Posts Tagged culture
Because front-line people deliver on the agency mission every day, they inevitably encounter opportunities for improvement. However, if your leadership style does not promote the free exchange of candid feedback, you’re probably doing your agency and the public a disservice by not receiving and acting on potentially valuable information.
Setting the tone for feedback is a leadership skill that deserves attention and practice to ensure you do not miss opportunities for individual, team, and agency improvement. So what gets in the way of a free flow of information? Here are some common pitfalls.
- Lack of candor. When a leader establishes a work environment where candor is not valued, people have a tendency to tell the leader what they believe the leader wants to hear. This creates a “yes boss” mentality where the leader’s perspective and ideas are valued and reinforced above alternative points of view. As a result, there is a loss of diversity of thinking and input.
- Fear of retribution. “Why would I risk angering my manager with a potentially controversial observation?” If people feel they will be chastised, bullied, or ridiculed for speaking their mind, they will keep potentially useful ideas to themselves.
- Talking instead of listening. Does your team practice good listening habits? Or do people listen just long enough to reinforce their own opinions? If teams are not attentive and don’t explicitly convey a desire to receive feedback, information flow is restricted.
- Lack of action. Does your team make changes based on new input and suggestions? Or do team members take more of a “my way or the highway” approach that leads to disagreement? If you really value honest, candid feedback, you have to demonstrate that it is desired, valued, and acted on.
Open communication is a key to the successful fulfillment of the agency mission. What changes do you need to make in your leadership style and behavior to allow more candid feedback to come your way? These four starting points can serve as a road map as you begin to examine your own agency’s culture.
In our last blog we reviewed four key points to ensure successful leadership assimilation, and invited our readers to comment. Today we will highlight additional tips and an insightful suggestion from one our readers.
It is essential for a new leader to fully comprehend the existing agency culture before making changes. This same need applies whether the leader has accepted a position in a new agency or has been promoted within their own agency. In both cases leaders should reflect or refresh their knowledge of the agency’s norms, patterns, and expectations. Here are four important areas that need to be examined before the new leader launches any initiatives.
- Decision Making Patterns: Understanding how information is processed, acted upon, and ultimately used in decision making can be important to learning about nuances in internal culture and politics. This area of investigation will also help to establish awareness of key stakeholders and build bridges to them. It is critical for the new leader to respect the way in which decisions are made if they want to influence outcomes, corrective actions, and potential new directions.
- Expectation Management: A new leader should take the time to explore what will be expected of them in the new role. Expectations will exist on three levels: manager, team, and agency. Communication is the key. At a team level, ask the team what they need, what has worked well in the past, and what changes might be necessary. At the manager and agency level, a series of one-on-one meetings with senior leaders and direct reports will help to charter a course with respect to desired outcomes and how to best address issues.
- Feedback: A new leader needs candid feedback to ensure expectations are met and integration into the operational flow is occurring as desired. New leaders should not hesitate to ask a simple question such as “How is it going?” This is a great way to open a dialogue and receive feedback in a non-threatening way. Further, the lost art of MBWA (Management by Walking Around) is an excellent, non-intrusive way to hear about operational activity, discuss projects, establish a presence, and build a connection to the team.
- Relationship Building: If others do not trust and respect the new leader, alienation, passive-aggressive resistance, and other undesired behaviors may emerge. One of our readers has an excellent and practical idea to ensure that integrity and openness are part of a new leader’s foundation: the new leader simply shares their calendar with the team and keeps it updated. This is an excellent way to create trust through transparency. In this way the direct report team can understand the new leader’s availability and appreciate priorities.
New initiatives are better received when leaders take the time to thoroughly understand the culture they are operating in. Increase the quality and frequency of communication to set yourself up for success in your new role.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, half of senior outside hires fail within 18 months. This can occur for many reasons, but one of the most prevalent is the newly hired leader not understanding, respecting, or practicing the organization’s procedures. It is critically important for any new manager to begin from a place of acknowledgment before starting a dialogue around change. Otherwise, organizations just reject the person and their outside ideas even though the new ideas could improve agency mission.
So, what will work to ensure the success of a new manager and the continued delivery of services in the interest of public service? Here are some best practices for new managers—and their leaders—to consider.
- Provide Opportunities for Early Wins. This is not specifically about implementing change or achieving a specific outcome. Instead, an early win should address the new manager’s fit with the agency and reinforce that the agency made the right decision. This helps the team settle in.
- Model Effective Meeting Management. Meetings can often amount to lost opportunities if not well managed. On the other hand, with a well crafted agenda and the appropriate attendees, meetings can be the perfect forum in which to dialogue on tough issues, discuss breakthrough ideas, and build team cohesion through active listening and participation.
- Help with Conflict Resolution. Because conflict is inevitable in any workplace, it is important for a new manager to understand the organization’s existing process for conflict resolution. For example, are conflicts openly discussed? Is it common to bring a third party into the process to provide an independent view? Or are conflicts generally ignored? Once the new manager understands the norm, they can deal with conflict appropriately—or, if no real process exists, they could begin laying the groundwork for a new process by preparing an outline that includes change rationale.
- Learn from a Pro. A very useful and often overlooked assimilation technique is for a manager who had previously held the same role to share their insights with the new manager. This individual can offer a perspective that is usually void of personal agenda; therefore, there is a good likelihood they will provide quality feedback.
This list is designed to be a thought starter. What would you add for leaders in public agencies? Share your thoughts in the comments section, and I will include them in my next post.
