Picking out the bright spots in the Best Places to Work Survey – plus your weekend reads!

We get it, the numbers from the latest Best Places to Work in the federal government are grim. Government wide satisfaction is down to 57% the lowest score in the 10 year history of the survey. It is hard to work for the government right now.

But there were some bright spots. Despite some really tough conditions 25% of agencies were able to improve their scores. Tim McManus is the Vice President for Education and Outreach at the Partnership for Public Service. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that the key is to learn from the agencies that improved and grow employee engagement.

“The one common thing among all those agencies that improved their scores have shown the importance of and shone a spotlight on employee engagement and satisfaction to the overall productivity of the agency. In a much clearer way what they have done is pay attention to this issue. They’ve put some effort into actually improving the way we do this. Each agency approached this issue a little bit differently,” said McManus.

View from the top

“NASA was already at the top of the pyramid. But it increased its overall score from 72 to 74. A lot of people look at that and go, ‘yeah but that is NASA.’ But NASA went through the same trials and tribulations as every other agency did, in addition to that they’ve been through a process of re-defining what their mission is. They are no longer about the shuttle program. They are defining internally who they are so they do have all of the same challenges everyone else does and then they may have some of their own as well,” said McManus.

If you look at NASA they focused on three things:

  1. Connecting people to mission.
  2. Building what Jeri Buchholz calls building model supervisors. They even shifted how they look at performance plans for SES. We talk about SES beign the top tier of leaders and they have to be leaders not just technical experts. Their leadership and their management matters more than their technical expertise. NASA took that to the next level and said their performance plans need to reflect that idea.
  3. Recognizing and rewarding innovative performance. They looked at creative ways to reward and recognize innovative performance.

“One of the agencies that saw a huge improvement was the FCC. What they really focused on based on their 2012 and 2011 rankings was they looked at areas where their scores were low where they thought they could effect change. That is the key to the data. It is not simply where you are rated and ranked, but looking at what the data is trying to tell you. The data may generate more questions than answers. But it is important to do like the FCC did, like the US International Trade Commission did, which was to then take it, look at specific areas and zero in on this,” said McManus

  • Looking at the FCC they saw two of the areas where they could improve was finding better ways for management to communicate with their 1,700 employees. They looked at townhall meetings. Townhall’s have to be more than just broadcasting a message to your employees, you have to engage your employees in a conversation.
  • US International Trade Commission did focus groups with stakeholders from across the organization, all levels. They also brought in the labor management partnership council. They were honestly asking, how can we do things better? How can we communicate better? What do we need to do with our managers and supervisors to provide better information. That’s the key to this.

VA also improved?

“The VA created My Career that helps VA employees connect with professional development training, learning, development opportunities in mission critical occupations. You can see whether or not you are in the occupational field you want to be in, you can see how to propel your career forward. It gives employees a chance to see themselves not just as a part of the VA not but their long-term career prospects too. Folks outside of the VA can access the portal too. It is a great recruitment tool. This tool also shows an investment in your employees. When employees know their bosses care, they are not just happier but they are more engaged, more dedicated and more energetic in fulfilling the mission of the agency. The commitment of employees across the board at all agencies to the mission of their organization is impressive. The key is for leadership to tie the day to day work to what the agency is trying to achieve as a whole,” said McManus.

EPA, HUD, DHS all had big drops this year?

“I would hope that the bleak numbers are going to drive some change at the agencies. That is one of the goals of the Best Places to Work because sometimes when you shine a light on what is working well and some areas that really need to be improved there is some hope that people will pay attention to it. It is also incumbent among the federal workforce as well. Federal employees can’t wait for an anonymous survey that comes out once a year for them to actually voice their concerns. So my task to employees is that as you are looking at the data help your agency understand your concerns. Help them understand what is behind the numbers. How can the better communicate with you? How can they recognize you in a way that is meaningful to you? A lot of times employees respond to the survey and then just hope things happen. I would encourage employees to say that is not enough for us,” said McManus.

For a full review of the numbers in the Best Places to Work Findings, check out our interview with Deloitte’s David Dye.

Weekend Reads:

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