The most recent Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results show that most major indicators of employee engagement fell last year, creating a cumulative drop of almost 5 percent from 2011 to 2013. In response, agencies have doubled their efforts on engagement strategies, but the continued reality of budget limitations, staffing shortages and increased workloads have added complexity to the environment. Leaders across the federal sector are rethinking how work gets done, adding potential transformations and reorganizations to the list of challenges affecting employee engagement. All of this begs the question: Is engagement enough to manage through change?
As they move into an environment marked with change and transformation, organizations that solely focus on engagement to drive workforce performance and commitment will miss two critical components needed for success:
- Alignment to hone focus on the areas of greatest importance
- Agility to enable flexibility in the workforce to adapt to change
While each component brings its own individual benefit, the combination of engagement, alignment and agility position the workforce for the greatest possible success in a changing environment.
Creating Transparent Alignment
Change presents difficulties for even the most progressive organizations. It disrupts the foundation that motivates individuals to work—or more specifically how an individual aligns with the mission of the organization. FedView results show a downward trend in this area—in fact, the percentage of employees who agree that they know how their work relates to the agency’s goals and priorities has declined by two percentage points in the past two years. With organizational changes, transformations and reorganizations on the horizon, this trend could accelerate if employees are not given the necessary role clarity to focus their work on their agency’s goals and mission.
Organizations that create transparent alignment across their workforce mitigate the negative impact of change and build engagement. A survey of more than 11,000 employees by CEB, a member-based advisory company, found that role clarity increased engagement by more than 13 percent, making it the second highest driver of engagement. Employees not only need to see how their tasks support their organization’s mission, they also need to align their performance goals with those of their supervisors and senior leaders so they can understand how their work helps others contribute to that mission. By communicating effective and consistent messages across all levels, agencies can ensure that employees never lose sight of what they must accomplish to sustain and improve organizational performance.
Improving Employee Agility
Organizations that focus on employee agility achieve more than three times the impact on employee performance than organizations that focus only on discretionary effort, according to CEB research. Particularly in environments of transformation and uncertainty, agility is key to an organization’s ability to adapt, enabling workers to take an active role in responding to changes and creating ownership and commitment across the workforce.
In an agile workforce, individuals exert control over change, rather than feel they are the victims of change. Agile organizations empower employees to adjust, by granting them room to innovate and by encouraging collaboration across teams. Agility often develops in cultures that are risk-tolerant, in which employees are given space and encouraged to find creative solutions within guidelines set by managers. In these environments, employees are encouraged not only to think creatively, but also to self-assess their ideas to avoid risky behavior. Employees are given the control to respond to disruptions and reorient in the moment. An agile organization has the fluidity needed to roll over obstacles created by change.
Together, engagement, agility and alignment create a secure workforce foundation that can withstand the adverse winds of uncertainty. For federal leaders, the key is to understand that employees have the potential to succeed, and even improve on that success, during times of transformation. They just need to be given the training, understanding and encouragement to effectively adapt in the moment, while continuing to sustain their focus on the mission.