John Koskinen is the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), presiding over the nation's tax system, which collects approximately $2.4 trillion in tax revenue each year. Koskinen recently assumed the position, following a scandal at the IRS. Known as a turnaround specialist, Koskinen previously led the White House response to the Y2K computer scare and was former chairman of Freddie Mac. He spoke about the agency's management challenges and opportunities with Tom Fox a guest writer for On Leadership and vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. Fox also heads up their Center for Government Leadership.
Q. When you enter into an organization that has experienced operational challenges, what are your first priorities?
A. When you get parachuted in, the most important thing is to talk to as many people as you can, as quickly as you can -- and listen to what they say. That's the takeaway theme from my management experience.
One of the first big things that I decided to do in this situation was to visit the 25 largest IRS offices in cities across the country. I want to hear directly from the employees about what's working, what's not and what we need to address. So far I've been to 20 cities. You would think that by the time I got to the 20th city I would have heard it all. Yet every place I go, there are new insights and different perspectives that are helpful in understanding the opportunities for the agency and where to put our resources going forward.