The following is a guest post from Bob Lavigna, author of Engaging Government Employees: Motivate and Inspire Your People to Achieve Superior Performance.
Employee engagement is a hot topic right now, and there is also growing recognition in government that engagement matters, and matters a great deal. This attention is particularly timely for government organizations, which face unique challenges in improving engagement and also face pressure to do more with less. In government, the chief and sometimes only resource an agency has is its workforce. That’s why, in the public sector, success depends on a talented and fully engaged workforce.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to improving the level of engagement. However, government jurisdictions and agencies that have conducted employee engagement surveys of their employees have taken specific actions to improve engagement. It’s useful to understand what these public-sector organizations have done. These examples can serve as a partial menu of proven approaches to improving employee engagement. The challenge for individual jurisdictions, agencies, and work units is to select the approaches, based on survey results and data analysis, that support their mission, values, goals, and culture.
The specific approaches that public-sector organizations have used to drive higher levels of employee engagement are:
- Provide senior- level and enterprise- wide leadership on employee engagement.
- Improve agency communication.
- Build leadership and management competencies.
- Improve the management of employee performance.
- Ensure that employees believe that their opinions count.
- Create a more a positive work environment.
- Incorporate engagement into assessment of job applicants.
- Implement a new employee onboarding process.
- Help employees improve their well-being.
- Clarify the line of sight between employees’ work and the organization mission.
- Enhance employee prospects for career growth
Here are some highlights that focus on the first four approaches:
- Provide senior- level and enterprise- wide leadership on employee engagement. Virtually all analyses of employee engagement conclude that leadership is critically important. Part of the leadership solution to improve engagement is for senior-level and enterprise-wide leadership to make engagement an organizational priority and also model sound engagement practices. This includes explicitly integrating engagement into the strategic direction of the organization, as Oregon Metro, the regional government for the Portland area, has done.
- Improve agency communication. Communication is the glue that holds employee-engagement initiatives together and is particularly critical for government. Public-sector organizations must communicate throughout the entire cycle of planning, conducting, and acting on engagement surveys. In addition, agencies have learned through their engagement surveys that they need to improve communication in general to put employees in the best position to perform well—one of the key drivers of engagement.
- Build leadership and management competencies. As the U.S. Office of Personnel Management does, government agencies that have focused on assessing and then improving engagement understand the connection between strong leadership and employee engagement. These organizations have taken action to build and upgrade leadership competence, which underlies virtually every driver of employee engagement. The Air Force Materiel Command, for example, has made its supervisory staff a critical part of its engagement strategy. The command realized that when supervisors are engaged, their employees are also more likely to be engaged.
- Improve the management of employee performance. To be fully engaged, employees need to understand what their roles, responsibilities, and expectations are and then receive feedback on their performance. In the world of HR, this is known as performance management and is fundamental to the driver that has been defined as the “opportunity to perform well at work.” Employee-engagement research conducted by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board has revealed the power of effective performance management practices to improve employee engagement. The board compared the practices of the four federal agencies with the highest levels of employee engagement to the four bottom-scoring agencies. The most significant factor that differentiated the high-engagement agencies from the low-engagement agencies was effective performance-management practices. According to the board, “Every positive performance-management practice we reviewed (e.g., senior leaders communicating openly and honestly with employees, employees having written performance goals) is employed more widely in high engagement agencies than in low engagement agencies.”
Bob Lavigna has more than 30 years of experience leading public sector human capital management organizations, including positions with the state of Wisconsin, Partnership for Public Service, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, and the University of Wisconsin.