Tom Fox is a guest contributor to the Washington Post’s On Leadership section and is the vice president for leadership and innovation at the Partnership for Public Service. Fox also heads up the Partnership’s Center for Government Leadership.
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of bad news about the federal government. Whether it’s the fiscal cliff, news about budget and program cuts, or the challenges public servants face meeting the public’s high expectations.
I’m an inveterate optimist, a glass-half-full kind of guy, and I would prefer to focus on what we can do in the future rather than lament the past.
The just-released 2012 “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” rankings, produced by Deloitte and my organization, the Partnership for Public Service, show the most significant decline in overall employee job satisfaction in nearly a decade. Yet what’s remarkable and some cause for optimism is that nearly 33 percent of the 362 agencies and organizations in the rankings actually increased their scores despite the tough times.
If your organization has been struggling to improve employee satisfaction and commitment, it would be wise to understand what consistently high-performing agencies and those actually improving their performance have done to build a more engaged and, ultimately, a more effective workforce. Here are a few organizations whose examples could benefit others looking to move up in the rankings.
National Credit Union Administration (NCUA): The most improved mid-size agency in the rankings, the NCUA is the independent federal agency created by Congress to regulate, charter and supervise federal credit unions. Similar to DOT, NCUA emphasized leadership and communication as a means of improving employee satisfaction and commitment.
NCUA Chairman Debbie Matz met with employees in every office, held quarterly webinars to surface and answer employees’ questions and concerns, and launched a weekly newsletter to keep employees informed about staffing changes and other internal matters on a week-to-week basis. Through these communications vehicles, leaders learned that NCUA’s procedures were holding back qualified examiners from becoming principal examiners. The agency made several changes to improve the process to ensure consistency and fairness among all employees.
Department of Education (ED), Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO): With a focus on the fundamentals of effective management — strategic planning, leadership development and engaging front-line employees on an ongoing basis — ED’s OCFO saw the largest gains of any subcomponent in the “Best Places to Work” rankings this year. The office developed core values and clear mission statements to provide employees with a vision and a direction for the organization moving forward. Then, they embraced a “leadership at all levels” approach by setting clear performance expectations and preparing leaders to succeed through training, development and executive coaching.