Transitioning to a new agency, a new branch, or a new role requires some homework to learn, understand, and appreciate rules and workflow. By anticipating the questions and challenges new managers may have around policy and process, you can help them get off to the best start possible.
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
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.
A true high performing culture provides an agency with its single greatest source of operational advantage and probability of achieving agency mission. It is no coincidence that the White House’s most recent budget contains language specifically connecting engagement to agency performance.
“…an employee’s investment in the mission of their organization is closely related to the organization’s overall performance. Engaged employees display greater dedication, persistence, and effort in their work, and better serve their customers—whether they are consumers or taxpayers.”
Appropriately, the 2016 budget for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) contains $66 million for leadership development, recognizing that agency leaders can enhance and leverage this expenditure by focusing on key areas such as:
Development of self. Individual contributors need to know how to provide feedback to their leaders, contribute to collaborative efforts, and constructively problem solve, and also must understand how agency values guide desired outcomes.
Development of first time leaders. Transitioning from an individual contributor to a leader of others is a critical shift. More often than not, individuals making this transition have not had prior training and development in this regard.
Continuous improvement training. As leaders advance to more progressive and expanded levels of responsibility, additional training will improve the capacity to drive the necessary elements of culture into workforce behaviors and outcomes. This will be of vital importance as the quantity of direct reports and overall responsibility expands both horizontally and vertically.
Culture as the Glue to Performance
The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) contains several statements correlating culture and leadership to performance:
- “I am constantly looking for ways to do my job better”
- “I am held accountable for achieving results”
- “Employees are recognized for providing high quality products and services”
- “My agency is successful at accomplishing its mission”
- “My supervisor listens to what I have to say”
- “Managers promote communication among different work units” (For example, communication about projects, goals, needed resources, etc.)
This sampling of FEVS statements illustrates the importance culture plays in defining and driving performance. For example, questions about recognition highlight the importance of using agency values as a way to recognize desired behaviors that support the agency’s mission.
When cultures are well defined and preserved, there is a direct correlation to performance. For leaders looking for ways to get started, here are six initial steps.
- Know what winning looks like. Agencies must define acceptable standards of performance and critical success factors, develop metrics to track progress, and embrace gap closure plans.
- Look outside as well as inside. While focusing on internal operations and policies is important, agencies must also adapt to external situations and influences to be a high performing organization.
- Think and act like an owner. Agency leadership must ensure that individuals at all levels take full responsibility for their behaviors and actions while embracing personal accountability for development and results.
- Commit to individuals. When investments are made to develop individuals and when performance is recognized, the workforce is engaged and committed to achieving maximum performance.
- Spread the courage to innovate. Maximum performance requires continuous improvement by developing systems for receiving input on how to enhance outcomes.
- Build trust through transparency. Performance is improved when the workforce understands leadership’s intent. When data about policy, direction, and performance is openly shared with healthy debate about decision making, a higher level of vested interest results.
To improve employee engagement and performance, focus on the large and small day-to-day ways your culture can be shaped. And don’t underestimate the role leaders play in that equation.
When we think about the mandates, budgets, and activities around developing leaders, we often forget to take into account an important aspect of the environment in which leaders lead—the culture of the organization. Culture can exist at various levels; for example: the overall federal government, an agency, or a branch. Wherever culture resides it must be accounted for, and integrated within, a leadership development program.
Identification and Integration
If cultural norms are to be taught to new members as basic assumptions, it is essential that a leadership development program incorporate methods for teaching these rules.
Leaders must be able to convey both explicit and implied rules and to reinforce desired behaviors to their teams. They also must know how to address and redirect unacceptable behaviors.
The first step toward accomplishing this goal is the identification of organizational values and assumptions. Values are a major underpinning of culture and define an organization’s rules of behavior. Values determine how members represent the organization to themselves and others. Basic assumptions are derived from lessons learned by the group as it solves problems. Both values and assumptions must be identified before they can be taught to new members as the expected way to perceive, think, and feel.
Manager Behavior and Culture
Once values and assumptions are identified, ongoing leadership development needs to provide models of useful day-to-day leadership behaviors.
At least three areas should be addressed.
- Communication style. This is critical to building and sustaining a desired culture because the way in which a manager communicates sends signals about how to engage with others. In other words, what type of communication is acceptable—top-down only; consultative; peer-to-peer advising; bottom-up feedback?
- Relationship style. This is how leaders interact with peers and direct reports. For instance, are relationships predominately adversarial, competitive, and distrustful, or supportive and collegial?
- Decision making style. Leaders need to be equipped with appropriate decision making practices that will contribute to the successful completion of tasks in support of agency mission. Employees need to understand both formal and informal approval processes.
But don’t stop there—consider other ways in which model behavior can be identified, reinforced, and publicized. Make sure actions and strategies are aligned to other key elements of the culture. For example, don’t overlook visually recognizable organization artifacts that should be taken into consideration. Architecture, furniture, and dress code provide tangible signs of behavior norms and parameters. Leaders need to be aware and use artifacts to support processes and systems that drive desired behaviors.
Future Perspectives on Culture
Does the federal government have a culture? Absolutely—there are written as well as unwritten rules about how things get done. Both need to be addressed in the development of leaders. In future posts we will explore how culture impacts agency performance and culture change.
The Ken Blanchard Companies specializes in leadership development and the connection to building healthy, desirable cultures. For more information on Blanchard’s leadership development and culture building solutions—specifically in a government setting—explore the culture section of Blanchard’s website.