White House Makes Employee Engagement a Priority Goal

On March 10 the White House released its Cross-Agency Priority Goals for the FY2015 budget. Of the 15 goals, I was especially pleased to see one on “People and Culture” that says:

GOAL STATEMENT: Innovate by unlocking the full potential of the workforce we have today and building the workforce we need for tomorrow.

The goal paper has three elements:

  • Create a Culture of Excellence and Engagement to Enable Higher Performance.
  • Build a World-Class Federal Management Team Starting with the Senior Executive Service (SES).
  • Enable Agencies to Hire the Best Talent from All Segments of Society.

I can’t remember the last time a budget document at this level so explicitly recognized that employee motivation and leadership of people play a critical role in the effectiveness of government programs. While the final version passed by Congress is likely to look very different from the White House version, having the White House focus on these issues is an important step forward.

Let’s take a look at each of the elements in more detail.

1. Create a Culture of Excellence and Engagement to Enable Higher Performance. We will foster a culture of excellence by using data-driven approaches to enhance management, performance, and innovation across the current Federal workforce. Specifically, we will focus on employee engagement (measured by employee views about their leaders, supervisors, and work experience), as multiple evaluations have demonstrated a strong correlation between employee engagement and an organization’s productivity. Agencies can now get access to this data for over 13,000 work-level units across the country (up from just a few hundred units four years ago). This level of specificity in data will provide agency managers with actionable information to target areas where improvement is needed most and where there are management best practices that can provide a model for success.

Presumably this means we will be getting a much more granular look at the results of the annual survey used to identify the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government. This will be a boon in terms of being able to identify organizations/offices that can serve as models of effective leadership–or offices that desperately need a leadership intervention. Ultimately, it would be fantastic if individual managers could get a scorecard with their individual results from the survey. This may a bridge too far in the initial stage, but it’s important to remember that supervisors make the decision to learn to lead one person at a time. So focusing on the Division/Office/Branch level may not be granular enough. Feedback can help individual supervisors refine their leadership skills–or even serve as a wake-up call if needed.

Also, it will be important to ensure that the end goal does not become just achieving higher survey scores. The survey is just an indicator. The real goal must be to improve the practice of leadership at all levels.

2. Build a World-Class Federal Management Team Starting with the Senior Executive Service (SES). To ensure a first-class Federal workforce long-term, we will invest in our civil service leadership by taking administrative actions that result in a broader experience and skill base across the Federal Executive Corps. This includes addressing the “pain points” in the hiring process and enhancing training and accountability over the terms of their service.

Hopefully, part of this will involve making it routine for members of the Senior Executive Service to rotate between agencies and agency components. While moving between organizations can involve steep learning curves, that learning process pays huge dividends in terms of broadening the executive’s perspective and breaking down silos. Such rotations were part of the original vision for the SES, of course, but we need to find a way to make them actually happen. Widespread rotations every 2-3 years might be disruptive–especially given the short tenure of many political appointees–but most executives should be ready for a new challenge after five years in one SES position.

3. Enable Agencies to Hire the Best Talent from All Segments of Society. We will collaborate with Federal stakeholders and labor groups to ensure a balanced strategic approach to improving hiring outcomes. In the short term, we will identify and address the erosion of the original flexibilities of Title 5. In the long term, we will work closely with labor unions and use demonstration projects and/or legislation and regulatory changes to ensure that our hiring processes attract and retain America’s talent. We will measure the success of this effort by assessing manager satisfaction with the quality of both applicants and their hires after six months on the job.

Hiring the best people we can for government is, of course critical. This goal is not very well defined, but it sounds like there if potential for a pretty significant overhaul of hiring practices.

These goals related to People and Culture hold great promise. Implementing them will take years of effort, but it will be well worth it. The work we do in government is important. We need leaders at all levels who create a mission-driven climate where employees will put their hearts into their work and love coming to work every day. Audacious? Absolutely!

Let’s get started.

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Unfortunate that it took six years to issue this…especially since the first two elements are so reminicent of George W.’s initiatives.

Scott Span

I think this is a major first step to creating a more enhanced culture of engagement and innovation within Gov! As a human capital and OD practitioner I’ve always found doing culture and engagement work for some Federal client’s to be frustrating. That said, I see nothing about how they expect to achieve these goals, what steps are being taken to make them a reality, and how they plan to be able to recruit the talent to make this culture change happen, which always seems to get lip service. It’s great to have goals like “Enable Agencies to Hire the Best Talent from All Segments of Society” and even a high level of how that’s defined, but what of the details? Anyone seen anything on the particular actions and steps and how those will be measured?