Know the Real-time Pulse of Your Workforce

There is no large-scale survey effort in government with a more sweeping impact on employee time and attention than the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FedView). Agencies and sub-agencies throughout the government MUST act on the results – and the actions MUST impact results in the future (FedSmith).  

The intent of the survey is positive; engage employees to identify problems and then make improvements. Unfortunately for agencies, the best laid action plans become very difficult to evaluate effectively. By the time action plans come to fruition, other surveys may have been administered, other priorities identified, and almost everyone who worked on the initial analysis and planning has moved on to other pastures.

This assessment is not an indictment of surveys, or the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey in particular. Rather, it is an indictment of an archaic system that relies on once-yearly snapshots for the measurement of progress. 

In a hospital, a patient with a known problem is often monitored continuously to track vital statistics, such as one’s pulse. In the hospital setting, the continuous data stream can provide real-time evidence of conditions getting better, getting worse, or stagnating in response to treatment.

Similarly, in the organizational setting, leaders should begin thinking more about real-time data tracking (Intel) as a way to gauge workforce engagement.

Survey data is one piece of the puzzle. If you can’t define the desired strategic outcome associated with a particular attitude or perception identified through a survey, then organizational members should question the importance of developing any action plans to address it. Until an organization adequately knows what its completed puzzle should look like, it could be a mistake to place burdensome constraints on stakeholders to develop tactical action plans in response to survey results.

Assuming what you are doing is strategic, how should you properly respond to survey results?

First, identify outcomes other than survey perceptions that would demonstrate success of any initiative. If you cannot identify one outcome other than employee perceptions from a survey, it is difficult to develop a business case that an action is strategically oriented.

Next, determine ways that the identified outcomes can be continuously measured. This is extremely important. When people say, “We won’t know if it’s successful for a couple years,” this is an excuse for inaction – what they are really saying is either “We have no idea how this should be measured” or “I’d prefer that this be measured when I’m gone and someone else is accountable for it.” Success can be measured at all phases of any strategic action or project.

In addition, success can and should be measured real-time. Certainly the term “real-time” does mean different things to different organizations (Forbes) - but real-time, for most leaders, is certainly not defined as being only an annual data collection. Imagine a sub-survey delivered to a small sample of employees weekly or monthly that continuously tracks key attitudes and perceptions. This data could be graphed in a pulse-like chart with key organizational events and outcomes mapped onto it to demonstrate impact.

When monitoring data in this way, we can be organizational doctors; assessing real-time whether our interventions are successful or failing - through the integration of both attitudes and objective data.

Dr. Paul Eder is a  Senior Consultant with The Center for Organizational Excellence, Inc  (COE – http://www.center4oe.com/). The opinions in this piece are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of COE or innovategov.org.

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