How to Improve your Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey Results (Part Two)

In my last column, I reported that the results of the latest government-wide Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey survey have been released. Over 687,000 federal employees completed the FEVS survey, and according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, "The 2012 FEVS indicates the Federal workforce remains resilient -- hardworking, motivated and mission-focused even amidst the many challenges facing Government today."

OPM also concluded that the Federal workforce remains mission-focused and hardworking, and Employee Engagement remains strong.

But it sounded troubling notes too, concluding that Federal employees' satisfaction with their jobs, pay and organizations are areas of continued risk. Further, on the Human Capital Assessment and Accountability Framework (HCAAF) Index, for the category which is probably of the greatest interest to the general public - Results-Oriented Performance Culture, almost half the Federal employees surveyed have consistently given this area the lowest score.

So what can be done?

In my previous column, I identified three areas that if handled well, will collectively make a big difference:     

  • Communication
  • Employee Engagement
  • Manage Performance

Let's examine two other areas where you can make a difference.


Make sure you have the right supervisors and then develop them

From an employee's perspective, the supervisor is the face of the organization. Sure the leader sets the policy, direction and values; however, ultimately, the rubber meets the road in each employee's interaction with his supervisor. After all, if the leader gives a great speech that pumps up the employees and they are then advised by the supervisor to ignore the speech and simply do what she tells them, how do you think the employees are going to feel?

That is why you must have the right supervisors in place. For example, I once took over an organization where almost everyone (including me) felt that many of the supervisors were not right for the job. Some were simply too weak, others were too cynical while still others were not comfortable managing people. After giving everyone the chance to demonstrate what they could do, we wound up reassigning about half of them to non-supervisory jobs and replaced them with other, more qualified people who were better fits. Having the right supervisors in place made all the difference because we were now able to move together as a team with the supervisors who could move the organization forward.

Once you have the right ones in place, do everything you can to develop them so they have the right mindset and skill sets to lead their employees. Teach them how to communicate, treat people well, lead by example, manage performance, provide appropriate feedback, develop their employees and deal with poor performers. As they master these areas, the employees will both feel and perform better and everyone will win.

Looking at this issue from a different perspective, even with the best supervisors, there will always have challenges. After all, getting people to do what you want is never easy; nor is achieving stringent performance goals, managing leave, appraising your subordinates, dealing with difficult people, etc... while also attending many different meetings, answering a constant slew of e-mails, taking grief from the union, etc. Being a supervisor is simply a tough job in any industry.

A different and often better approach is to have self-managed teams wherein the employees eventually manage themselves and the supervisor serves as a coach/advisor to the team and focuses most of his energy on higher level issues. Under this approach, the team or unit slowly transitions from a traditional supervisor-centric model to one in which everyone ultimately becomes a leader, receives the appropriate training and development along the way and is able to handle the core work of the team. Such an approach results in a much higher degree of energy, focus and employee commitment and eliminates many of the problems everyone grapples with in the traditional unit model.

To convert to such a design takes time, effort, skill and most of all commitment; however, the payoff can be enormous. For further information on this approach, look for the upcoming on the subject I will be co-authoring with Paul Gustavson.


Make your organization more transparent

Two findings from the FEVS that really jumped out were:

  • Two out of 10 employees feel pay raises are related to their job performance;
  • Three out of 10 employees feel that their performance is recognized in a meaningful way and that promotions are based on merit.

This clearly indicates a lack of trust and a general belief among the employees that decisions are not being made for the right reasons. While not completely surprising since people who do not get the job they want or the bonus they think they deserve often become frustrated, there are strategies that can be used to alleviate the hard feelings that are often caused when these decisions are made.

I start out with one of my core HRM philosophies: Employees should always be able to see an action coming. I have developed this belief because in my experience, one of the single biggest sources of irritation for employees is when they cannot predict with some degree of confidence what their appraisal and reward, if any will be or who will get selected for a job. That is not to say that employees must become prescient and all-knowing - it simply means that they should have a good idea of how they are doing from management's perspective so they know what to expect (e.g. are they considered to be a star? average? below average?) and what they need to do to improve. That is because when employees have this information, they will generally be much more accepting of management's decisions since when they have the same basic information they most likely would have made the same decision.

So how do you ensure that employees have this information? The best way to do this is through a system of on-going communication, not on an ad hoc basis. Here are some ways of accomplishing this objective:

1. Monthly feedback sessions --- having monthly feedback sessions ensures that employees get up-to-date information as to how they are doing and gives them the chance to ask questions of management and offer their perspective on things. It is also a great opportunity to explore how the employee is doing relative to her individual development plan.

2. Employee report cards --- providing the employee with report cards along with the feedback sessions gives the employee timely performance information in writing so there are no surprises or secrets. These report cards should also contain data regarding how the employee is doing relative to the group's average so she will have sense of context.

3. Posting individual performance --- this means hanging a spreadsheet within the team that shows how each employee occupying the same position is doing relative to everyone else. This is intended to spur the group to talk to each other about performance and share best practices. At the same time, it is also intended to give each individual the same information that management has (I recommend assigning a letter or other symbol to each employee in order to protect their privacy) so they will see where they stand relative to their peers. Finally, it is designed to protect the organization from those supervisors who like to protect their favorites or go after people they don't like regardless of the numbers.

When employees have access to this much information, it tends to lift the cloud of mystery that generally hangs over most organizations. If they then see that management is making decisions based on the numbers, rather than based on who they like and/or don't like, it will build a sense of trust that rarely exists today and will improve the scores they assign to the organization under the FEVS.


Stewart Liff writes on human resources management issues in government for OhMyGov. A recipient of the President's Council on Management Improvement Award, he is the author of five books, including Improving the Performance of Government Employees. His expertise includes employee relations, labor relations, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), performance management, staffing, training, rewards and recognition, metrics, systems design and succession planning. More at

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