The scores on the 2014 government-wide FEVS survey have been released. Over 392,752 federal employees completed the survey, and the continuing picture is not pretty. For example, only 55% indicated that they were satisfied with their organization while 51% thought the government had a results-oriented performance culture.
Looking at the overall trends in 2014, the scores on 34 items decreased from 2013, 60 from 2012, and 64 from 2011. The largest decrease was for the statement: “My organization’s senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity.”
Some of this is probably attributable to the highly-publicized scandals that have involved civil service employees in such organizations as the VA, the IRS, and the State Department. Part of it is also undoubtedly due to the polarization in government and the adverse impact it is having on the perception of government employees, the resources they are receiving, etc.
However, while scandals and political polarization always seem to ebb and flow and negatively impact on the civil service, to at least some extent, in my opinion, there are two more important factors that drive the results of this survey: 1) the way government is managed, and 2) the way the work is designed. This blog will address the first factor, while my next blog will address the second.
The Way Government Is Managed
At the senior level, less than half of those surveyed expressed confidence in their senior leadership. In fact, only 38 percent indicated that their senior leaders generated high levels of motivation and commitment. While employees rated their immediate supervisors higher, when you look at their responses to many of the most important and difficult supervisory tasks, a different picture emerges. For example, if you examine the trend on several issues that tend to shape employees’ perceptions:
- Promotions in my work unit are based on merit: 32%
- In my work unit, steps are taken to deal with a poor performer who will not improve: 28%
- In my work unit, differences in performance are recognized in a meaningful way: 32%
These numbers are pretty ugly and by and large are getting worse.
So what can be done?
First of all, I start with the premise that it is unlikely that most agencies will have an enormous amount of money to throw at this issue. That is simply the present reality. However, there are several things that can be done which will collectively make a big difference. Let’s review a few of them now.
This always seems to be an issue, no matter where you are. The best way to handle this is to develop and maintain a two-way communication strategy that shares information in a whole-brain manner. After all, you don’t want your employees spending an inordinate amount of time griping because they don’t know and/or understand what is going on. Moreover, by making a conscious effort to both transmit and receive information, you will be in a better position to know what your employees are thinking and feeling and be able to make adjustments when necessary.
Here are some concrete steps you can take which will reduce some of the frustration and discontent among the troops:
- Have frequent information sessions with the employees (e.g. town hall meetings, team meetings, newsletters, etc.). Better to over-communicate than under-communicate.
- Be honest and upfront with them. Tell them what to expect with respect to future pay, cutbacks, workload, upcoming events, etc. If possible, bad news should come from you rather than from the newspaper or through the grapevine.
- Manage by walking around. If people see you everyday and you actually talk to them, they will conclude you are truly concerned about them. In addition, they will be much more inclined to speak with you and provide you with a realistic sense as to what is really happening.
A “turned on” workforce is what everyone strives for, but since many government employees don’t feel that way, more needs to be done in this area. Here are some steps you can take to address this issue:
- People want to be part of something bigger than them. To do this, connect them to the mission. If you only talk about numbers, that is all people will think you care about. When you talk about your metrics, also talk about the people you serve and how you have an impact upon them.
- Make sure your employees are involved in all aspects of the work. That is, involve them in trend analysis, understanding their external environment, setting goals, workload planning, performance management, knowledge management, etc.
- Make sure your systems are carefully aligned and support the direction in which you are going. Otherwise, you will send mixed messages. For example, if you want to have a team-based organization, remember that high partitions generally inhibit teamwork. If you only reward individual performance, people will be less likely to help each other.
Most people want to be part of a winning organization. They want to work for an organization where performance is valued and people are treated fairly. In order to accomplish this, here are some things you can do:
- Share the performance goals and statistics with everyone so they know what the goals are and how they are doing (at both the group and individual levels). I strongly advocate posting this information in locations where employees meet and then discussing it accordingly.
- You should have daily, weekly, and monthly performance meetings as appropriate to discuss group performance. This will ensure that everyone is involved, understands what is going on, and has the chance to participate. In addition, employees should receive periodic feedback on how they are doing relative to their performance standards (monthly is preferable).
- You must have reliable consequences for every level of performance, regardless of whether you like the employees or not. In other words, people should expect management to treat all of its employees fairly and consistently and always be able to see an action coming, whether it is good, neutral, or bad.
- Most importantly, DEAL with your problem employees; do not move them. After all, this continues to be perhaps the most frustrating area for federal employees. No one wants to work hard and then watch a poor performer receive the same pay and benefits that they get. When over 1.1 million federal employees do not feel that poor performers are properly dealt with, you know that a serious problem exists.
These are some relatively simple but effective actions you can take to improve your results under the current way that work is designed. In my next blog, I’ll discuss a new way to design work, which will give you an even greater bang for your buck.
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