Ask the CHCO: FLRA’s Vicki Barber
On this week’s edition of Federal News Radio’s Ask the CHCO series, reporter Lauren Larson interviewed Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA)’s Chief Human Resources Officer Vicki Barber. Ms. Barber took her post at FLRA in 2010 at the same time the agency was undergoing a major overhaul of its human capital strategy. In the interview, she discussed some major lessons learned and best practices that have taken FLRA from the bottom of the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings to fifth among small agencies. She credits the agency’s success to collaborative decision-making, transparent internal communications, and employee engagement.
In 2010, FLRA’s leadership decided to bring HR in house specifically to improve internal communications and accessibility to HR staff for employees. Employees wanted to speak to people in person and be able to have those organic unplanned hallway conversations that are often so critical to getting to the root of problems. The move to an internal HR operation set the stage for a shift towards collaborative and inclusive decision-making and open communication at the organization that has been an integral part in improving employee engagement at the agency.
With an increasing focus on employee engagement across the Federal government, FLRA provides some key best practices in enhancing engagement:
- Increase the number of choices employees can make: Studies have shown that when employees feel they exercise some control over their work lives, engagement is likely to increase. At FLRA, the organization became intentional about providing opportunities for employees to feel more in control of their work situations. Allowing employees to participate in key workplace decisions – ranging from the computers they use, to the design of the workspace – helped build the sense of ownership and control, a key element in increasing both organizational identity and engagement.
- Demonstrate that the individual matters: Sometimes increasing engagement can be as simple as demonstrating that each employee matters. The culture at FLRA places a priority on making sure each individual knows that they count. Through intentional focus on the intrinsic value of each employee to the organization, FLRA has built a culture of inclusion and appreciation which contributes to openness, fosters sharing, and encourages connection to the organization.
- Use data to drive engagement-related decision making: A best practice shared by both Ms. Barber and John Gill, the HHS CHCO, is the use of frequent “pulse checks” to collect immediate feedback on key factors that may affect engagement. While yearly engagement surveys, like the FEVS, provide good data on agency level engagement, measuring engagement and engagement-related variables more frequently provides enhanced diagnostic power and helps build predictive models that can be used to create targeted initiatives to improve engagement.
After more than a decade of struggles with employee engagement, agencies across the Federal government are focusing on building participatory environments where employees are empowered to make decisions, challenged to own their success, and accountable for their results. With encouraging results in places like FLRA, the goal in improving engagement may finally be within reach.