Trust—Hard to Earn and Easy to Lose

Cracked cement symbolizing broken trust between people or partieRegardless of the lens through which each of us views the OPM data breach, we can all agree that its historical significance and impact on federal employee trust is rather extraordinary.

While an investigation into how the data breach occurred and what corrective action might be necessary to prevent future breaches is best left to the experts, the way in which this type of non-routine matter is handled by agency leaders has a real bearing on trust. Trust is so hard to gain and sustain—and it can evaporate quickly, depending on how leaders respond to and manage through the unexpected.

While it is inevitable that the unexpected will occur, and only so much can be controlled by leadership, here are four local action steps that can help.

  1. Create a strategic plan. Define important and common terms so that—regardless of time zone, role, tenure, or level of experience—information is processed and acted upon according to common practices and standards. Without a common framework, there is risk that an individual or team could misinterpret an action and inadvertently cause an undesired outcome. For instance, a decision could be made that is not consistent with the necessary actions to reduce or eliminate an undesired variance. It is critical for leadership to establish common frameworks and language to support coordinated, expeditious, and desired actions.
  1. Build alignment between role/function and outcomes. Often organization decision making is hampered by role or function ambiguity. Departments sometimes overstep their capacity because clear boundaries and charters have not been established. It is paramount for leaders to define “swim lanes” and levels of accountability by individual, teams, and departments so that there is never any doubt about who is required to act, when, and how.
  1. Ensure that measures are in place. Establishing operational performance metrics is crucial to knowing when an undesired gap has occurred. Of course, metrics are not necessary to recognize when a catastrophic event has taken place—but the criticality and importance of metrics lie in the ability to understand the magnitude of undesired variance. A performance scorecard or dashboard is an excellent way to keep employees engaged and aligned with mission because of a common understanding and appreciation for the state of agency performance.
  1. Communicate corrective action procedures effectively. When the unexpected strikes, it is vital for corrective action to be a reflex activity. There will not be much time for analysis. In fact, if certain anticipated corrective measures have not been anticipated, trained, and understood, the agency will be starting from a position where recovery will be inhibited. Leadership cannot orchestrate a potential solution to all scenarios, but an 80-20 rule should be applied where a majority of scenarios are forecast. This projection will prevent the erosion of trust by providing rapid response and unequivocal confidence in the continuity of agency operations.

Leadership must be prepared to provide continuity in times of crisis. This includes proactive agency planning before having to respond and manage a crisis. By following the four steps outlined above, leadership can improve the chances of mitigating risk and provide the desired response to the unforeseen.

When leaders prepare their agencies to respond to the unexpected, there is a much greater chance of preserving the public trust, continuing to deliver on expected services, and support for mission.

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Performance Appraisal—An Opportunity for Engagement?

Performance evaluation formThe time has come to think about performance appraisal as more than just a dreaded, required, annual exercise.  No one would argue that performance appraisal needs to include “accountability, fairness, and alignment with the function and strategy of the agency” (U.S. Office of Personnel Management). But what is missing from this purpose statement is how these elements—and others—can contribute to better employee engagement.

Blanchard research into the factors that create a passionate work environment include performance expectations, feedback, and fairness as recommended leadership focus areas. What would happen if leaders were trained to consider and use performance appraisal as a tool to “peel the onion back” to determine how engagement levels relate to performance outcomes?

For example, the performance appraisal process might include conversations in these four areas:

  1. Barriers to high performance. Discuss the environmental factors that may be inhibiting maximum performance. This gets team members thinking about work processes that might be underdeveloped or inefficient.
  1. Opportunities for improvement and change. This element is useful for seeking continuous improvement input. It also could identify growth and autonomy opportunities for direct reports.
  1. Support for both meeting and exceeding expectations. In addition to measuring past performance against agreed-to expectations, be sure to include discussion on ways to improve performance outcomes going forward.
  1. Commitment and passion. Have an open conversation about the importance of maximum engagement and the things that may be either limiting or supporting it. This is the perfect opportunity to check for work commitment and the factors that can lead to improved engagement. 

Incorporating a broader view and talking about engagement can help agencies improve the performance management process. With guidance and training, leaders can identify and remove barriers, seek ideas for continuous improvement, and establish ways to maximize work passion.

