On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

The Federal Coach

FedCoach Q&A: What's the best way to reward federal employees?

This week's questions come from federal managers at the U.S. Departments of Education and Health & Human Services. Please continue sharing your ideas and questions by leaving a comment or emailing me at fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

What are some best practices on how to recognize and reward employees? Our agency got clobbered on this on the Federal Employee Viewpoint survey, so we're looking for ideas. -Federal manager (GS-14) at the U.S. Department of Education

Now is the perfect time to examine your agency's approach to recognizing and rewarding your employees. With public perceptions of federal employees on the decline (along with federal budgets), federal managers need to get back to basics and think creatively.

Start by examining the core principles of your recognition and rewards programs. The best programs: (1) recognize results that align with the agency's goals; (2) clearly define the results required to receive an award; (3) allow any employee an opportunity to receive recognition, but the rewards only go to those who truly excel; (4) honor teams as well as individuals; and (5) offer a variety of rewards reflecting what people really value, such as an award, cash or time off.

Next, consider what these principles look like in practice. Typically, they've taken the form of annual agency-wide awards programs, spot awards such as cash or vacation time, and then perhaps team-based awards. I have seen them used to great effect in agencies carefully following the principles listed above. In other agencies, the programs fall flat because employees feel like they're torn from a paint-by-number approach.

If your agency is struggling, now's the time to get creative; but don't feel as though you need to do this alone. Consider enlisting representatives from a cross-section of your agency to help update your recognition and awards programs. This could include a short survey, a focus group or a rapid-fire brainstorm to help provide you with those creative ideas.

Some of the best ideas that I've seen in federal agencies involve the use of peer awards. Whether cash-based or kitsch-based (like an ugly trophy), peer-based awards are gaining in popularity, because your colleagues' views are often times the most valuable.

Are there networks for leaders in government to reach out to other leaders to collaborate? -Federal manager (GS-15) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research

There are plenty of networks for government leaders, but the opportunities for collaboration vary widely depending upon the type of collaboration you're after. There are some incredibly active, collaborative official leadership networks across our government. Some of the best ones are those that develop organically around critically important, government-wide goals.

Let's start with the official channels. If you want to collaborate with other agencies around programmatic best practices, look to official, online channels like the Office of Management and Budget's MAX Information System. This system is designed to collect, validate, analyze, model and publish information related to government-wide best practices and activities relevant to specific types of functions and programs within federal agencies.

If you want to collaborate with other federal leaders around improving a specific function, use one of our government's officially sanctioned communities like the Chief Information Officers (CIO) Council. The CIO Council performs a diverse range of activities, from promoting information-sharing across government to explaining the strategic and effective use of IT to serve and protect Americans. And there are many more based on your function--from chief human capital officers to performance improvement officers.

Some of the best collaborative networks I've seen emerge when federal employees find and establish their own networks around their work priorities. Don't be afraid to search for your counterparts in other federal agencies. Go ahead and call or email to make the connection. The book called Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi offers concrete suggestions on how to establish a network.

You're right to be focused on building collaborative networks. The government reorganization mentioned in President Obama's State of the Union will require that every federal employee build and develop new relationships to work together effectively around achieving our nation's goals.

Government leaders, nominate your outstanding federal employees for the tenth annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal (Sammies)! Considered the "Oscars of Washington," the Sammies are the most prestigious awards honoring our nation's public servants. Nominations are accepted at servicetoamericamedals.org through January 31, 2011.

By Tom Fox

 |  January 28, 2011; 10:10 AM ET |  Category:  Ask the Federal Coach Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: 'I'm like a mayor of a medium-sized city': An interview with IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman | Next: Spurring innovation in your government agency


Please email us to report offensive comments.

There is too much dishonesty, lying and cheating going on. Employees in technical jobs know that productivity is often rewarded above accuracy. The high producers are the ones rewarded. Monetary awards should be abolished. There is lack of motivation by employees that are not recognized. My idea is to give every employee some type of award or give no employee an award. In private industry most companies give a holiday bonus. Why not the federal government? Even if the award money is prorated according to the volume of work produced, at least give the lower producers some sort of cash award. I am tired of being told how much we are appreciated. Management should show every employee that they are appreciated, in some meaningful way. Do the lower rated employees have no families or living expenses?

Posted by: Larry1950 | February 3, 2011 2:52 PM

For the past 10 years I have earned outstanding service ratings, which I deserved. When I worked for DOJ I would be given a certificate, which I valued very much as well as a time off award which I used for training in my volunteer organization.

Since I was transferred to DHS I have continued to earn outstandings but no certificates and time off has been replaced with cash.

As my life and interests continue to involve volunteer community service I would prefer time off rather than cash. But most of all miss the certificates.

Posted by: CharlesMartel2 | February 2, 2011 3:12 PM

It is downright shameful that a manager at the GS14 level has no clue on how to reward and recognize employees.
Worse still, the writer states "We're looking for ideas". Which clearly indicates that there are other agency managers who are just as clueless. There's plenty of info readily available on employee rewards, different types of recognition available for GS employees, etc.- starting w/ searching on the Internet. And this inquiry was from a GS14 manager at the Dept of EDUCATION, of all places.

Posted by: katbat | February 2, 2011 7:41 AM

The best way to reward federal workers? Fire their stupid-aszed bosses.

