Monday, April 1, 2013

Your Employee Survey Data Should Drive Internal Communication Strategy… But Be Careful

By: Jeff Brooke, Principal Consultant, Organizational Communication & Change Management, The MITRE Corp.*
Phoot of Jeff Brooke

If you’ve been in the government more than a few years you’ve probably seen the proportion of knowledge workers go up. “Knowledge work” is a catch-all for work that requires a lot of non-routine problem solving and creative thinking, and such workers are typically more interdependent. This begs the question, are leaders and communicators shifting priorities to support this change?


Commitment to peers, not organizations

Recent research by the CEB Communications Leadership Council indicates that “learning from” and “contributing to” peers are the top drivers of productivity in knowledge-based organizations. The report concludes that “Commitment to a peer network, not an organization, drives collaborative performance.” It adds that leaders who provide tools and resources for collaboration are far more appreciated than leaders who “inspire.”  (The CEB research is currently in progress, titled Adapting Leadership Communication to a Networked Environment).

The CEB suggests that limited communication resources should focus less on communicating “values” and making leaders seem inspiring, and more on “helping leaders activate employee networks.” Some activities they recommend include allowing employees to understand peer workflow, access to peers, and role modeling collaborative behaviors.


Don’t chase the lowest communication scores

Strong communication shops use several data sources to prioritize needs and develop strategies. Your agency’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey data (the annual OPM-driven survey) should be a key source in this mix.
Screenshot of the 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey website
OPM 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey site
But the CEB findings point to the importance of looking at how your scores on the OPM survey relate to each other rather than just going after the lowest scores.

For example, the 2012 OPM survey question “Leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment” scored 43% positive government-wide, and “Employees in my work unit share job knowledge with each other” scored 72%. These two questions track nicely to the two items of the CEB study. Though counterintuitive, the study suggests putting more resources to support “sharing job knowledge” despite its nearly 30 point lead over “leaders motivate.”


What’s the special sauce for your agency? Explore your survey data

The statistical correlations that led to the CEB conclusions hold true for many organizations, but definitely not all. The relationships between questions on the survey vary by agency—sometime a lot.
Screenshot of Best Places to Work in the Federal Government website
The Partnership for Public Service Best Places to Work site
It underscores the need to connect with someone in your agency, OPM, or The Partnership for Public Service, who can generate and interpret the statistics behind your agency’s existing data and help you uncover the best place to invest your communication resources.

What are you doing? Are you positioning leaders to show support for collaborative communities? How? Have you connected with HR on statistical analysis of your agency’s survey data? What did you find, and did you come to different conclusions in your agency? Please share your thoughts and experiences.

You can also check out Jeff's previous presentations for FCN over at the Federal Communicators Network on SlideShare.

* MITRE is a not-for-profit organization that operates research and development centers for sponsoring federal agencies. Jeff is also a Senior Lecturer in Organizational Communication at Northeastern University.


1 comment:

  1. Jeff,
    Really like your points about FEVS data -- they should all be seen as a starting point from which you dig deeper in the context of your organization's culture, NOT as a "truth" about your organization.

    Any time you ask human beings to tell you the way they feel via pre-defined questions that they can only answer five pre-defined ways, you're going to need to dig.

    That's why I view the FEVS as a launching point for further discussion about issues you know are relevant and important to your organization (which is what we are doing with the FEVS at the USGS).

    I also realized that I have met you, Jeff, at a strategic internal comm. conference in Crystal City (I presented, you MC'd/moderated).

    Good to see you again:-)


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