To learn more about the Blanchard approach to engagement, visit the company’s online research archive.  All white papers are available for free immediate download.

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Who Is “On-Deck” In Your Organization?

Succession planning is usually very low on the list of agency priorities until a reminder like Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent bicycle accident occurs.  When an influential senior leader is sidelined for even a short time it reminds everyone, “Who is ready to step up and continue the mission?”

A succession planning process is an essential strategy that involves assessment, development, and communication.  An agency without a succession plan runs the risk of not being able to fulfill its mission.

So, what does an effective succession planning process look like?

Assessment: Succession planning starts with a determination of positions that should be included in the plan. Plans should also identify talent within—but also outside of internal leadership circles. Specialized skill requirements might make it necessary to identify and recruit talent from outside the agency and/or government.

Development: Identify where skill gaps exist and the degree of knowledge acquisition required to perform a future role. Many agencies are now using phased retirement programs that emphasize and enable knowledge transfer. The phased process allows for incumbents to smoothly prepare for retirement rather than come to an unexpected and sudden exit.

Communication: A final important element of the succession process is to develop a plan for communicating the strategy throughout the agency. In the absence of this information, high-potential candidates could unexpectedly exit the agency to pursue desired career advancement opportunities elsewhere—not knowing that a career path strategy has been defined.

Succession planning plays an important role in ensuring business continuity and the uninterrupted execution of an agency’s mission. Plans are always better when people have the time to think them through. The same is true when it comes to identifying and developing a next generation of leadership. Get started today!

 

About The Ken Blanchard Companies

The Ken Blanchard Company specializes in helping agencies assess, understand, and address talent and developmental gaps.  To learn more visit The Ken Blanchard Companies government solutions homepage.

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Leadership and Customer Service in the Public Sector

Hand Held Magnifying Glass over the word Service Isolated

Does customer service really matter in the public sector? Isn’t the act of working in the public sector the fulfillment of service? Not in the eyes of the taxpayer, according to the latest report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

In its 2014 report, the ACSI identifies that “Americans are less satisfied with services of the U.S. federal government for a second consecutive year, as citizen satisfaction recedes 2.6% to an ACSI score of 64.4 (scale of 0 to 100).  Overall, the services of the federal government continue to deliver a level of customer satisfaction below the private sector, and the downturn this year exacerbates the difference. Among more than 40 industries covered by the ACSI, only Internet service providers have a lower score.”

There is, and should be, an expectation that customer service be delivered in the public sector in a way that at least meets, or more preferably, exceeds, the expectations of the American public.

With the American public expecting service comparable to what they receive in the private sector, how do our public sector agencies ensure that they meet expectations?  Leadership and employee engagement are the critical elements that develop a culture and spirit of service.

Research conducted by The Ken Blanchard Companies found a strong relationship between leadership practices, employee work passion, and customer service scores.  Better leadership practices—at a strategic and operational level—lead to higher levels of employee work passion and customer satisfaction.

Strategic Leadership and Operational Leadership

From a leadership perspective, resources in the form of information and resources to do one’s job must be allocated. That is, the workforce is only as good as the tools they have to perform their roles.

Strategic leadership defines the imperatives for everyone in the organization. It is the what that provides the key relationships and metrics needed to ensure that all units follow the same strategy. Examples of strategic leadership include vision, culture, and the declaration of strategic imperatives.

Operational leadership practices provide the how in the organization. This enables departments and employees to understand how they specifically contribute to organization success. They are the procedures and policies that clarify how each unit will achieve the overall strategy.

For instance, extraordinary client service cannot be delivered unless appropriate response times are established and communicated to those responsible for delivering service. Response time can be defined in minutes or days, but an operational definition must be developed and communicated so that the appropriate workforce understands the expectation, trends can be measured, and corrective actions can be implemented as necessary.

But that is only half the job. Defining service goals is a somewhat useless exercise unless a passion exists to deliver on the goal. This passion must be fostered and nurtured by agency leadership. Rather than a culture where the workforce sees the act of responding to public inquiries as drudgery, leadership must create an environment where there is a passion for service.

