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July 2016
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The Public Manager

Kimya Lee

spotlight
Every year, the federal government conducts the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey to help understand its employees' views of their workplaces. For years, that survey was spearheaded—and improved—by Kimya Lee. The changes she made were positive enough that she and her team at the Office of Personnel Management recently were named as a finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals.

About Kimya Lee

Kimya Lee considers herself a "boomerang fed." After starting her career in the federal government as an intern, she spent 12 years in the private sector before returning to federal service. She joined the Office of Personnel Management in 2011.

Upon returning to the government, Lee was the manager of the survey analysis group at OPM, leading the development, administration, data analysis, and reporting of the government-wide federal employee surveys. Currently, Lee is the senior advisor on research and evaluation at OPM.

Can you talk a little about the yearly employee survey and how you expanded and improved it?

When the FEVS (formerly the Federal Human Capital Survey) was first administered in 2002 the goal was to assess and improve human capital management in the federal government. The results and subsequent reports provided a standardized way of guiding strategic human capital management, as well as providing valuable insight into the challenges agencies face in maintaining an effective civilian workforce. It is now used as a management tool that is driving organizational change at both the agency and manager level.

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Here are three examples of survey improvements and enhancements that occurred during my tenure:

  1. enhancing survey methodology, specifically the survey sample design
  2. establishing a measure of employee engagement
  3. making survey results and reports more accessible.

How did your previous government experience prepare you for your current role?

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I'm comfortable in many different environments—from conversing with analysts about a specific data analysis technique or software program, to talking with statisticians about a formula, to working closely with web designers on how to make data easier to comprehend. Because of that experience, when I talk with agency senior officials, I translate the technical information into a language they understand.

What do you hope to accomplish in your role in the future?

I hope to showcase research talent at OPM. When someone mentions medical research, the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention come to mind. If I said education research, the Department of Education, National Science Foundation, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics are appropriate agencies to think about. But when I ask about human resource management or policy research, people reference a think tank, a nonprofit, or a consulting firm. I want them to consider OPM.

The federal government faces complex and multifaceted issues in human resource management. But we have limited resources. Developing partnerships with academic researchers to bridge the gap is a chief responsibility.

What challenges do you often come across in your role, and how do you deal with them?

Interesting enough, the biggest challenge seems to revolve around data. I'm constantly balancing the demands for a technically rigorous survey and research program with the needs for a practical, user-friendly data strategy that touches multiple agencies, agency components, and teams within agencies. I'm always striving to ensure the right information is available to the right people at the right time, which can improve the effectiveness of government services.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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