Creating a Culture of Engagement – Webinar Recap

Employee engagement, evidenced by displays of dedication, persistence, effort and overall attachment to organization and mission, is a key factor in business success, but it can be a struggle for government organizations. Organizational leaders seeking to cultivate a culture of engagement need tangible examples of how to successfully move the needle in a positive direction. The annual Employee Viewpoint Survey (EVS) can provide agencies with a tangible way to measure employee engagement.

The Creating the Employee Experience slide from the Cultivating a Culture of Engagement PowerPoint presentation. It gives 10 examples of things that make employees stay, such as feeling empowered, valued, and trusted, and when they are challenged, paid well, and receive mentoring.

This webinar provides a deeper look at workforce engagement in the Government. Led by DOL thought leader Mika Johanna Cross, a panel of experts from OPM, HUD, DOL, and BEP take us through how organizations can change their culture one small step at a time. Justin Johnson of OPM identifies challenges and success factors, such as understanding engagement as a product, and the need to make it a personal interaction. Towanda Brooks shares HUD’s success through leadership strategy with the “Department of Opportunity “and the importance of building trust. BEP strategist Kristin McNally reviews their six-step information sharing strategy for successfully engaging a highly diverse workforce. Finally, Sydney Rose describes the DOL “Cinderella story” of Secretary Perez’ efforts to personally listen to the Department’s widely distributed workforce, taking DOL from 2nd-to-last to the top 10 best places to work in the federal government.

According to this panel of experts, the main drivers of employee engagement are:

  • Constructive performance conversations
  • Career development and training opportunities
  • Work-life balance
  • Inclusive work environment
  • Employee involvement
  • Communication from management

A key to success is changing culture one small step at a time. While change is never easy, these strategies may make you rethink how your own organization approaches employee engagement.

Our moderator, Mika Johanna Cross, is from the Office of Strategic Outreach, Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS), U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). While working at OPM as a President’s Management Council Interagency Fellow, Mika helped create an Employee Engagement Community of Practice (eCOP) for Unlocking Federal Talent, OPM’s interactive data visualization dashboard that helps Federal agencies use data to create a more engaged workplace.


Our first speaker, Justin Johnson, is ‎Executive Director of the Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) Council, ‎U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Justin works with senior officials across government to implement the President’s Management Agenda for People and Culture, including efforts to improve employee engagement, the Senior Executive Service and Federal hiring.

Justin kicked off the discussion by sharing OPM’s definition of employee engagement:

The employee’s sense of purpose that is evident in their display of dedication, persistence and effort in their work or overall attachment to their organization and mission.

It’s not about donuts on Friday, it’s about helping people have a better sense of what’s expected of them at work. Engagement cannot be delegated to HR. Everyone has a role in it. If HR is your entire engagement team, you’re in trouble. OPM now has an “engagement” lead inside every single office across their organization, and they’ve seen a rise in their EVS scores.

OPM manages the annual Employee Viewpoint Survey (EVS) and they’ve learned that engagement is very much a local issue. Agencies can now parse EVS data to see which of their organizations are engaged or not, to develop a strategy to increase engagement. Once you identify your strategy, you must stick with it, give it a chance to work. As an example, one organization at OPM focused solely on the question “I believe something will be done with this data.” They listened, and showed people how their feedback was being used, and that their opinions really did matter. When people were convinced that their opinions were being heard, participation went up.

It’s all about people. When employees move past “roles” and learn to see managers as people, they understand that, when tough decisions come down, the manager is not trying to make things difficult, but it’s a real person who has to deliver bad news.

Tools from OPM

To help agencies improve engagement, OPM offers:

  •—anyone w/.gov or .mil email address can sign up for an account, which will allow access to additional content beyond what the public can see; includes analysis and communications tools; tons of other info and videos.
  • HR University—targeted to HR, but applicable to all employees, particularly the “Manager’s Corner.” They offer a course on maximizing employee engagement. USDA, employees were encouraged to take it, and over 1200 USDA employees so far have taken the course.
  • In September 2015, OPM published Engaging the Federal Workforce: How To Do It & Prove It.


Our next speaker, Towanda Brooks, is Chief Human Capital Officer from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Towanda aligns human capital management strategies, policies and initiatives, including talent management, learning and development; recruitment and staffing; employee labor relations; and performance management and outcomes programs, in support of HUD’s mission.

Support from senior leaders was key to increasing engagement at HUD. They dramatically increased EVS scores by:

  • Involving people at all levels of the organization
  • Setting high participation goals
  • Widely sharing data

A big challenge is how to connect engagement and customer experience. There is a ton of research around how engagement impacts bottom line. When people aren’t engaged they are not as productive or efficient, and quality suffers. They discovered they had a big disconnect between employees and overall organizational strategy.

HUD focused on helping managers learn how to effectively gather employee feedback. They developed a template to help managers spark those conversations, and train them on how to frame the conversation in a productive way, to surface problems so they can be addressed.


Our third speaker, Kristin McNally, is a Human Capital, Engagement & Communications Strategist at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), U.S. Department of the Treasury. Kristin leads Strategic Communications for BEP’s Human Capital and Engagement initiatives, which include their Human Capital Strategic Plan and longstanding Best Place to Work efforts.

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is a manufacturing agency with two facilities; one in DC and one in Texas. They have roughly 1,800 employees, and several unions. Their manufacturing role is unique in government, and many employees have been there a long time. The average employee tenure is 20 years, but they just celebrated someone reaching 50 years of Federal service. Employee ages range from 21-82, so it can be a challenge to reach everyone with the same message.