This requires specialized knowledge—but many leaders have never learned how to create this vision and passion for service.  They are not naturally focused on or committed to building a customer service ethic. It’s not because they lack desire—it’s because they lack know-how.

A great place to start exploring how leadership can impact service is through the white papers: The Leadership Profit Chain, Leadership Purpose Chain in Government Agencies, and Employee Work Passion: Connecting the Dots.

For more information on how The Ken Blanchard Companies helps organizations and agencies define, promote, and deliver on a culture of outstanding service, visit www.kenblanchard.com/government

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3 Ways to Create a More Inclusive Work Environment

Businesswoman Working At Desk With Meeting In BackgroundPeople don’t show up to work as robots—they are human beings with hearts, minds, and feelings. Today’s leaders must be adept at recognizing and embracing psychological needs, especially as they relate to performance and engagement.

How do leaders accomplish this? The answer can be found in the latest research on employee work passion and the factors that contribute to it

It is a given that employees are motivated in some way. Their motivation might not always align with desired behavior and outcomes, but it is there. To channel employee energy toward larger agency goals, leaders have to embrace tools and techniques that address common needs that people bring to any work environment, including desires for collaboration, connectedness, and an opportunity to influence decisions that impact their work.

Here are three ways to get started:

  1. Include employees in the planning process. Seek employee perspectives on how to execute agency mission. For instance, how can administrators include front line personnel in developing customer care strategies?
  1. Ask people for their opinion. Doing so in a genuine way is an easy, no cost way to create passion and a sense of ownership toward the success of any initiative.
  1. Share information. Sharing senior leaders’ viewpoints as well as progress toward objectives is another low cost method that promotes inclusion.

Individuals are more committed when they know and have some say in the direction of the agency. Think of it this way: would you like to be told where you will spend your vacation, or would you prefer to be given options, information on each option, and a chance to participate in the decision process?

Information and a corresponding participatory process create more commitment, engagement, and passion than a directive decision process. By considering ways to increase inclusiveness, collaboration, and connectedness, leaders can take their first steps toward creating a more passionate and engaging work environment for their people.

For more information (and access to research) on how The Ken Blanchard Companies helps agency leaders develop motivational strategies that directly support employee work passion, please visit www.kenblanchard.com/

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Moving from Employee Engagement to Employee Work Passion: 3 Key Ideas and Resources to Help You Get Started

Next Level LeadershipOnce an individual in an official manager role recognizes there is more to do than simply manage the activity of others, a great opportunity exists to take leadership to a next level—by creating employee work passion.

While often seen as comparable to the generic idea of employee engagement, employee work passion is actually a carefully identified construct. It is about leaders creating a work environment where direct reports perform at a high level, apply discretionary effort as needed, stay with an organization, recommend the organization to others, and act as good corporate citizens. This is an important distinction and one that has garnered The Ken Blanchard Companies recent awards for excellence in research and cutting edge application.*

Blanchard’s core research has identified 12 work environment factors that lead to intentions by employees to perform in a positive manner. The research has also identified the individual process employees go through in determining whether any specific work environment is deserving of their best efforts. This is the missing ingredient in so many of today’s engagement initiatives—and a major reason for the lack of improvement after their implementation.

Leaders looking to improve engagement scores in their organizations can learn from Blanchard’s research findings. Here are three key takeaways.

  1. Evaluate your present work environment. Review Blanchard’s 12 Employee Work Passion Factors. Consider what you could do as a leader to enhance your work environment in each area. If you are a senior leader, think about how your agency promotes and supports larger culture initiatives and how leadership training can develop and support leaders at all levels.
  2. Understand the personal nature of employee engagement. Recognize ways that each employee is unique. Engage in conversations with employees about their experiences in each of the 12 areas. Take the time to learn more about individual work styles, the manner in which direct reports choose to receive feedback, and how they prefer to be supported in the completion of work activities. Adjust as necessary.
  3. See leadership as a partnership. Work together with employees to make necessary changes. The good news is that partnering with them will signal that you value their agenda as much as your own. This alone will help build connectedness, credibility, respect and commitment. People who perceive their manager to be “others-focused” tend to score higher in each of the employee work passion intentions.

