As laid out in the White House’s President’s Management Agenda, trust and equity are integral to designing and delivering excellent government experiences. Yet many agencies struggle to integrate these foundational elements into the daily business of government.
How might public agencies reimagine government experiences so that trust and equity are at the center for the American people?
Begin with strengthening and empowering the federal workforce.
As Dorothy Aronson, Chief Information Officer and Chief Data Officer at the National Science Foundation and a top contributor to cross-agency policymaking, states in a recent interview on the podcast Solving for X, “Put the happiness of our employees first… I don’t believe that people providing services who are unhappy can provide happy services.”
One tool for understanding and optimizing the experience of federal workers is the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM)’s FEVS began in 2002, and in 2019 the surveys became a once-a-year ritual to gather employee feedback. This tool helps leaders step back and understand the bigger picture and gain insights into what makes employees happy or unhappy. Feedback data helps us understand how employees experience their work environments, and FEVS serves as a starting point for leaders to identify work experience improvements.
For those organizations using FEVS, you can increase the impact of your FEVS insights to improve employee experiences using the BEST model:
A comprehensive survey that covers nearly 60 questions, FEVS is a tried-and-true method for capturing a baseline measurement to start understanding and modernizing your organization’s work experience.
Use your FEVS to get a broad understanding of your foundation’s current state. Clues about what behaviors drive your culture sit within the core FEVS questions. Explore connections between the questions. Linkages between questions can be telling.
For example, consider the correlation between question 7, which asks employees to respond to the following statement: “I know how my work relates to the agency’s goals,” and question 18, which covers how employees in a work unit successfully collaborate. When employees don’t see how their work fits into the bigger picture vision, collaboration at the service level can be difficult to align.
To make improvements actionable, select top areas to focus on among your FEVS results with critical stakeholders. It can be challenging to identify actionable insights given the complexity and expanse of FEVS. Elevate what people care about the most and pick a few key themes and priorities to start. Lift efforts that already have a significant impact — both positive and negative.
Data doesn’t do the work on its own. Organizations need dedicated people to turn insights into action. As you start out, consider building a cross-functional tiger team to serve as a people and culture transformation group. Use this group to validate a focus that everyone can align to and believe in.
Co-create specific goals to improve work experiences for the organization and individual departments. Realistically, your organization will only expect you to take action on a few elements of a nearly 60-question survey. But you can prioritize activities and take compassionate action to show you care. Leveraging machine learning and natural language processing can help organizations accelerate the process of analyzing the qualitative insights lying within FEVS results at scale and translate these into actionable quantitative people analytics. Once you’ve identified top focal areas, you can use crowdsourcing solutions to include employees in the solution design process.
Pro tip: If your employees ask for something you don’t have the authority to provide, don’t dismiss their requests. Take time to explain why. Too often, leaders don’t communicate why decisions aren’t being made. When you elevate priorities, consider the resources you have to deliver — overpromising and under-delivering is a quick way to lose employee trust.
Employees want to be heard. You need to take action to show that you care. As you grow your employee experience practice, aim to make experience improvements daily. Listen to your employees with intention and seek to understand their needs. Adjust work experiences based on what you hear.
Build upon the themes that bubble up from the FEVS survey results, and share your learnings with the organization. Use the focus areas to guide all internal messaging development with executives and management layers. Hold insights-to-action co-creation sessions with leadership teams to help them craft appropriate actions.
Communicate early and often, sharing areas about where the organization plans to make changes based on employee feedback. Customizing different internal marketing efforts matters. Part of this process may mean tailoring the value of employee experience improvements to various employees, from frontline to C-suite. Personalize messages for all audiences with intention and resources — everyone needs to see the “what’s in it for me.”
For example, suppose one of your key areas is collaboration and you’re unsure how to act on it. In this case, you could create internal buzz by starting an internal marketing and crowdsourcing campaign that invites employees to use photos or personal stories to understand how they define positive collaboration. With the right message and champions inside an organization, what otherwise could be perceived as a compliance effort has the potential to become a joyful experience that goes viral across an organization. The best change is change that doesn’t feel like a change. It feels natural, like part of the culture.
Historically, the FEVS tool was designed as an “organizational climate survey.” It’s a sturdy foundation, but it only happens once a year. Leaders must listen to their employees more often than that. It’s essential to listen and take the temperature of ongoing changes in your organization more regularly outside of conducting the FEVS on an annual basis.
Use the elevated priority areas you’ve identified to guide your ongoing focus and to seek more continuous and real-time input from employees. Asking employees what they need and holding leaders accountable for making those changes is simple and can be highly impactful. This is the baseline for fostering trust in organizations.
As you make ongoing improvements, ask employees questions: What’s working? What can be improved? In addition, capture digital feedback, from right where employees are engaging, such as with their organization’s intranet, help desk, or other platforms. Questions can be both multiple choice and open-ended to solicit unstructured feedback that will provide a deeper understanding of employee needs.
Government workers build and maintain outstanding public agencies.
If employees are under increasing pressure to work in new ways to craft better public customer experiences, it’s critical to understand exactly what your employees need to make this happen. Listen and take action to show you care. Frequently take the temperature of what’s happening within your agency. Use the BEST model to improve your employees’ work experiences and deliver the best experiences for the American people.
Nina Bianchi focuses on transformative culture experiences. She served as Chief of People and Culture at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and with the General Services Administration’s (GSA) IT Modernization Centers of Excellence (COE). As a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow (PIF) with the Biden Cancer Moonshot at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), she led collaborative work experiences to drive personalized patient experiences. Before serving in government, Nina led a social innovation consulting firm with a network of high-impact public-private partnerships. Her teams designed transformation solutions for city governments across the globe, philanthropy, nonprofits, Fortune 500 companies and institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).