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Guide for Interpreting and Acting on Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey Results

Friday, November 23, 2012
Heads Of Executive Departments And Agencies
John Berry, Director
Guide for Interpreting and Acting on Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey Results

This year, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), in collaboration with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), was proud to implement the first ever census of Federal employees through the 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS).  We conducted a full census rather than the smaller sample used in the past, to enable a far larger number of agency managers to learn from their own employees’ perspectives about specific areas of strength and weakness.  Since 2002, agencies have increased the number of survey result breakouts from 189 to 7,989 in order to receive more actionable information at lower levels in their agency.  This year, the FEVS reaches deeper into the government than it has in previous survey administrations.  Agencies are now requesting reports at levels lower within their organizations than in previous years.   One result is that reports are now available to benefit the managers that lead within those lower levels, resulting in an even greater potential to celebrate successes and identify opportunities for change across each agency.

Starting in 2010, agencies were required to submit FEVS Action Plans to OPM and OMB in an effort to keep them abreast of their specific efforts to act on their agency’s survey results.  Agencies are asked to submit Action Plans in even calendars years (e.g., 2010, 2012), and only required to check in telephonically with OPM and OMB in odd years.  These phone conversations are an opportunity for agencies to provide a status update on their Action Plans, as well as to brainstorm any challenges that they may face in the implementation of these plans.  Given that this year is a census, the deadline for submissions has been extended to January 15, 2013.  If an agency has action items that are budget-sensitive, however, it is strongly recommended that you submit plans as early as possibly – ideally in late Fall of 2012.

We encourage you to use these results to improve your agency’s work environment, the quality and engagement of your employees, and ultimately to achieve your organization’s mission goals.  The FEVS provides agencies, their sub-components, and  agency managers with invaluable data that can reveal where your agency is currently serving the needs of its employees, and where there is room for improvement.  Below is a list of recommended analytic questions to facilitate your interpretation and use of the FEVS survey results.

Analyzing Your Results


Look for patterns in the survey data

o Identify survey questions (or sets of survey questions in a specific area) that notably differ from your agency or organization's scores in past years.  Are these trends occurring in certain sub units (including those with similar functions like regional offices) but not others?  What practices have been adopted that might explain these improvements or declines?

o Identify areas or survey items that notably differ from  the government-wide comparison, especially for similar units or units with similar types of employees


In what areas do the agency or key sub-components do the worst compared to other similar agencies?  What other agencies are worth studying to try to find better practices to adopt?
In what areas do the agency or key sub-components do the best compared to other similar agencies?  Is this a strength worth celebrating?

o Identify areas or survey items that notably differ from relevant private sector comparison or benchmarking


Brainstorm about why these survey items or areas differ.
Determine whether the discrepancies indicate a problem, a job well done, or an issue that is inherent to the government and therefore may be impractical to change.

Look for those survey items with very high percentage favorable and unfavorable scores, and note the change from prior years

o These will reveal your agency’s strengths and areas for improvement

o It is important to identify areas for improvement, develop and then execute a plan for improvement.

o Look at areas of strength, especially among sub-components, and opportunities to try to replicate and spread the successful practices, leading to better scores.

Identify the causes behind the scores – numbers only tell you WHAT an employee feels not WHY he or she feels that way.  Hold focus groups or follow-up pulse surveys to better understand causal factors behind your survey results, and, once found, engage the employees and leadership in developing and implementing action plans to improve the results.

Creating the Action Plan


Based on the patterns identified in the FEVS data, you will need to narrow your focus for action planning.  Pick a few areas on which to focus in the coming year.

o Action steps should be realistic; it is important not to over-commit to organizational change as you are likely to under-deliver by doing so

o Action steps should be within a manageable scope and timeframe

o Action steps should include measures of success and a method for tracking progress. 


Network and benchmark with other CHCO/Department Heads.  Consider looking to agencies that are:

o From similar fields/ industries

o Similar in size

o Like-minded in mission

o Similar in employee skills and demographics

o Faced with similar challenges


Engage with the leadership, managers, and supervisors

Strive to share the results with leadership in a thoughtful, yet timely manner so they can begin to engage in results and action planning discussions.
HR staff should facilitate the action planning process, but identify and empower managers and supervisors outside of human resources to lead this effort so it reflects the issues they face day to day

Ensure your FEVS Action Plan team/staff is effective and well-trained

o The team should be representative of the organization and familiar with the organizational impact of the issues identified in the Action Plan

o OPM offers an FEVS Action Planning 101 training

o OPM also offers phone, e-mail, and in-person action planning consultation

Encourage your FEVS Action Plan team to meet regularly and communicate year-round

o The team should treat the FEVS Action Plan as a living document

o The Action Plan should be updated on a regular basis and reviewed, potentially at your agency’s HR STAT reviews if appropriate


Encourage your FEVS Action Plan team to conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis around every issue/topic of focus

o Become familiar with the internal strengths and weaknesses associated with each topic area of interest

o Try to reflect these factors in your Action Plan by incorporating steps for enhancing strengths and opportunities while minimizing opportunities and threats.


When crafting the Action Plan itself, be sure that the template is completed with as much specificity and detail as possible

o The Action Plan should be a “road map,” so that anyone new to the Action Planning team could easily understand the issue being addressed and steps that need to be taken 


The Action Plan is not the end of the process, but the beginning.  Implement and adjust as needed, along the way.  Get started and then get better.
Supplement the FEVS with other survey tools for faster feedback, as warranted. Make sure to check back on improvements (or lack thereof) in the focal areas.

We urge you to devote considerable time to each phase: Interpretation of Survey Results, Crafting of the Action Plan, and, especially, implementation of the actions to improve the target FEVS scores, without losing ground in other areas.  To accomplish these phases effectively, your team should devote sufficient time and resources to identifying the appropriate areas to be targeted in their plan.  Once this is accomplished, it will be a team effort to craft and execute on the steps needed to accomplish the outcomes that define success for your agency.  Remember, this Action Plan should be revisited throughout the year and adjusted regularly.  If you have any questions regarding your FEVS Action Plans, please contact Dr. Hope Hanner-Bailey at

cc:  Chief Human Capital Officers