I’ve got some good and bad news for federal leaders.
On a positive note, federal employees’ views of their leaders have been on the upswing since 2003 based on an analysis of the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings.
Regrettably, leadership remains one of the lowest ranked workplace categories in the survey, with employees giving leaders a government-wide score of only 54.9 out of 100 in 2011, according to an examination of Best Places data by the Partnership for Public Service.
Our government leaders, particularly the political and career senior executives, performed poorly when it came to engaging employees in decision-making affecting their work, sharing information about what’s going on in their agencies and motivating their folks to go the extra mile.
For savvy federal leaders, there is a roadmap for improvement that can be seen at the Federal Deposit and Insurance Corporation (FDIC) — the top-ranked agency in the Best Places rankings and the second-ranked large agency on leadership — and at the U.S. Mint, where leadership scores increased by more than 25 percent in just one year.
What’s the secret? The FDIC and the Mint both improved leadership results through a number of actions, including increasing their efforts to communicate more effectively with employees through town hall meetings, personal visits or conference calls with field offices. They also made a push to give employees greater flexibility to make decisions and do their jobs.
Building on these examples, here are a few ideas for leaders looking to gain greater respect from their employees.
Seek input and explain decisions. Improving communications doesn’t simply mean that you need to talk more. It means you need to provide employees with an outlet for sharing their views and ideas about decisions affecting them and their work environment. Senior leaders might do this in a town hall meeting or through an online collaboration tool. Managers and supervisors might solicit thoughts through smaller team meetings where employees can engage in a real dialogue. Most importantly, once you make a decision, explain the processes and reasons behind that decision.
Share decision-making, and clear the path for employee action. Generally speaking, senior leaders engage in far too many reviews of employee decisions. Senior leaders should spend some time reviewing issues of consequence — items that represent a budget risk or might embarrass the agency — and trust employees on routine matters. You might also review and jettison unnecessary processes or reports. You know, the ones everybody performs but no one ever uses. The FDIC challenged each manager and supervisor to eliminate three to five low-value activities that could reduce workload and improve efficiency.
Focus on the mission. I was surprised the Best Places analysis found that private-sector leaders were far more effective at motivating their employees than federal executives. Most federal leaders have an advantage over private-sector leaders when trying to motivate employees — mission. Most people who are drawn to public service are seeking to make a difference or to do something meaningful. Federal leaders at all levels need to align their work and that of their employees with their agencies’ mission and goals. They should also make sure that every employee clearly sees and understands the connection between what they do and the ability of the organization to accomplish its mission. Virtually every process, including hiring, training, performance reviews and communication, should reinforce the agencies’ ultimate outcome: serving the American people.
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