Bookshelf

How to tap the power of employee engagement

book cover

Government leaders face significant challenges in inspiring their employees to perform well despite harsh public criticism and without many of the financial incentives available to their private-sector peers. Bob Lavigna’s new book, “Engaging Government Employees: Motivate and Inspire Your People to Achieve Superior Performance,” offers a wealth of strategies for federal managers.

Lavigna has more than 30 years of experience in leading workforce management organizations, including stints at both the Partnership for Public Service and the Government Accountability Office. He is now assistant vice chancellor and director of human resources at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In his book, Lavigna outlines the dilemma faced by government leaders. “Those who criticize government, and the people who work in government, have lost sight of the critically important work of the public sector," he wrote. "At the same time government is being castigated and hamstrung by budget cuts, the public continues to ask the public sector to solve some of the toughest and most intractable problems.”

He defines employee engagement as “a heightened employee connection to work, the organization, the mission or coworkers.” Organizations with engaged employees perform better than those with disengaged, unmotivated employees. “According to Gallup, high-engagement organizations are almost 20 percent more productive than their low-engagement counterparts,” he said.

The Merit Systems Protection Board has reached a similar conclusion. Its 2012 survey of 37,000 federal employees found that higher levels of employee engagement were linked to:

* Higher rates of success in achieving strategic goals.

* Higher employee retention.

* Fewer days of sick leave and less time lost to work-related injury or illness.

* Fewer equal employment opportunity complaints.

The organization’s research, which Lavigna uses to support his argument, also revealed that levels of engagement often differ by racial and ethnic groups. Specifically, Asian employees were the most engaged, and Native American employees were the least engaged. Those findings have implications for the Partnership for Public Service’s recent report on federal employees’ satisfaction with support for diversity at their agencies. The results of that survey imply that when employees feel empowered, higher levels of engagement follow.

Clearly, strong employee engagement is important for agencies that want more productivity and happier employees, and Lavigna offers dozens of studies and research findings that support that connection. But how do federal leaders create more engagement? He answers that question in a way that he says differs from other books. He focuses more on the science of employee engagement and the research that supports its power. He also concentrates on the public sector and the unique challenges it faces.

Lavigna presents many strategies for improving employee engagement rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. “From the start, it is important to understand that there is no silver bullet to achieve high levels of employee engagement," he wrote. "Instead, what’s needed is silver buckshot — an integrated series of actions, specific to each government jurisdiction or agency, to measure and then improve engagement.”

Verbatim

"First, foremost, and most harmful to employee engagement are attacks on government. Critics include politicians, the media, the public, and other organizations — all of whom repeatedly characterize public servants as overpaid and underworked bureaucrats. This almost constant drumbeat of criticism is disheartening to public servants and can be deadly to employee engagement."

He does, however, offer a tool that public-sector organizations can use to assess and improve employee engagement (see “5 steps to increased engagement”). It is, he said, “a journey worth embarking on to help government — the nation’s largest and perhaps most important employer — achieve its potential.”

5 steps to increased engagement

Lavigna offers a detailed strategy for measuring and continually boosting employees’ engagement by conducting surveys on a regular basis. Here is an overview of his process model.

1. Plan the survey. Decide whom to survey, what questions to ask, when and how to administer the survey, and how the results will be analyzed.

2. Conduct the survey. Develop the survey in-house or use a pre-existing survey, then administer it yourself or hire a contractor to conduct it. Maximize response rates by providing online and print versions of the survey, and follow up to make sure employees take the time to complete it.

3. Report and analyze the results. Review the results question by question to identify areas that need improvement, and consider allowing employees to explain their responses and provide additional insights.

4. Take action. Follow up on the survey’s results; not taking action can decrease the level of engagement. Form an action team composed of employees from all levels to analyze data, develop recommendations and create detailed action plans.

5. Sustain engagement. Measure employee engagement via surveys on a regular basis. Hold everyone, including leaders, accountable for maintaining and improving engagement.

About the Author

Natalie Lauri is an editorial fellow at FCW. Connect with her on Twitter: @Nat_Lauri.

The Fed 100

Read the profiles of all this year's winners.

Featured

  • Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event. Image: Shutterstock

    'Buy American' order puts procurement in the spotlight

    Some IT contractors are worried that the "buy American" executive order from President Trump could squeeze key innovators out of the market.

  • OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, shown here in as a member of Congress in 2013. (Photo credit Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

    White House taps old policies for new government makeover

    New guidance from OMB advises agencies to use shared services, GWACs and federal schedules for acquisition, and to leverage IT wherever possible in restructuring plans.

  • Shutterstock image (by Everett Historical): aerial of the Pentagon.

    What DOD's next CIO will have to deal with

    It could be months before the Defense Department has a new CIO, and he or she will face a host of organizational and operational challenges from Day One

  • USAF Gen. John Hyten

    General: Cyber Command needs new platform before NSA split

    U.S. Cyber Command should be elevated to a full combatant command as soon as possible, the head of Strategic Command told Congress, but it cannot be separated from the NSA until it has its own cyber platform.

  • Image from Shutterstock.

    DLA goes virtual

    The Defense Logistics Agency is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to eliminate its IT infrastructure and transition to using exclusively shared, hosted and virtual services.

  • Fed 100 logo

    The 2017 Federal 100

    The women and men who make up this year's Fed 100 are proof positive of what one person can make possibile in federal IT. Read on to learn more about each and every winner's accomplishments.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group