Management Matters Management MattersManagement Matters
Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

Were You Born to Boost Morale?

Sergej Khakimullin/

News about low morale at the Homeland Security Department is alarming, given the significant role DHS plays in the safety of the United States. How can we handle emergencies if Federal Emergency Management Agency employees don’t want to come to work? How capable are Transportation Security Administration agents at scanning airport cargo when they’d really rather scan for their next job?

In the Office of Personnel Management's most recent Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, DHS employees’ reported a lack of agreement with the statements “My talents are used well in the workplace” and “I am given a real opportunity to improve my skills in my organization” -- answers the Government Accountability Office on March 22 described to a congressional subcommittee as “impact items.”

The survey responses clearly call for better management.

After conducting millions of surveys and interviews, Gallup has identified the single most important predictor of an employee’s engagement is his or her answer to the question “Does your manager care about your development?” If the responses are strongly positive, then disengagement does not exist.

Asked at the March 22 hearing to offer solutions to address the low morale at DHS and the need for better management, Max Stier, president and chief executive officer of the Partnership for Public Service, Catherine Emerson, chief human capital officer at DHS, and others recommended that DHS develop its leaders and improve its communications. These interventions could improve survey responses a bit, but they won’t solve the systemic problems rooted in poor management.

The long-term solution to low morale goes well beyond communication and training. It involves overhauling the hiring and selection of managers. Gallup researchers have discovered that there is actually a silver bullet: Simply name the right manager. Nothing fixes a manager who has little talent for the task at hand.

Government agencies must do what world-class companies have been doing successfully for years: Hire and select for the talents and strengths specific to supervisors, rather than promoting people based exclusively on experience or longevity within the organization.

We all know too well that managers can be technically competent but have no inherent knack for the details of managing, such as hiring, setting expectations, motivating and developing others. This underscores the differences between knowledge and skills, which can be acquired, and talents, which are innate and can be developed into strengths. DHS should evaluate every aspect of its selection processes and incorporate innate talents as a major driver of whether a person is a good fit for management.

And DHS must start from the beginning, by evaluating position descriptions and job postings for the innate talents that a job demands. DHS should identify the talents of its current managers to see where there are mismatches and reorganize the managers and the positions accordingly. From there, the job certification and interview processes should be grounded in the vocabulary of strengths and talents as much as they are in qualifications. This strategy would ensure the long-term viability of DHS management and improve employee engagement better than focusing primarily on leadership development.

The truth is, lousy managers beget miserable employees. So while training may marginally improve engagement, until DHS (and the federal government as a whole) overhauls selection and hiring of managers and supervisors, it will continue to produce hundreds of thousands of disengaged employees.

Jim Clifton is chairman and chief executive officer at Gallup, and Stephen Ander, Gallup senior consultant, is former special adviser to the director of the Secret Service.

(Image via Sergej Khakimullin/

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.