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The Federal Coach

Taking stock of agency performance

I am a big fan of the Ohio State Buckeyes and with the pre-season college football rankings just released - and OSU ranked number two in the nation - my hopes for the season are sky-high.

Unfortunately, I've been burned so many times over the years that I try not to put too much weight on pre-season rankings. It's what you do on the field during the season - and particularly in bowl games - that counts.

For rankings that matter to federal leaders and employees, check out the latest Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings to be released on September 1- the most comprehensive assessment of how federal employees perceive their jobs, agencies and leadership.

Produced by the Partnership for Public Service, the rankings and the analysis of employee viewpoints included in Best Places to Work provide critical insights into what is working at each agency and what may be amiss.

Employee satisfaction and commitment are two necessary ingredients in developing high-performing organizations and attracting top talent.When workers are unhappy, it can be a sign of bad management, and a low level of engagement and poor performance often follow.

In some ways, the rankings are akin to the "canary in the coal mine"-- a warning sign for agencies in trouble. Had Congress or government leaders paid attention to the 2003 Best Places to Work survey, for example, they would have found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was last in the rankings. That was two years before FEMA's inept response to Hurricane Katrina, but at the time, few noticed.

The rankings consistently find that you - as a government leader - will have the biggest role in fixing situations out of kilter. Over time, I have observed those who've responded to poor Best Places data by taking positive action, and others who have gone into denial and stuck their heads in the sand.

Based on my observations, here are five things you can do when the rankings are released on Wednesday.

1. Analyze Your Data. See if your agency is ranked high or low in the government as a whole and check your index score, the one that measures employee satisfaction with their jobs and organization. Then take a look at other issues--how your employees feel about their senior leaders, supervisors, work-life balance, sense of empowerment and opportunities for training and development.

2. Admit If There's a Problem. Don't run and hide from your rankings. Your employees already know there's a problem - they've told you. Be honest and commit to making things better.

3. Engage Employees and Other Leaders in Developing Solutions. Feedback is important. Hold town-hall meetings with employees, have individual in-person conversations and send out e-mails seeking suggestions. Create action planning teams.

4. Create and Communicate a Plan of Action. Choose focus areas, work out an implementation strategy, get stakeholder buy-in, establish goals and ways to measure success and set expectations for change. Even agencies with high rankings can improve.

5. Just Do It! In other words, take action.
Be accountable, assume responsibility, be transparent with your staff, and ready to make adjustments to keep moving forward.

It's easy to be an arm-chair quarterback so please share your ideas about what has worked or what hasn't at your agencies by leaving a comment or emailing me at fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org. Be sure to check back on Wednesday, when I interview
Aaron S. Williams, director of the Peace Corps.

By Tom Fox

 |  August 27, 2010; 1:35 PM ET |  Category:  Getting Ahead Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Showing your team you've 'got their back' | Next: Learning to 'be a risk-taker'

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