Federal Coach: Getting federal employees and managers on the same page

In the last six years, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) raised its ranking 24 spots and now sits at #1 in this year’s Best Places to Work in the Federal Government. FDIC initiated a set of management reforms geared toward improving employee culture and morale – a good reminder to federal leaders that doing the hard work can improve employee job satisfaction, commitment and ultimately performance.

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), listed No. 1 in this year’s Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings, had been rated 25th out of 30 large agencies six years ago.

After initiating a set of management reforms geared toward improving employee culture and morale, the FDIC has seen their scores skyrocket – a good reminder to federal leaders that doing the hard work can improve employee job satisfaction, commitment and ultimately performance.

To help federal leaders turn their agencies around, the Best Places to Work analysis produced by my organization, the Partnership for Public Service, includes staff/manager alignment data that provides insights into how the employees and the leaders each perceive the work environment.

Have you ever thought, “My colleagues just don’t seem to get it?” You’re not alone. Whether you are a leader or an employee, research across sectors shows that managers often respond to workplace surveys more positively than staff. If the gap between managers’ and employees’ views of an agency is too large, however, mission and performance may suffer.

Based on a set of 50 questions selected from the Federal Employee Viewpoint survey, we can assess the degree of alignment – or disconnect – between an agency’s staff and managers. Because we can also benchmark the findings against government-wide results, agency leaders can determine whether they are above, at or below the norm.

To find out your agency’s staff/manager alignment score, you can visit bestplacestowork.org to download your agency’s Best Places to Work report. Based on your agency’s results, you may want to consider pursuing steps to make a greater connection with employees, and get everyone on the same page.

· Mind the gap. This may sound like a self-help program, but the first thing to do is admit to your employees that there’s a problem. Your employees already know there’s an issue. They’re the ones who completed the survey. Telling them that you recognize the problem demonstrates that you’re taking their feedback seriously, and it’s the first step toward bringing about some positive change.

· Identify the root causes. Next, you’ll need to understand the source of the problems. Organize separate focus groups for senior leaders, managers and staff to allow each group to honestly and anonymously share their opinions. The agency’s senior leaders can then compare notes, identify opportunities to improve and develop a plan of action.

· Just do it (and measure the results). Any plan to foster better synergy between managers and staff should be shared with employees and put in motion. Make sure you provide periodic updates, and don’t wait until the next survey to measure your progress. Successful agencies administer shorter, targeted pulse surveys focused on specific issues to ensure that their plans are on track. If agencies are receiving negative feedback, they have an opportunity to improve their plans before the next Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey is administered.

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