Posted by: adrienne_najjar | January 31, 2011 10:43 AM

The best way to reward employees is to use the words "thank you" regularly and sincerely. Supervisors cannot be assured they have any other tools, such as bonuses, spot awards, or promotions. These are largely controlled by others up the chain of command. But how direct reports are treated by the first line supervisor is up to the first line supervisor. Surveys repeatedly show this relationship is the most criticized.

Posted by: Viewpoint2 | January 31, 2011 9:33 AM


Actually, I was post #2. At least this federal employee can count.

It's a terrible thing when there is so much animosity towards our federal employees. Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority here. So, what have you done to get any kind of merit bonus/raise/vacation (or anyone else who is suggesting government employees are overpaid and underworked)?

Posted by: c0lnag0 | January 31, 2011 2:03 AM

"Now is the perfect time to examine your agency's approach to recognizing and rewarding your employees." Would have been a much better lead in if the words "truly outstanding" had been inserted before "employees."

I had a very wise boss once who commented on the constant pressure from employees for "recognition," in the form of bonuses and time off. He would ask the employee, "So what have you done that should qualify you for such a reward." 90% of the time, after hearing the story, he would say: "But that is why you get a PAYCHECK."

In general, honoraria, rewards, bonuses, whatever you want to call them are way OVERDONE in government. Because government jobs and the attendant work environment is so off putting to most, these perks are used to keep people motivated rather than to reward truly outstanding efforts.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | January 30, 2011 10:49 AM

Colnago: See posts 2 and 4...I'm not the only one with this viewpoint!

Posted by: slamming | January 30, 2011 9:55 AM

FedCoach Q&A: What's the best way to reward federal employees?

The best way to reward any employee federal, state, local or private business is that if they do a good job they get to keep it, quite simple actually.

Posted by: wkcc36 | January 30, 2011 8:49 AM

Fire 80% of the highest paid federal employees and watch the country thrive. Never have so many done so little worthwhile work while being paid vast sums of money taken from those who actually benefit society.

Posted by: 1911a1 | January 30, 2011 6:28 AM

Remove ALL political appointees except a limited number of special assistants to Cabinet Secretaries, and employees in the White House. Recognize that professional federal employees are just that -- professional. DON'T suspend needed cost of living adjustments for the next 2-5 years. DO provide paths for advancement, DO ask professional staff for ways to improve things, and DO follow their advice. And yes, public recognitions of work well done are important.

Posted by: AdventurerVA | January 30, 2011 12:07 AM

Best way is to cut their pay 20% and fire 20% of them. They are way overpaid and under worked. Most are scum who continually look for ways to force non-government workers to pay more.

They want to be the elite.

Do away with their pension. If they complain cut their pay 10% more.

Posted by: txengr | January 29, 2011 11:30 PM

Best way is t cut their pay 20% and fire 20% of them. They are way overpaid and under worked. Most are scum who continually look for ways to force non-government workers to pay more.

They want to be the elite.

Do away with their pension. If they complain cut their pay 10% more.

Posted by: txengr | January 29, 2011 11:29 PM

Awards Plan:
1. Everyone get a performance review and ranking at least annualy.
2. Top ranked 10% are eligible for an award and raise.
3. Those between 40 and 90% get a raise from perhaps 1% to 3%.
4. Those ranked from 10 to 40th percentile get improvement plans and no raises.
5. The lowest 10% get 2 to 4 weeks notice of termination.

Posted by: BobNH | January 29, 2011 9:31 PM


You're kidding, right? Being a federal employee myself, I can assure you that I do not have "THE BEST insurance". Like many other policies, it covers some things, excludes others, and my premiums take a sizeable chunk out of my paycheck. AT YOUR EXPENSE? Why? Because you pay taxes? Well, in case you haven't figured it out, I pay taxes, too. Mine pay for federal salaries, the military budget, welfare programs, infrastructure projects, and a heck of a lot more than my BEST insurance policy.

Do I make big bucks? Not any more than in the private sector. In fact, my brother, working in the private sector, makes a great deal more than I do, for comparable work in a similar field and a similar level of work experience. Do I gripe about the inequities in salaries? Not really, because there's more to a job than what comes home in the paycheck.

Personally, I'm not at all unhappy WORKING FOR THE GOVERNMENT, and I do not want ONE OF THOSE 'PRIVATE SECTOR JOBS'. I like my job, I like the people I work with. I think my particular employer could do a better job in recognizing people's efforts, but it doesn't necessarily have to have a dollar sign in front. I keep being told that "our employees are our greatest asset", but any kind of award tends to be politically driven, and not necessarily merit-based. Sometimes, a pat on the back is all that's needed, and it won't cost you a dime.

Posted by: c0lnag0 | January 29, 2011 1:17 PM

Aren't they ALREADY "rewarded" ENOUGH? They....regardless of them saying they "could earn more in the private sector"...make big bucks AND have THE BEST insurance...at OUR EXPENSE!!!! If THEY'RE so unhappy WORKING FOR THE GOVERNMENT, THEY CAN ALWAYS GO GET ONE OF THOSE 'PRIVATE SECTOR JOBS" THAT THEY'RE ALWAYS SAYING PAYS MORE!!!!!

Posted by: slamming | January 29, 2011 10:04 AM

Post a Comment

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company