Employees appreciate working for a manager who has their best interests at heart. When managers value both results and people, they put the needs, desires, and effectiveness of their teams ahead of any personal agenda. Agency leadership must begin to acknowledge that how people feel about the way they are treated and managed is a key component to long-term success. This treatment is an integral part of the relationships that are established, built, and maintained by leaders at all levels.

For more information on improving employee work passion in your department or agency, be sure to download The Ken Blanchard Companies’ government-focused four page overview which looks specifically at increasing levels of employee work passion in a government agency setting. It’s available for immediate download at the government section of the Blanchard website. For complete access to all Blanchard research, please visit the Blanchard research archives.

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*Shuck, B., Ghosh, R., Zigarmi, D., and Nimon, K. 2013. “The Jingle Jangle of Employee Engagement: Further Exploration of the Emerging Construct and Implications for Workplace Learning and Performance.” Human Resource Development Review. Volume 14, issue 1, pages 11–35.

*Zigarmi, D., Nimon, K., Houson, D., Witt, D., and Diehl, J. 2012. “The Work Intention Inventory: Initial Evidence of Construct Validity.” Journal of Business Administration Research. Volume 1, issue 1, pages 13–23.

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Perceptions, Intentions, and Performance: 3 Focus Areas for Leaders

Do the positive or negative attitudes and intentions of an agency’s employees impact that agency’s ability to achieve its goals? The answer is yes, of course.

Research by The Ken Blanchard Companies shows that employees are constantly appraising their work experiences—and that their intent to stay, use discretionary effort, perform at a high level, endorse the organization, and be good organizational citizens translates into behaviors that can be positive or negative.

Employee intentions can also influence the opinions of others—especially in the case of a disgruntled employee who, through social media or other channels, expresses negative views. When that happens, one individual’s pessimistic attitude can shape the intentions of many other prospective employees, potentially resulting in their being negatively influenced about joining the federal government workforce.

Blanchard’s ongoing research into employee work passion has identified 12 factors that influence employee perceptions of whether or not a specific work environment is deserving of their loyalty and best effort. These factors can be grouped into three broad categories.

Job factors. These include Meaningful Work, Autonomy, Task Variety, and Workload Balance. This area should be fairly straightforward and achievable for government agencies. While much debate has existed about the size of the government workforce and corresponding budgets, there is minimal argument about the significance of the work. Individual autonomy—when earned—is in everyone’s best interest. Leaders need to learn how to empower and delegate while also having in place an appropriate check and balance system to prevent errors and catastrophic failures. Task variety is also important. Leaders should be well versed in how to minimize repetitive tasks when making assignments. Workload balance also needs to be factored in to avoid employee burnout.

Organizational factors. These address fairness—both Distributive Justice, having to do with pay, and Procedural Justice, which involves decision making. Performance Expectations and Growth opportunities are also under this category. Employees want to know that compensation and decision making are fair. Leaders can demonstrate fairness by ensuring that merit increases, career growth, and performance evaluation processes are as transparent as possible. Another important driver in this category is the degree to which information is shared. Leaders need to err on the side of openness whenever possible, to ensure there is a steady flow of information sharing.

Relationship factors. These look at how connected employees are with their colleagues and also with their leaders. This is basic leadership, and involves the degree to which leaders are visibly and actively connecting to their teams with regular communication. Many employees, especially those that are salaried, spend a majority of their waking hours working. Developing relationships is critical to creating a sense of Connectedness (both with Colleagues and Leader.) Feedback and Collaboration also play a role. Leaders can enhance a sense of connectedness by demonstrating an interest in their teams, encouraging collaboration, and providing feedback. This can be accomplished in a relatively simple way by inquiring about tasks at hand and their progress, discussing resources that might be needed to perform the work, and generating ideas for continuous improvement.

Perceptions, Intentions, and Performance

Don’t let negative employee intentions undermine your agency’s culture and performance. When leaders understand and act on employee perceptions and intentions, overall engagement and productivity will improve. To learn more about The Ken Blanchard Companies’ research in this area, and how this information has helped private and public sector clients develop leadership practices that foster positive employee intentions, visit Blanchard’s research page.

 

 

 

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