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Federal Coach: Worried about your agency's Best Places to Work rankings? Here's how to prepare

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

On Wednesday, my organization – the Partnership for Public Service – will be releasing our 2011 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings.

Of course, word that the rankings will be made public usually sparks one of two reactions among federal leaders: excitement from those who have excelled in the past and expect another round of great returns, or dread at the thought of being listed at, or near, the bottom yet again.

The Best Places to Work rankings measure federal employee satisfaction and commitment and are based on responses from more than 276,000 federal workers. The 2011 rankings include 308 federal agencies and subcomponents – representing 97 percent of the 2.1 million person federal workforce. Scores and rankings are revealed for all agencies and subcomponents, from first to worst. The rankings provide a roadmap for agency leaders to build a more committed workforce and, ultimately, more effective agencies.

Whether your agency is succeeding or struggling around issues of employee satisfaction and commitment, what matters now is your response to the results.

While agencies are understandably hesitant about doing too much work until they see the rankings and underlying data, previous experience shows that those who respond quickly and decisively enjoy improved results. Based on my observations, here are a few things you should consider doing to best prepare.

  • Analyze your data, including unlikely data points.Start by checking out your agency’s ranking, which measures overall employee job satisfaction and commitment, and then take a look at other issues around senior leadership, supervisors, work-life balance, sense of empowerment, and opportunities for training and development. In addition, I would suggest you look at your agency’s overall response rate and your employees’ answer to the question: “I believe the results of this survey will be used to make my agency a better place to work.” If your results on either one are lower than average or on the decline, this is a red flag.
  • Celebrate your success and admit your mistakes. At every level of an agency, the leaders need to directly address the results. Everyone will see the rankings, so why not begin the dialogue with a frank message to employees from the top of the house? The message should touch on the positive signs from the rankings and reinforce the policies and programs in place that may be the reason for the progress. It is important to be honest about addressing the poor performing areas and commit to making things better. Those who run and hide or rationalize their poor results will certainly achieve similar or worse outcomes next year.
  • Engage the front lines to solve your problems. Use town halls, action-planning workshops and innovation/employee suggestion programs to collect ideas. Then take this feedback to develop a set of next steps, get stakeholder buy-in and set expectations for change. Even agencies with high rankings need to maintain the goodwill and improve. Just be sure to communicate the plan of action to your employees as soon as possible.
  • Make it happen! Follow through on your promises by being transparent with employees and take responsibility when you cannot take action on an idea. Given the current operating environment, you’ll undoubtedly need to maintain maximum flexibility. Your employees will be forgiving if you keep up with the communication and you trust them with the truth.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Nov 14, 2011 at 12:12 PM


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