Do Government Managers Need To Go on Undercover Boss?

Are you and your boss on the same page? If you work in the federal government, the answer is likely no.

The Best Places to Work analysis from the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte found for those agencies looking to drive change, the disparity between your view of gov and your boss’s suggest employees are not aligned with management on some of the significant challenges facing the organization and how to address them. 

Why is there a disparity, and what can agencies do to minimize the gap, besides go on the CBS show Undercover Boss? Shawn Morris and David Dye from Deloitte’s Federal Human Capital Practice told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINISDER program that focusing on realigning priorities is key for agencies to be successful. 

It’s common for managers to view their organizations more positively than staff, Morris and Dye explained. This is because managers typically have more information and influence on decisions that impact their work than the staff does. But it’s still important for agency leaders to identify any extreme differences in viewpoints and understand the reasons for the disagreements.

“Understanding where areas of convergence versus divergence are is incredibly important for senior leadership to determine how quickly they can move through a set of transformational initiatives,” said Morris.

The first step to reducing this disparity? Figure out what your employees are bringing to the table. Dye said there are three core needs that most employees come to the workforce with:

  1. Achievement. Employees need to achieve things.  They need to feel productive and useful.
  2. Camaraderie. We’re all social beings and we need interactions and ways of working with other people to accomplish good things. 
  3. Fairness. The notion of equity or fairness is that where the biggest gaps occur is in this notion of fairness -- or lack thereof. 

“When people feel unempowered or are not getting information, then the natural tendency is to think like, ‘Well, I’m not being dealt with fairly,’” said Dye.

Improving the staff and manager alignment alone will not solve workplace problems, but an analysis of divergent views should be used as a tool in the process of improving employee satisfaction and commitment.

“At the end of the day, so much of this is based on the level of engagement between supervisors and employees in an organization,” said Morris.

One of the ways to help employee and manager engagement is to use Deloitte's Moments that Matter plan. It’s a 10-step process for an individual supervisor to be able to apply to his or her interactions with his or her staff.  “The concept of ultimately starting with the empathy of the situation that’s going on now, all the way through to being able to use this increased level of engagement with that better communication and interaction to up their game is incredibly important,” said Morris.  “You have to figure out the root causes behind those issues, and then ultimately put a plan in place to affect change around those root causes.”

“One of the shortcomings that we find with agencies when you get to that action plan, is that sometimes they want to see what others do from a best practice standpoint and say well, if it worked for them that’ll work for me,” said Dye. “My biggest piece of advice would be: learn what others are doing, but you gotta take the time and energy and commitment and accountability to translate that into the how that will work within your organization.” 

If you make the commitment to employee engagement the payoffs can be big. “You are going to get more productivity out of your workforce if you spend time on personnel issues,” said Dye. “You’re going to be able to retain the excellent talent that you have in your organization, and ultimately you’re going to be able to attract the best talent that the marketplace has to offer.”

“If you show that you can listen, analyze this data, figure out where the root causes are, and then put action plans around those root causes,” continued Dye.  “You need to think of yourself as an Undercover Boss.  There’s a TV show out there where the bosses of organizations, the owners of organizations actually go out and they sort of put a disguise on. Not suggesting anybody go incognito here, but they actually walk in the shoes of the individuals that are in their organization.  Think about doing that, because that is the best way that you can understand the perspective around some [of these issues] and really understand the root causes.”

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