How NIH Implemented a Culture Change Using Data and Feedback

The annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) is a treasure trove of data filled with sentiments about agency managers, senior leaders, handling of poor performers, overall employee engagement and more.

But parsing through those findings is where the real work begins — and oftentimes where agencies fall short. Part of the challenge is drilling down and understanding what those survey findings say about your agency and devising a plan to do something about them.

Camille Hoover, Executive Officer and Associate Director for Management at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), has taken this charge personally. During her keynote at GovLoop’s recent Government Virtual Summit: The Intersection of Technology and Management Hoover explained how NIDDK developed a strategy to implement changes based on findings from the annual federal survey.

Her approach involves partnering analytics with the voice of the employee to inform leaders’ strategies and resource allocation and to show where engagement activities are paying off. Her advice to agencies: Create a vision and identify core values. These can’t just be lofty goals that you hang on the wall. They actually have to translate to the frontlines where employees are doing day-to-day work.

Focus groups, town halls and ideation tools are some of the ways that you can have a two-way dialogue with employees about those values and what is expected. Hoover considers her direct reports ambassadors on the frontline because she cannot possibly connect with every person.

To help get a pulse of employee sentiments across NIDDK, Hoover relies on the annual governmentwide survey. But it used to take managers weeks or even months to comb through the FEVS data. It was labor-intensive, time-consuming and costly. So Hoover turned to colleagues at NIDDK to help create a framework for actually using FEVS data effectively.

“The result was a masterpiece that brings to life the voice of the people,” she said. The tool is called EVS ART, derived from EVS at the “heART” of a healthy organization. It was created for and by federal employees to enable leaders to drill down and compare data, have a better pulse on engagement levels and view FEVS scores in an actionable and targeted way.

The tool also offers heat maps and color-coded index measures of sub-offices to better understand employee sentiments, targeted areas for improvement and Office of Personnel Management guidance for interpreting results. Using the tool, managers can see suggested opportunities for improvement in areas where scores fall below a certain threshold.

“EVS ART allows leaders to spend less time analyzing scores and more time improving them,” Hoover said, noting that NIDDK has already gifted the tool across the National Institutes of Health, to the Health and Human Services Department and other agencies. (Federal employees can access the tool in the Office of Management and Budget MAX portal or by reaching out via email to [email protected].)

At one point, National Institutes of Health (NIH) analysts spent 30 hours creating one report at a cost of $1,350. Now it takes them five minutes and $3.75. But as Hoover noted, real transformation depends on what agencies actually put into practice after analyzing FEVS scores.

EVS ART Success Story

Hoover shared an example of how the EVS ART tool helped transform an underperforming agency that had a vote of no confidence across NIDDK. The organization is forward-facing and interfaces with all 1,300 employees within NIDDK.

The corrective course of action included:

  • Instituting new standards and accountability measures for productivity
  • Working with leaders to create a new vision and changing out leaders who did not embrace that vision
  • Creating opportunities for new performers and ensuring mediocrity wasn’t acceptable, meaning there were consequences for poor performers in rank-and-file and management positions
  • Ensuring that employees knew what changes were happening and why, and giving them opportunities to voice any concerns

These changes transformed the organization, Hoover said. Complaints reduced and partnerships with scientists began forming. EVS ART validated that the intervention was working.

“We were able to see and validate that we’re on the right track and the things we were doing [were] making a difference,” she said, noting that transformation always takes more than a year. She is still closely monitoring the organization and its performance.

At NIDDK, the institute used FEVS scores to make impactful changes based on employee feedback, including creating more opportunities and awards for employees to be recognized in meaningful ways, ensuring that new programs and policies directly tie back to employee feedback, and rolling out communication campaigns to let staff know their feedback is valued and taken into account.

When those changes began at NIDDK, Hoover said the culture needed to transform from administrators having a policing mentality to becoming problem solvers. Engagement was key. Employees needed to know that when they spoke, the organization listened and things happen. Mangers needed to see their duty as empowering employees to flourish.

“When our employees flourish, all things are possible for them and in turn the American people,” she said.

If you want to attend sessions like this one at future virtual summits, pre-register today!

Photo Credit: NIH Flickr

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Avatar photo Mark Hensch

I’m grateful for this recap Nicole! It illustrates how data and processes can go hand-in-hand to improve agencies such as NIDDK.