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Why DOT Is One of the Best Places to Work

Outgoing Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. Outgoing Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. DOT Photostream

Across the federal government, agencies are facing budgetary constraints, increased demands for improved service and calls for greater efficiency. Central to meeting these challenges is having an engaged and committed workforce.

The 2012 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government ® rankings produced by the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte provide a benchmark for measuring employee satisfaction and commitment. They alert federal leaders to signs of trouble and provide a roadmap to help improve organizational performance and better manage government’s most important asset – its employees.

In a year when many agencies lost ground regarding employee job satisfaction and commitment, the Department of Transportation (DOT) made important gains.

The DOT registered the largest improvement in the Best Places to Work rankings for large agencies, a distinction that it also earned in 2010. The DOT raised its Best Places to Work satisfaction and commitment score by 4.1 points in 2012, from 59.5 out of 100 in 2011 to 63.6. Government-wide, the Best Places to Work score declined by 3.2 points compared to 2011.

The department achieved this success by improving internal communication with employees and ensuring accountability at all level of leadership.  Key focus areas for the department have been employee empowerment, the balance between work and personal life, and opportunities for training and development. While every agency has different needs and cultures, some of the steps taken by the DOT can serve as useful examples for managers seeking to improve employee satisfaction and performance.  

Improvement: A Continuous Process

Chief Human Capital Officer Brodi Fontenot said DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, who will soon be leaving President Obama’s Cabinet, made it a personal mission to improve the agency’s Best Places to Work scores, using the ratings as a tool for change.

“It can’t be a one-time thing,” Fontenot said. “It has to be a continuous process, and it has to be framed in the context of making our organization a better place to work. That can’t be said enough.”

That philosophy has been expressed to employees in listening sessions, in emails from the senior leaders of DOT’s many administrations and from the secretary himself. Most importantly, the changes resulting from the employee feedback have been communicated to the workers.

“We can put gold in the basement of our building here, but if no one knows it, it’s the same value it was before,” Fontenot said.

After improving its Best Places to Work score by 8.2 points in 2010, the department was not content, and added its own questions to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) survey used in the Best Places to Work rankings that were specific to the agency so they could concentrate on areas where it wasn’t improving.

Responding to Employee Feedback

From those questions, the agency determined that beyond leadership and communication, employees wanted improvements in their work processes. The secretary asked that senior leaders encourage feedback by conveying that they heard this message. The secretary’s office collected the lists and with input from each operating administration, made changes to meet employee needs.

For example, employees found it difficult to schedule conference rooms because they couldn’t easily determine availability. A change was made so they can look up online what rooms are open and schedule them, a process improvement that is helping to enhance productivity and make life easier for employees, Fontenot said.

DOT continues to run IdeaHub, launched in 2010, an online community for the agency’s 55,000 employees to submit and collaborate on ideas for driving innovation and facilitating change. When the ideas are vetted and changes are made or rejected, the decisions are communicated online to everyone as well as directly to the employees who submitted ideas. “We’re continually engaging all the time,” said Fontenot.

The department also provides training for first-line supervisors in the core competencies of effective leadership, empowerment, employee engagement and ethics, and has included an employee satisfaction goal in all career and non-career Senior Executive Service (SES) performance plans.

The Best Places to Work

The Best Places to Work rankings provide an overview of each agency and subcomponent, trend data and analysis of what the results mean. Agencies are ranked from first to worst in one of four groups including large, mid-sized and small agencies, and subcomponents, and also by 10 workplace categories, including effective leadership, strategic management, employee skills/mission match, pay and teamwork. Data is available on demographic groups, including race/ethnicity, age and gender.

Government-wide, the 2012 Best Places to Work rankings showed a decline in overall employee satisfaction and commitment and in each of the 10 workplace categories that were measured. Effective leadership remains the primary driver of worker satisfaction.

The rankings are based on data from OPM’s annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and additional survey data from nine agencies plus the intelligence community. The rankings include 362 federal agencies and subcomponents, representing 97 percent of the 2.1 million person federal workforce.

Mark Doboga is Director of Government Transformation and Agency Partnerships at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. This is the first in a series of profiles on the 2012 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government notable agency movers. For information on how to improve employee satisfaction and commitment at your agency and to request a senior leadership briefing on your agency’s Best Places to Work results contact Doboga at

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