The 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) recently issued by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) shines a bright light on perceptions of engagement, job satisfaction, and workplace inclusiveness among federal employees.
The new FEVS scores clearly indicate how those perceptions are trending. The majority of agencies saw their scores increase one to three percentage points. But the numbers don’t explain what’s behind those trends—or whether they might be considered “good” or “bad for a particular agency.
What’s lacking is context and a clear understanding of why employees are feeling the way they do. Depending on the agency, division, or office, increases or decreases could be the result of many different causes—including chronic dissatisfaction, acute reactions to cultural change, less-than-effective initiatives, or payoffs from persistent, long-term efforts.
Right now—when your FEVS scores are top of mind with both management and employees—is the perfect time to drill down and discover what’s really happening within your organization.
Here are three keys to illuminating the full story behind your FEVS results:
1. Find out what your employees really think through facilitated conversations—When you check your FEVS results, you might see, for example, that “trust in supervisors” has increased. That could be great news, especially if you were focused on achieving that goal.
But it doesn’t tell you what “trust” means to your employees, why they think “trust” has improved,” or which of your efforts may have produced that improvement. Without a precise understanding of “trust,” as your employees define it, you could be targeting one thing while FEVS measure something else entirely. That’s because FEVS wasn’t designed to answer questions about root causes. But your employees can.
Facilitated conversations among your employees will uncover the underlying factors that are driving your FEVS scores—what employees are really thinking and why they feel that way.
During a “facilitated conversation,” a professional moderator leads employees through a productive discussion that centers on specific topics and goals (typically focusing on particularly high or low FEVS scores or areas that are significantly trending up or down). The moderator keeps the discussion on topic, keeps it moving, and makes sure all voices are heard within the allotted time by:
- Defining specific objectives for what you want to learn in relation to your FEVS scores
- Developing a program for capturing a valid base of input
- Analyzing results and incorporating them into an action plan
A streamlined program of professionally facilitated conversations will capture the actionable insights you can use—without unduly distracting your employees from their duties. The effectiveness of facilitated conversations depend on two success factors:
- Commitment to change: Having asked for your employees’ input, what you do next will send a powerful message. Doing nothing will reinforce cynicism and negativity. But you can expect positive results if you take meaningful action to address the root causes that are driving how your employees feel.
- Closing the loop: Make sure you let your employees know how the results of their conversations will be used—then follow up with them to report on the actions and outcomes that follow from their participation.
These two factors help ensure that FEVS isn’t seen as just a pro forma exercise but an effective tool for managing toward more effective mission performance.
2. Look at your scores from all angles—Make sure you examine the overall direction of your FEVS results, not just the numbers from any single year. Say this year’s increase shows improvement over 2014 but still reflects a decline since 2012. If you’re in the early stages of an initiative, the 2015 results should be encouraging. If your program is more than three years old, perhaps it’s time to consider some adjustments.
You’ll also want to review the numbers for specific divisions or offices. These may vary widely from agency-wide results—especially at the level of individual questions. Even if your numbers do align with those of other organizations, you can’t assume they result from similar causes.
3. Act quickly but think long-term—You might be saying that there’s no way to address all your challenges or opportunities before the next FEVS is issued in the spring, so why even start? But as the saying goes, every journey begins with a single step. Get started now and determine what your first and subsequent steps should be. Target quick wins, but set longer-term goals. Roll out pilot programs. Then use the next survey to assess your initial direction and forward progress.
The key to sustained progress is focus. Don’t spread yourself too thin and try to do everything all at once. Instead, choose the one or two things that will have the most impact on employee experience in your organization. Begin now to dive deeply into those areas. If you do those one or two things well, the results of those successes will spill over into other areas as well. Also, don’t try to do everything yourself; involve your employees in action planning and implementation. That will spread the workload while gaining buy-in and commitment from your workforce.
How do high-scoring agencies stay at the top of the rankings? Scan down the list of FEVS results and you see that the same agencies earn roughly the same scores over the years. Why do some agencies rank at the top so consistently?
The answer is that high-ranking agencies do three things well:
- They drill down past the numbers to understand why employees feel as they do
- They view FEVS as a tool for assessing trends, not just a once-a-year scorecard
- They proactively respond as soon as new results are released—giving themselves as much time as possible to effect improvements before the next survey
High scoring agencies use FEVS as a tool and input for action planning. Some even use it as their benchmark metric for performance. Having developed ways to understand and improve the specific dynamics that affect employee engagement, job satisfaction and inclusion, FEVS becomes a dashboard for their progress.
The key to their success is that they’re constantly learning and applying what works on the ground. That’s how they can drive, not just react to, their FEVS results.
Suntiva is a management and performance consulting company located in Falls Church, VA that focuses on supporting federal government agencies. Suntiva provides services that enable agencies to plan, deliver and oversee IT programs, improve organization performance, develop their employees, validate program results, and manage the acquisition lifecycle. Suntiva makes organizations, programs, and employees measurably successful—by solving critical challenges with great minds and great hearts.