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Want to engage your federal employees? Just Google it

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The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and The Washington Post’s On Leadership site jointly produce the Federal Coach, hosted by Tom Fox, director of the partnership’s Center for Government Leadership. The goal is to “engage, inspire and learn from you, the federal worker, whether you are a new hire, a contractor or a manager at the highest level.”

The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and The Washington Post’s On Leadership site jointly produce the Federal Coach, hosted by Tom Fox, director of the partnership’s Center for Government Leadership. The goal is to “engage, inspire and learn from you, the federal worker, whether you are a new hire, a contractor or a manager at the highest level.”

With the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey coming to government workers again next month, now is a great time for you as a federal manager to consider how you are engaging and motivating your staff.

While you may not have time to affect the results in this year’s survey, that shouldn’t stop you from planning for the long term.

For inspiration, you might look to Fortune magazine’s most recent 100 Best Companies to Work For list. Instead of focusing on the headlines about big paychecks and outrageous perks, I encourage you to look at what’s really driving the employee satisfaction and commitment at these organizations.

Google, which is No. 4 on this year’s list, may make news for its free food and laundry service, its climbing walls and other benefits. But Google’s own analysis showed that even with all of these perks, employee engagement and performance is largely driven by one variable: leadership.

So, is working for Google just like working for the federal government?

In some ways, it is. In the analysis of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey data by my organization, the Partnership for Public Service, we have found leadership to be the No. 1 driver of employee satisfaction and commitment in the federal government since our Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings were produced in 2003.

While you may not be able to offer your employees free car washes or other Google-like perks, there are some lessons federal managers can take from Google’s efforts to build a better boss.

l Use employee feedback data to understand what it means to be an exceptional leader. Google leaders had their statisticians analyze surveys, performance reviews and nominations for internal leadership awards in order to develop a list of eight effective leadership behaviors. The list of positive behaviors is pretty straightforward. It includes being a good coach; expressing interest in your team members’ success and personal well-being; and being productive and results-oriented. The benefit of this list is that it is based on real-world experience and results.

As a federal leader, it’s important that you look at all of the available employee feedback data. This can include the Best Places to Work rankings, your agency’s exit interview data and even focus-group feedback to help you better understand the essential elements of outstanding leadership in your agency.

l Assess your leaders’ strengths and weaknesses. After defining their leadership rules, Google began using this criteria in their performance reviews and staffing decisions. In one example, a poorly performing Google leader was given the feedback that he worked his folks too hard, was way too bossy and rarely communicated effectively with his team — and as a result was denied a promotion.

We’re seeing more and more agencies integrating clear expectations about employee engagement in their leaders’ performance plans and using data as a measure of performance. As a federal leader, you should consider doing the same in an effort to ensure that your managers are as focused on their management responsibilities as they are on their policy and program responsibilities.

l Invest in helping your leaders succeed. Google has integrated its leadership rules into all leadership and management training programs. In fact, the poorly performing manager received one-on-one coaching to help improve his performance. Google reported that it sees about 75 percent of its worst-performing managers significantly improve after training and coaching.

Although times are tough, agencies will fall short of achieving their ambitious goals if they do not prepare their current and future leaders to succeed. Whether it’s a formal candidate development program, action-learning workshops or one-on-one coaching, the investment will pay dividends in improved agency performance, just as it has at Google.

What do you consider to be the rules of effective leadership in government? How is your agency investing in your success? Feel free to join the conversation by posting your comments below or e-mailing me at fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

And check back online Wednesday, when I speak with Michael Watkins, co-author of “The First 90 Days in Government,” which has become a classic resource for public-sector leaders taking new roles. You can also receive a reminder by following us on Twitter @RPublicService.

Visit On Leadership at views.washingtonpost.com/leadership/fedcoach. There are three weekly installments. Mondays: “Getting Ahead” — advice on “leading up.” Wednesdays: “View From the Top Floor” — interviews with federal leaders. Fridays: Answering questions about navigating the federal workforce terrain.

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