How to Make the Most of Your FEVS Data

It’s critical that managers selectively focus on key questions in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

If it’s not in your inbox right now, it’s coming—your FY19 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey data. The Office of Personnel Management’s annual survey of federal employees that measures perceptions and attitudes about work gives managers the information they need to make positive changes for employees and their organizations. After all, happier employees are more productive, creative, and resourceful, which benefits agencies and citizens alike.

Digging In

Each of the 87 survey questions offers a relevant breadcrumb with the potential to spark change. But in its entirety, the volume of information provided can be a barrier to action, and federal managers typically don’t take steps to address the issues surfaced in the survey. Not because they don’t care, but because they’re overwhelmed; they don’t know where to start.

Many federal managers open the survey data to find table after table of percentages. They scan for the highs and lows. Some results will confirm what they already know. Some will be baffling and frustrating. They might think: “We could have a meeting to talk about our vision. We could create a working group to identify needed skills and training options. We could launch an onboarding program. We could . . .” 

There are thousands of engagement, communication, and workplace policy actions they could take to improve employee’s experiences at work. Lack of solutions is rarely an issue, and many activities are low or no cost.

A more likely problem is that there are just too many choices. Managers wonder, “How could we possibly address all of this?” 

Applying Selective Focus 

The sheer number of possibilities creates uncertainty, which leads to the paradox of choice. Afraid of choosing the wrong direction or missing something, federal managers delay or don’t take any action at all. 

There is an alternative. Selective focus is a term borrowed from photography. It refers to images with a small area in sharp focus against a background in soft blur. Selective focus forces attention on one thing, while keeping the broader context.

Applying the selective focus concept to FEVS means zooming in and focusing on one area, while maintaining awareness of the greater context around it. See the big picture but pick only a handful of questions to directly address. Once the possibilities are narrowed, managers can work with their teams to build meaningful improvement plans for the year.

Deciding the Focus

There are many ways to pick a focus. The key is to pick something without worrying about whether it’s the “right” thing. Why? When it comes to improving employee experience, there is no one right answer. Scores overall rise when employees see effort and gradual improvement, not when all concerns raised across 87 questions are addressed. (Interestingly, scores also rise when more people complete the survey, indicating that employees are more likely to feel the survey is worth their time when managers take action on the previous year’s results.)

So how might managers pick no more than three selective focus questions? Consider the following:

  • Pick scores that went down since last year
  • Concentrate on scores that are low relative to the agency average
  • Consider the questions within one of the FEVS-defined indices
  • Select a handful of “low hanging fruit” activities that can be done quickly  and are within the manager’s purview
  • Build momentum and amp up efforts on improvements already underway from last year.

The most important thing is that the manager or, better yet, the management team, picks something. Once the focus is narrowed, everyone—managers and employees alike—can and should be involved with designing the improvement plan.

Clues to improvement actions are embedded in the questions themselves. For example, Question No. 27: “The skill level in my work unit has improved in the last year.” A low score indicates a skill gap. That could be addressed through training, workshops, or mentoring. Going further, teams could identify free resources or make a more significant financial investment. 

Communicating with employees throughout the process helps solidify trust. Employees want to know they’ve been heard, and the dialog is open. Managers can use confusing or conflicting results as an opening to a conversation and a way to enlist the team in generating solutions.

Federal managers care deeply about their employees and employee happiness. And managers care about the FEVS data, but often delay action because they are uncertain and overwhelmed. Generating loads of ideas on how to fix issues is rarely the problem. Instead, it’s about picking a place to start. Managers can have a tremendous impact by narrowing options through selective focus. From here, working with their employees, they can build trust and momentum that will benefit everyone’s work environment and generate higher productivity and engagement.

Beth McDonald is co-founder and President of Wheelhouse Group. Robin Camarote is an expert in communications and organizational change management at Wheelhouse Group. For additional ideas and insights, download the Wheelhouse Group’s 90-day action plan: Jumpstart Employee Engagement with Your FEVS Results

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