FedSmith.com Users Provide Suggestions for Improving the Federal Work Experience

FedSmith.com recently asked our users for their suggestions on ways to improve the federal work experience. The responses covered a number of areas respondents felt needed improvement, such as agency leadership or dealing with problem employees. The author takes a closer look at the feedback received and gives his analysis as to what it means for the federal workforce.

FedSmith.com recently ran a survey in which users were asked for their suggestions on improving the federal work experience (see Tapping a Valuable Resource: The Federal Workforce for the introduction that went along with the original survey).

The first question asked was, “If you were asked, what recommendations would you make to agency leaders to improve agency performance?”

We received over 200 responses. If there is one thing I have learned in 40+ years of consulting it is that employees know when there are practices that are problematic or ineffective. They have a strong desire to work in a well-managed, successful organization, and have many ideas to improve operations.

Here, in addition to recommendations specific to an agency, the responses fell into two dominant patterns. One not was that agencies should do something to improve morale. Nor surprisingly a frequent recommendation was to increase salaries. There are a couple of respondents who claimed they were performing the work of a higher level job but had not been promoted to save salary dollars.

A second group of recommendations stated that their agency needed better managers and supervisors. The concerns included discrimination, favoritism, excessive micro management, dealing effectively with poor performers, better feedback, etc. They want people promoted who have ‘people skills.’ Frankly my impression is that government has never invested adequately in the selection and development of supervisors and managers. Employees who share that concern should do a Google search on what Google as a company did to improve the effectiveness of their managers. Middle managers have more impact on performance than any other factor.

Getting rid of the poor performers – the “deadwood” — was mentioned frequently. That shows up as a key concern in the annual OPM survey as well. As someone who consults on performance management, I know too many managers find it’s easier to give satisfactory ratings. But the fact that it goes on is a source of aggravation for other employees. It contributes to the morale problem. A couple also mentioned the need to stop employees from watching porn.

A related series of responses argued for empowering employees. Again my experience tells me people want to feel like they accomplished something. It’s essential for growth and development. It’s also essential to job satisfaction. Employees dislike supervisors who micromanage. That is evidence of an ineffective supervisor. They want recognition “for those who get the work done.”

They believe there are too many layers of management. They know that it impedes performance, adds costs, and interferes with communication. Several mentioned the need to reduce the bureaucracy.

There are also a number of responses that expressed a desire for better communications. They want face to face interaction, and they want opportunities for upward feedback. As one said, “We’re adults and can handle bad news.” They would like to understand agency goals and to have regular feedback on progress. They see more extensive use of metrics as a way to stay abreast of how their agency or team is doing. They want managers and leaders who are open to employee ideas and suggestions.

A number mentioned the hiring process, arguing it takes far too long to fill vacancies. The process is “broken.”

Overall the recommendations confirm once again for me that people want their agency to be well managed. What is not stated but implicit is that they feel frustrated by the impediments to doing a good job. Agencies would benefit from listening to their people.

About the Author

Howard Risher is a private consultant who focuses on pay and performance. His career extends over 40 years and includes years managing consulting practices for two national firms. He recently became the editor of the journal Compensation and Benefits Review. He has written four books, including Aligning Pay and Results. He has an MBA and Ph.D from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.