Five years ago, BEP had very low FEVS scores; they were ranked 219 out of 224 agency subcomponents. By actively improving employee engagement, within three years, they’d moved up to 47. Their focus was on accountability, visual branding such as posters, senior managers walking/talking, and giving employees time and encouragement to take the survey. “Whether you’re happy or sad, tell us!”

They listened to employee suggestions, and made efforts to show they were taking feedback seriously. For example, in their production environment, people don’t have time to go offsite to eat lunch, so they improved the food in their cafeteria, but they are constantly reminded that “It’s not all about sushi day.” They needed to build trust. When you trust employees, you build stronger trust in the organization.

They published a Human Capital Strategic Plan to tie strategic people imperatives to organization goals. It’s important to realize you can’t make everyone happy all the time. They ran two mandatory training campaigns: one focused on customer service, and the other on personal accountability.

They’ve sustained several organizational efforts around accountability, such as their EngageMEnt in Action program. They set expectations during new hire orientation, and focus on training and development to reinforce expected behaviors. How we treat each other, as well as customers, is important. They adopted language from the OPM report to define engagement. It’s not just about data or survey results, it’s how you feel when you walk in the door.

Employees don’t see top-level managers very often, so people used to think something bad was happening when top managers walked the floor. They’ve changed that perception by sharing what happens behind closed doors, being transparent, showing how feedback is used to make change. Their Associate Director for Management/CIO recently won the Causey Award – he founded their Best Places to Work program.


Our final speaker, Sydney Rose, is Director and Chief Human Capital Officer at the Human Resources Center, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management (OASAM), U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Ms. Rose provides leadership, guidance, and technical expertise in management of human resources, including staff recruitment and development, personnel systems management, and labor management partnerships.

Hearing the common themes from all these agencies is validating, shows that we’re finally finding the right tools to get consistent results across government.

In 2013, DOL was tied for 2nd-worst (large) agency to work. EVS participation was very low, their former management team didn’t see the value, but the new agency head believes engaged employees drive everything else. They now focus on participation instead of score, because it’s more important to hear from people than worry about your score.

The DOL Secretary and several high-level staff traveled to field offices and held listening sessions all across the country with employees and stakeholders; identified common themes around training, tools, feedback, work/life balance. Many employees had never had direct access to HQ leadership before. There was lots of jaded skepticism from employees at first, but they continued to listen, and grabbed low-hanging fruit (e.g., put microwaves in cafeteria, improved signage in HQ bldg) to gain some quick wins and demonstrate they were serious.

They engaged and partnered with the unions to help promote and encourage feedback. All their unions promoted the survey to their membership, saying, “Leadership can’t help if you don’t tell them what you need.” They are working with union partners to customize future surveys. They’ve also implemented workplace flexibility programs, and 90% of positions at DOL are now telework-eligible.

DOL hosted internal media campaigns, including drafting email language to help managers promote the EVS. They have continual discussions; they even asked managers to let employees fill out the survey during the time they usually had team meetings.

To minimize survey fatigue—recognize people are overloaded, but keep pushing them to take it. When people say nothing has changed, you need to show that change HAS happened, even if it’s not the one thing that particular employee cares about. Encourage collegial competition amongst teams, to see who can get the highest participation rate.

An Ideation platform called Ideamill helps DOL crowdsource solutions. They’re building a better DOL with an online platform to learn about engagement efforts. They also set up an email box to gather questions and feedback. Important – STAFF IT so ideas don’t go into a black hole. Just keep listening, let people know you hear them.

In 2014 and 2015 they vastly improved their EVS scores, moving way up the rating scale. For the past two years, Labor has been recognized as one of the best places to work in the Federal government. Watch out, NASA!

Closing Thoughts

Question: How can we inspire a new set of competencies for leaders, from original employee onboarding to growing a new class of leaders in the federal workforce?

Justin—OPM has 5 competencies for managers: strategic thinking, developing others, business intelligence, accountability, interpersonal skills. Engagement and inclusion goals and language are built into all manager performance plans.

Tawanda—Leadership growth and development is critical; HUD leadership had to evolve, so they created a coaching program to help managers motivate employees and be better leaders. Continuous communication with managers, both in their roles as leader and employee. Focus on every single level, clearly develop career paths to management. Document how to become a leader at every level. The developed the enterprise leadership concept – allow employees to do things they love as part of their job; helps to keep good employees around, inspires creativity and innovation, builds trust and autonomy

Sidney—What’s the future of work? Workplace flexibility—90% of employees are eligible to telework; many are now 100% full-time virtual workers; it’s working well, has not had any negative impact on productivity. Many managers need soft skills training—they are technically proficient, but not may not have the right mix of skills to cover the “people” side of the job. They created a soft skills training program for managers called Leading At Labor. It started as a 1-day session, but it’s been so successful they’re expanding to 4 days.

Kristin—Focus on their future vision, looking a decade ahead to imagine what their workforce will look like down the road and plan accordingly.

Key Take-Aways

  • If your HR department is the only place in the organization focused on engagement, you’re in trouble. Engagement is local, must be embedded at every level;
  • Keep your approach positive;
  • Top-level support, visibility and communication can break past skepticism and drive meaningful change;
  • Unions can be strong partners to increase engagement and survey participation;
  • Actively show people you are listening and taking action on their feedback – particularly if the changes may not be immediately visible to employees.
  • We’re all in this together!

You can view the presentation slides (PPT, 3.4 MB, 20 slides) or watch the webinar in its entirety to learn more about this topic.


For more content like this, join the Customer Experience Community (CX-COP).

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

GitHub LogoEdit