Federal Coach: A cheat sheet for engaging employees (Yeabsira Petros)
Published: April 5
The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and The Washington Post’s On Leadership site jointly produce the Federal Coach, hosted by Tom Fox, director of the partnership’s Center for Government Leadership. The goal is to “engage, inspire and learn from you, the federal worker, whether you are a new hire, a contractor or a manager at the highest level.”
As a federal leader, you no doubt have a lot on your plate, and it may be tempting to shrug off employee complaints about their jobs and organization. But job satisfaction drives employee engagement and ultimately leads to better performance.
The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings provide a benchmark to measure employee attitudes, to identify signs of trouble and to prompt you to find ways to better manage your most important asset — your employees.
To help boost the morale and jobsatisfaction of your employees, here are some tips from the DOT playbook:
■Drop by employee meetings. To help better understand how your team is accomplishing the agency’s mission, consider stopping by group meetings. Ask participants what they are discussing and offer any insights that you might have. Two minutes of comments from you might save weeks of discussion and false starts. And by observing how your employees interact, you might be able to identify future leaders.
■Listen to your employees. As a federal manager, consider holding listening sessions with your employees on a regular basis. This will give you valuable insights into their perspectives. Following these sessions, share with your team the issues or behaviors that you would personally seek to improve upon.
■Let employees know you. A key to being a successful leader is transparency. Try giving employees access to your calendar and sending out weekly updates to share results about your recent efforts and your planned areas of focus. These updates will help give your team a chance to see your vision and how their work plays a role.
■Celebrate the oath of office. One of the most compelling differentiations of working for the federal government is that all civil servants take the same oath of office as the president of the United States. As a federal manager, take time to celebrate the oath by highlighting the importance of civil service and inviting co-workers to witness each new hire’s entry into the public service.
■Report the news. Federal employees are often frustrated when they learn from the media what is going on in their agency. When they hear news (good and bad) directly from you, they will feel engaged and want be a part of a collective solution.
■Put on the pedometer and “walk the halls.” The simplest way to learn what is going on in your agency and build relationships with your employees is to walk the halls, greet your team and ask how things are going. Dropping by staff functions will also allow you to get to know your employees as individuals and for them to know you.
■Let’s do coffee. You can create a lasting impression with your team by inviting membersto join you for lunch or coffee as a reward for a successful project. Many employees find these experiences meaningful because they rarely have access to senior leaders, especially in such an informal setting.
■Get outside of the Beltway. What happens in Washington should not stay in Washington. When you travel, take time to meet with your regional and field employees. Taking this extra step will have an exponential effect in improving your communication with them.
■Conduct “stay” interviews. It is more important than ever for federal agencies to keep their top employees. Consider conducting regular interviews with your team members to better learn about what they do, their goals and any barriers to success. By talking with employees individually, you may be able to remedy issues before they become serious and help to improve retention of your staff.
■Turn your employees into your consultants. Federal agencies face difficult tasks, and many times the most practical, cost-effective solutions can be found within your staff. When faced with a problem, give your employees the freedom to think creatively and the resources to implement their solutions.
Whether you borrow ideas from this list or create your own, be sure to think about what you can do to engage employees. If you have suggestions to add to this list, please share your ideas by sending an e-mail to .