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The American Government Will Be Whatever We Make of It


Mon Dec 08 2014

The American Government Will Be Whatever We Make of It

The results of the latest Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) remind us it will take time to slow down and reverse the decline in engagement scores across the 2.1 million person federal workforce. But just because it is difficult doesn’t mean it isn’t achievable–or that we cannot get started today. As U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith stated in a recent New York Times article: “The American government will be whatever we make of it.”

After four years of declining scores, it’s time for a comprehensive human capital strategy for the largest workforce in the world. For agency leaders—including chief human capital officers and chief learning officers—the answer is threefold.

  1. Harness the scale of government agencies so that they leverage economic purchasing power. Spending tens of millions of dollars across all agencies using numerous vendors for consulting support and material isn’t a solution. The same amount of money could be focused on a select set of vendors using proven private and public sector best practices, off-the-shelf material, and an omnibus contract with performance clauses.

  2. Develop a disciplined solutions roadmap that commits to specific intervention dates and formats, implementation of solutions, evaluation of action, and review of effectiveness measures. Congress should review human capital strategy progress through quarterly committee hearings. And, to provide an objective approach to necessary gap closure and countermeasures, the GAO should assess outcomes on a quarterly basis. In other words, let’s treat leadership development and employee engagement like any other major initiative—complete with schedules, budgets, management of risk, and leveraging of best practices (EVMS and DMAIC, come to mind).

  3. Explore licensing commercially available—and proven—leadership development and organization effectiveness material. In combination with the macro steps referenced above, this would enable the federal government to:

  • focus more time on implementation, change management, and measurement than on design and development

  • reprint proven intellectual property and distribute it throughout agencies to achieve rapid scale

  • engage in train-the-trainer certifications so that agencies become more self reliant and able to replicate follow-up solutions at their discretion

  • achieve a greater degree of granularity in diagnosing the root causes behind FEVS results.

Getting Started

Federal government human resources leaders can take four initial steps to move the needle on FEVS results, shape a new era of employee engagement, and improve mission success.

  1. Determine what success looks like so that barriers can be removed, proper resources allocated, and desired behaviors modeled and reinforced.

  2. Evaluate internal strengths to be leveraged, weaknesses that might interfere with progress, opportunities to accelerate change, and threats to getting started.

  3. Document all vendor partnerships so that spending, services, impact, integration of sources, and contract terms are understood.

  4. Identify the key decision makers, the key human capital strategy decisions over the next three years, when these decisions need to be made for maximum value add, who is impacted by the decisions, and how stakeholders will react to the decisions from a change management perspective.

These critical and fundamental steps will stimulate necessary integration and more efficient use of funds, provide a refreshed and focused sense of urgency, and—most important—establish roles, reporting, and accountabilities with consequences. Taking these steps will improve confidence in leadership, develop employee commitment that results in the highest levels of morale, and stimulate attitudes that cause employees to recommend their agency as a good place to work—a few of the FEVS factors that require immediate attention.

In Washington, D.C., terms like lame duck, gridlock, budget constraints, and partisanship are tossed around as convenient excuses for a lack of forward action. Our public servants deserve more respect, support, and tangible outcomes.

If it is true that “The American government will be whatever we make of it,” then let’s choose to make it efficient, adaptive to change, and the gold standard for human capital strategy. No more excuses. The time has arrived for action.


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