Federal Employment Viewpoint Survey—Part Two by Wendy Myers & James Squires

Don’t take your FEVS results at face value

How a great overall score can hide problem areas

In a previous post, we recommended three ways agencies should follow up on their Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) results. We talked about facilitated conversations, looking at FEVS scores from all angles, and acting quickly but thinking longer-term.

That was a formula for actively using your results. Here, I’d like to share how one of our agency clients applied this formula to precisely detect areas where its employees were feeling less engaged, satisfied, and included and how they conducted action planning to address the challenges identified.

Now you might be expecting an example from the bottom of the Partnership for Public Service’s Best Places to Work rankings but this agency’s FEVS results usually rank in the top 5%. Looking at their numbers from year to year, you’d think this agency was doing a pretty good job and that its employees were engaged and quite satisfied with the organization. 

And in the aggregate, you’d be right. But this agency suspected that its overall results weren’t conveying the entire story—especially at the front lines of its mission. To develop a more granular view of the organization, the agency wanted to dig deeper than the standard survey responses and the Human Capital Assessment and Accountability Framework (HCAAF) indices provided by OPM. It wanted to understand the thinking behind those responses—within specific departments and offices.

Detecting areas of concern within FEVS results

We started by conducting an in-depth analysis of our client’s FEVS results. For both the organization as whole and for each individual office, we:

  • Linked the FEVS questions to higher-level categories of interest to the organization such as results orientation, mission-focus, employee satisfaction, work-life, and leadership

  • Developed grades for each category to quickly see areas of strength and weakness

  • Identified upward and downward trends by comparing current results to previous years

As the agency suspected, there were areas of concern hidden within the overall, positive picture. Our analysis detected that certain offices were generating consistent, “red-flag” responses to questions regarding issues such as:

  • The fairness of procedures and practices

  • Equal treatment for all employees

  • Whether employees’ voices were being heard

  • Fears of reprisals from those higher in the organization for bringing forward concerns

These were not universal issues. But although they were limited to specific offices and departments, they did indicate serious deficiencies that could put the agency, its employees, and its mission at risk.

Discovering why employees were seeing red

Our analysis helped the agency pinpoint problem areas and to see that in certain places, things were getting worse. But before taking action, the agency needed to identify and understand the root causes of the red flags.

The agency selected one of its low-ranking organizations for detailed, in-person assessments. We visited the divisions in this organization and conducted:

  • Facilitated conversations with staff and managers separately

  • Leadership interviews with senior executives

During the facilitated conversations, we met first with groups of employees and separately with groups of managers. By conducting separate conversations, we eliminated any possibility of an intimidation factor and we were able to clearly identify gaps in perceptions, assumptions and expectations between the two groups. These gaps pointed directly to the root causes of lower FEVS scores. Sometimes, the gaps weren’t very wide. For example, imprecise communications, slight differences in terminology or minor procedural misalignments generated considerable wasted effort, frustration, and conflict. In other cases, the gaps existed because long-term employees used to the “old way of doing things” were resisting the changes needed to move the organization forward in a new direction based on new mandates or requirements.   Conversations brought these gaps to light.

It’s important to know how issues on the ground fit into the big picture. In order to capture management perspectives on goals, strategy, and performance, we conducted one-on-one interviews with senior executives. This gave us context and enabled us to identify gaps in knowledge and understanding between leadership and the workforce. We discovered instances where employees did not clearly understand their division’s goals and strategy. As a result, employees didn’t understand exactly what they were being asked to do or why. Decisions seemed arbitrary and they felt left out of the process.

Communicating what we discovered

We organized the processes of facilitating conversations and conducting executive interviews so that they generated highly structured data. We mapped that data into Suntiva’s organizational assessment model, then used the model to develop our analysis and deliver our findings back to senior management.

We’ve matured our assessment model over the course of hundreds of engagements. It addresses 10 standard organizational elements. Each element is supported by:

  • Corresponding questions we ask during the discovery phase

  • Dedicated analytics, tools, and assessment methodologies

Once we analyzed response data and developed conclusions for each individual element, we rolled them up and assessed them as an integrated ecosystem in order to determine:

  • Which dynamics were root causes and which were symptoms

  • What types of strategies would be most effective

  • Where action would have the most impact

In our presentation to agency executives, we quantified a specific set of issues, identified the root causes of those issues and provided prioritized recommendations for making improvements. The happy ending of this story is that the agency took those recommendations and implemented them by establishing ongoing working groups. Each working group was assigned to a leadership sponsor, but is driven by employees and managers.

We also supported the implementation with one-on-one coaching designed to help leaders address specific concerns with their styles or practices that were identified during the assessment.

While seeing dramatic improvements to FEVS scores can usually take several years, through check-ins with the organization’s leaders we understand that progress is trending in a positive direction.  

Have you had experience with facilitated conversations or assessment models in your agency? We would love to hear what you learned—either about your organization or the processes themselves.

About Suntiva:
Suntiva is a management and performance consulting company located in Falls Church, VA that focuses on supporting 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.

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