November 26, 2014
In my last blog, I mentioned that the scores on the 2014 government-wide FEVS survey had been released and the results were not positive. For instance, only 55% indicated that they were satisfied with their organization while 51% thought the government had a results-oriented performance culture.
Moreover, one of the most troubling results was in the decreased scores associated with the statement, “My organization’s senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity.” This result was very disconcerting because it represented the largest drop in any statement from the previous survey.
The point here is that the government spends millions upon millions of dollars each year in developing its supervisors, managers, and leaders, and yet its rates of employee satisfaction, the employee perception that it has a performance-driven culture, and its employees’ confidence in its leadership are all unacceptable and if anything, seem to be trending downward.
So how has the government been trying to reverse these results? The answer is primarily through more management training and development. While this is obviously a good thing, and can certainly make a difference–especially when the training is supplemented by a strong and united upper management team guided by solid core values along with sound management systems and processes–history tells us that merely throwing more training dollars at this is not going to solve the problem. That is because such an approach is akin to continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting to get different results.
In future blogs, I will provide you with many different strategies for improving your scores, enhancing your culture, and changing your performance. However, in today’s blog, I want to challenge your thinking and prompt you to take a hard look at something you may have never considered before: The way work is designed in your organization.
The Root Cause
At present, virtually the entire government uses a traditional top-down, supervisor-to-employee work structure, which by the inherent nature of this design causes many of the problems seen in the FEVS. From the supervisor’s perspective, everything falls on his shoulders; he is under constant pressure to perform, there are frequent demands on his time, he has to deal with employees from different generations, including problem employees and perhaps one or more unions. Moreover, he is required to make all of the key decisions and the weight of the world seems to fall on his shoulders.
From the employees’ point of view, they have to do what they are told, they tend to be uninvolved in day-to-day decisions, they also face tough performance demands, and often feel like they are mere spokes in a wheel and are easily replaceable. Moreover, they have little autonomy, authority, flexibility, or room to be creative, resulting in a high degree of disengagement. In essence, their satisfaction often depends on less-than-effective and often overwhelmed supervisors, which is reflected in the FEVS scores.
Another Way Forward
In the book, A Team of Leaders, written by Paul Gustavson and Stewart Liff, the authors propose a different design and a far more effective and modern work structure. In a nutshell, it argues that the most effective work design is a team of leaders wherein everyone has the training and skills to step up and be a leader within the team. Under this design, leadership is shared, with the supervisor ultimately serving as an advisor to the team and spending most of his time focusing on higher-level work.
The systems and processes are redesigned, if necessary, to support teams of leaders and knowledge is spread throughout the team, which ultimately does all of the planning, performance management, and accountability, including dealing with problem employees. Moreover, each member of the team learns how much value both she and the team contribute to the organization, resulting in people thinking and acting like business leaders. Finally, the space is redesigned using visual management principles to help provide the team with a sense of purpose and to connect it around the mission and the metrics.
When you properly use teams of leaders, everyone is highly engaged, involved, and motivated: The focus is on outstanding performance. Such an approach would, by design, eliminate many of the problems and complaints that were outlined in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.
Many organizations in a variety of sectors have already adopted this approach and, as a result, are flourishing. Perhaps it is time for your agency to consider such an approach.
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