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The 4 Components of an Empowered, Successful Federal Agency


Like many folks who seek enlightenment about organizations and leadership, I’ll read the works of the late Stephen Covey, who is most well-known as the author of the bestseller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. As a popular speaker, Covey is credited with a number of insightful quotes. But this one happens to be my favorite: “An empowered organization is one in which individuals have the knowledge, skill, desire, and opportunity to personally succeed in a way that leads to collective organizational success.”

That’s a pretty profound statement, defining the essence of empowerment and success through four core components. It’s also very applicable to today’s Federal Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCOs) and their teams, who stand to strengthen agency performance by honing these components through a two-tiered approach, one that takes full advantage of “people” practices and readily available people analytics.

To further illustrate, here’s how people practices and tech analytics can come together to support Covey’s four components:

Knowledge. You should never stop “feeding” your workforce’s appetite for knowledge. Training and development programs certainly help. But how do you figure out which programs work best? You can start by using analytics to distinguish the training sessions which score highest in employee feedback forms, and measure which ones were soon followed by notable performance improvements.

Knowledge acquired must be shared as well. You should set up portals so employees can post – and collaborate upon – updates about new, agency-relevant research, information and best practices. In addition, mentorship initiatives ensure that proven processes and institutional wisdom is passed along, in the interest of expanding staffers’ capabilities and paving the way for seamless successions. (Look for more about knowledge-sharing in an upcoming post in this space.)

Skill. You can’t develop talent if the core skills aren’t there. This is where effective recruitment comes into play. Through people analytics, you can drill down to the schools and regions where you’ve landed top-quality hires. You can assess which agency areas are lacking critical skills – and which ones are projected to lapse into a “talent drain” in the near or long-term future due to retirements – and customize recruitment efforts to fill in the existing and anticipated holes.

Desire. In this case, desire is all about engagement. Overall employee engagement in the government stands at 64 percent. While the percentage sounds respectable, it’s only 1 percent higher than the engagement level in 2014. We can do better. Especially when people analytics helps you evaluate which particular agency units command high engagement scores, and which ones are struggling. With this, you pinpoint what works best at the successful units, so other units can adopt those practices.

Opportunity. When you combine the first three components, you create unprecedented opportunity, positioning HR for a seat at your agency’s strategic table. For so long, HR professionals were somewhat tacitly dismissed as the “form folks,” confined to overseeing paperwork about employee benefits, personnel policies, orientation programs, etc. But when CHCOs and their teams deploy people analytics to elevate the knowledge, skills and desire (engagement) of the workforce, they emerge as irreplaceable contributors to “big picture” organizational objectives. With endless volumes of talent data available, the potential remains limitless for human capital professionals to make “smarter, faster, cheaper” decisions in responding to business challenges.

There’s so much talk about empowerment today. But, too often, senior managers draw blanks in determining how exactly to unleash a “take charge” mindset agency-wide. By focusing on Covey’s four components, however, talent managers identify the key areas to build upon. Then, through people analytics, they ensure that they’re investing their recruitment, training/development, onboarding and engagement dollars where they belong. From there, your people will thrive within an environment which encourages autonomy, teamwork and development. And that’s when true empowerment takes hold, leading to Covey’s vision of collective organizational success.

Joe Abusamra is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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