Agencies should be linking employee engagement to the mission.
Recently, the Office of Personnel Management released the governmentwide results for the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and soon, we’ll also learn which agencies are deemed the best places to work, and which ones need improvement. While engagement is always a focus during the month when survey results are released, it’s important to remember that it should be a strategic priority all year long. The FedView survey exists for a strategic purpose–to help agency leaders unlock the productivity and potential of their teams, understand their employees’ perception of their employment experience, realize their staff’s commitment to the organization, and assess engagement risks associated with delivering the organization’s mission.
OPM has collected data through FedView for almost a decade. In doing so, they have garnered increasing support for the engagement discussion and for good reason—engagement of the workforce is directly connected to performance, and for the last few years the scores have gone down. But most fail to understand the link between engagement and satisfaction scores and overall agency performance. In fact, CEB research shows that organizations that build high levels of engagement can see real results in their organization’s performance—up to 23 percent higher performance, compared with those with low engagement. As the conversation about efficiency and productivity grows louder, can the federal government really afford to leave 23 percent higher performance on the table?
Part of the challenge is that engagement is often a standalone item, seen from the perspective of improving satisfaction across the organization instead of the connection to the bigger strategic picture. Complicating this challenge is that in most organizations, FedView results and subsequent action plans are owned by human resources, often limiting leadership engagement champions to HR as opposed to the broader leadership team. Given the critical need for the federal government to drive higher levels of organizational performance and the timeliness of the results release, now is the time for agencies to elevate the engagement conversation to connect talent and engagement results to the organization’s strategy to deliver on mission expectations.
As agency leaders assess their FedView results, they should consider the true implications of low engagement across the workforce. Lifting the engagement conversation outside the walls of HR and fully utilizing this critical data source will help the entire organization do three critical things:
- Assess organizational performance risk. Most organizations use engagement data to improve engagement scores, not to inform business strategy or decisions. In fact, only 20 percent of HR organizations indicate that they are effective at using engagement results to inform business decisions. Low FedView scores in key performance indicators can produce roadblocks to organizational success. It’s important for leaders to understand the talent needed to deliver on the mission and to assess the risks of low engagement.
- Focus on engagement drivers that link to the mission. As agencies consider what they need to do to improve engagement, they should narrow their focus to the few things that matter the most to the organization. With limited time, attention and resources, it’s critical for leaders to understand the factors that drive engagement, where the organization has the most room to improve, and where there are critical links to the agency’s ability to meet performance objectives. For example, if collaboration across work units is a major factor for mission success, then leaders should focus engagement efforts there—not on all of the questions that yielded low results.
- Improve leadership commitment to engagement strategies. Leading people toward meeting the organization’s vision, mission and goals is a core qualification for the Senior Executive Service cadre. Connecting engagement scores among staff to their leaders will help to improve the commitment and accountability of that leader to drive engagement across the organization. Organizations can improve this commitment and accountability by integrating FedView results into leadership assessments. The results provide a quantitative view into this individual objective and should be combined with other, more qualitative data sources to gain a true picture of the individual’s ability to lead people to achieve organizational outcomes.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of seeing how agencies stack up in the Best Places to Work rankings, but the information FedView provides gives us more than just agency rankings and engagement scores. Organizations should capitalize on the fact that engagement is a more urgent priority today than ever before and utilize FedView data to inform organizational strategy. FedView results can help organizations understand the workforce’s commitment to the organization, assess risk to mission delivery, and focus on strategies that will not only improve engagement scores, but also help the organization meet mission objectives.
Elisabeth Joyce is senior director at CEB, a membership-based advisory company.
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