees the topic of healthcare at the GAO, and has been working in the federal government for more than 25 years.

Her wealth of experience provides interesting insight into management in the public sector, and more than few pointers on how to thrive in nearly any professional setting.

carolyn-yocomYocom’s biggest takeaway to date? “Learn to function in teams,” she said. “Learning to work with people that have different views, different opinions and different backgrounds is so important.”

“Finding common ground is critical,” she added. “GAO is 100 percent a team effort.”

Teamwork, of course, is a piece of it. Yocom cited a handful of other traits she views as necessary for success in government work. Enthusiasm for learning, along with a sense of integrity in your work, are important. And, she said, “The ability to deal with process. Not succumb to it, but acknowledge the value it brings and push back against process where you think it can be better.”

Striving for “better” is a theme with Yocom — both as it relates to her team and her own performance.

In her work with the GAO, Yocom says the organization is currently trying to better their efforts to make their work easily accessible to the public. “We’re trying harder than ever to appeal to the busy reader,” she said, by taking the reports and projects they produce and making them easily digestible so people can discern the bottom-line within just a few moments of reading.

In her own day-to-day, Yocom focuses, in part, on building better leaders. “If I’m not training tomorrow’s leaders, we won’t have leaders tomorrow,” she said. She describes her job as “to never be the smartest person in the room. To never be indispensable.”

Over the course of her career, Yocom continues to aim for personal improvement where she can, and looks to those around her to fill in where they can contribute with their skill and talent. And Yocom does have one area where she’s always pushing herself to do better. “My goal is better communication,” she said, and it’s a two-way street with challenges going in both directions.

“When you get to this level, it’s harder to get people to tell you you’re wrong,” she said with a smile.

And despite the complicated landscape of federal government, Yocom remains steadfast in her optimism. “It’s a hard time to be in government, but that’s what makes working in government more important.”

Yocom joined us at Atkinson on Sep. 13, 2017, as part of our Executive in Residence program. She met with Willamette students, faculty, staff and more and offered insight into her experience in management in the public sector.

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