“Secrets To Success” From GSA CIO Casey Coleman: Look Around The Corner


New Series: Simple Secrets to Success From Those Who Know

WashingtonExec reached out to area executives to gain insight and share local “secrets to success” stories.

CIO of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), Casey Coleman, supported her “secrets to success” advice with past and current initiatives that she has pushed through at GSA since landing her position in 2007. Coleman also explained why executive leadership should parallel team cycling.

The potential for technology to improve our lives. I recently returned to GSA’s Headquarters after working offsite for an extended period.  While I was gone from the office, I didn’t miss a beat.  Using my smartphone, laptop, and webcam, I was able to stay in touch with my team.  For instance, I was able to host an organizational town hall from a continent away, using a webcam and an internet connection.  I could see the group and they could see me.  It was as though I was in the room, taking questions in person from employees.  Technology we take for granted today was regarded as science fiction not too long ago.  We have video conferences, we book airline tickets with our phones, and pull up videos on our tablet computers.  I’ve very much enjoyed my career putting technology to use to improve people’s lives.

One of the most significant efforts I’ve led at GSA is our transformation into a more mobile, agile agency. We modernized our Information Technology infrastructure to allow for an increasingly mobile and remote workforce.  We also were the first Federal agency to move our email system to the cloud; in June, we moved our email system from Lotus Notes to Google to take advantage of that Google’s benefits like video chat and collaboration.  I view Information Technology as a way to make our employees’ jobs easier, and decisions I make as CIO reflect that goal.

Success is determined by how well my team does. I am an avid bicyclist, and although I don’t get out on the road nearly as much as I’d like to, I think leaders can learn a lot from the tactics of professional bicycle racing.  First, it’s a team sport.  In a team time trial, for instance, a team’s time is often determined by the fourth or fifth rider to cross the finish line.  Also in a team time trial, the team has to ride in almost perfect synchronization with each other to form an aerodynamic paceline.  Each member of the team takes turns riding into the wind so that the team as a whole can ride faster.  The parallels between team cycling and high performing organizations lead me to emphasize team building and group performance.  The contributions of individuals to the success of the team is something I try to reward and encourage.

As an executive, I consider the foremost measure of success to be my team’s performance. Collaboration is crucial.  In my organization, I published seven basic principles for getting things done. These include behaving in an ethical manner, looking for win-win outcomes, and continuous learning and improvement.  Driving these principles into the culture of an organization is a lot of work, but the pay off in terms of employee morale and team dynamics makes the effort worthwhile.

Being able see “around the corner.” Early in my time here at GSA, I picked up the phrase “seeing around the corner.”  To me, this means keeping an eye out for new technologies and trends that are game changers or disruptive.  It also means encouraging my staff to take risks in a bold (but calculated) manner.  This requires fostering an environment where people feel they are allowed to innovate and that risk taking isn’t frowned upon.  Seeing around the corner often involves taking risks and taking the chance of being wrong, but the benefits to the organization are substantial.

1 Comment

  1. Ask Casey how many years ago IBM and Lotus supported realtime video and audio conferencing. Ask her how much GSA invested in maintaining their IBM environment. She can’t tell you, because they let it rot, and then decided to waste millions to move to a “cloud solution” that is neither, and that supports essentially zero of GSA’s core business apps and never will. Ask her. She’ll have no answers for you, because she doesn’t know and has silenced everyone who did or does.

    Do your job.