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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Robert Lavigna
March 10, 2017
Last month, I shared highlights from my organization’s national survey of employee engagement across the U.S. workforce. Our poll generated data on the levels of engagement in the private and public sectors overall; as well in federal, state and local government.
Our results, by sector:
|Private Sector||44 percent fully engaged|
|Local Government||44 percent fully engaged|
|Federal Government||34 percent fully engaged|
|State Government||28 percent fully engaged|
Our survey also identified the drivers of engagement – the workplace and organizational cultural factors most important to employee engagement. The results show that, across all sectors, “management and leading change” is the most significant workplace factor (driver) of engagement. In other words, improving how organizations manage overall, and manage change specifically, will move the needle of engagement.
This is important because engagement drives performance, especially in government. We can have the best ideas, policies and even technology but if government agencies can’t execute, they can’t succeed. And execution requires a talented and engaged workforce.
But what does “management and leading change” really mean?
To conduct our national poll, we administered our organization’s engagement survey. We designed the survey specifically for the public sector, by incorporating what we consider to be the best questions from existing surveys of public sector employees. Our survey includes questions in ten categories, including leadership and managing change, which our regression analysis identified as the most significant workplace driver of engagement. The questions in this category are:
Our driver analysis showed these factors have the greatest potential to improve employee engagement, including in government. In other words, public sector organizations need to focus on helping leaders pay attention to—and demonstrate—these behaviors.
Our results also show there is room for improvement in public sector leadership. Among the nine workplace factors we assessed, leadership and managing change is the lowest-scoring (55 percent positive responses) in government. Moreover, the government score is significantly lower than the private sector score (65).
Breaking the results down by level of government, our research revealed the following scores for leadership and managing change (percent positive responses, on 0-100 scale):
Among the eight questions in the leadership and managing change dimension, government scored particularly low on these two:
In both cases, the government scores are not only low, but also significantly lower than the private sector scores.
Applying the Research
So what does this mean for improving employee engagement in government? Since my glass is usually half-full, I see the results as a bad news story, but with a silver lining. That is, we should certainly have concern that the scores for leadership and managing change in government are low, including compared to the private sector.
However, the low scores also mean there is enormous opportunity to improve how we lead and manage change in government. Improvement in this dimension will move the needle of employee engagement — and therefore improve government’s ability to deliver consistently high quality service to the people we serve.
Developing the skills to manage change effectively should be a priority in public sector leadership development and workforce/succession planning. This is particularly critical given the rapid greying of the public sector workforce, which is older than the private sector workforce. As baby boomers exit the workforce in large numbers, government needs to develop the next generation of leaders. These leaders must be comfortable with change, and be able to manage it effectively.
A key step is to identify and describe what leadership means. What are the organization’s leadership values, behaviors, expectations and competencies? The answers should create a framework for leadership selection, development and succession planning.
In the federal government, for example, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has identified five executive core qualifications (ECQs) that define the competencies that senior executives need to be good at.
Other government agencies have developed their own leadership values and competencies, often through processes that allows leaders and employees to provide their input—and reach consensus—on what good leadership in their organization means. This common understanding, in the context of the mission and culture of the jurisdiction/agency, makes it possible to develop new leaders who can build and maintain high-engagement organizations.
Author: Bob Lavigna is director of the Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement, a unit of CPS HR Consulting, an independent government agency. Previously, he was assistant vice chancellor and director of human resources for the University of Wisconsin and VP-research at the Partnership for Public Service. Email: [email protected].