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The Keys to Effective Government? Collaboration and Employee Morale

Mark Lee

In response to tightening budgets, government agencies should look at combining services to deliver mission more effectively--but do so mindful of its impact on employee morale. That was the message by Judy England-Joseph, Project Lead at the Partnership for Public Service and Jessie Roberson, Vice-Chairman of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board during a panel discussion on May 13th at Excellence in Government 2014.

England-Joseph stressed the importance of busting silos and thinking about how stakeholders across federal agencies can collaborate to improve mission delivery. Citing work at NASA, the Department of Homeland Security, and municipal governments, England-Joseph argued agencies need to think about how they can redesign the structure and processes of the organization.

“You can’t fix the problems in government with just furloughs,” she said.

Roberson drew on her prior experiences working as the Assistant Secretary for Environment Management at the Department of Energy. To mitigate morale issues from controversial changes, she recruited a core group of employees to help design her agency’s strategic plan and help pitch this plan to the rest of the organization. “You can’t just have one person as the mouthpiece of your vision,” Roberson explained “individual employees need to be able to advocate new policies, too.”

Agency leaders should also consider the potential repercussions of their decisions by proactively preparing for these issues (such as morale or external criticisms) by receiving greater buy-in from multiple stakeholders.

For instance, while leading initiatives to begin closing nuclear waste sites early, employees began voicing concerns to Roberson about the future of their jobs. In response, she and other agency leaders convinced Congress and the Office of Personnel Management to support bills to offer longer-term employment contracts to employees contingent on their commitment to stay for several years. Furthermore, the agency opened up conversations among employees and local communities that might be impacted.

Actions that promote open communication and clear goal-setting for all members of an organization can help federal managers more effectively employ substantive changes without alienating employees. “When trying to redesign a function in an organization, you must look at the actions itself,” Roberson explained. “You have to capture the hearts and minds of the workers -- actions speak louder than words or policies.”

For more from 2014 Excellence in Government, check out GBC’s EIG2014 recap series.

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