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Strengthening Employee Engagement and Organizational Performance

Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Heads Of Executive Departments And Agencies
Strengthening Employee Engagement and Organizational Performance

This memorandum provides guidance to support agencies’ efforts to strengthen an organizational culture of employee engagement and mission performance in accordance with priorities established in the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) Cross Agency Priority (CAP) goal on People and Culture.[1]  Employee engagement is the employees' sense of purpose that is evident in their display of dedication, persistence, and effort in their work and overall attachment to their organization and its mission.  Engaging employees and removing the burdensome barriers that make it difficult for them to accomplish their vast and complex tasks will directly have a positive impact on citizens and help rebuild trust in our Federal Government. 

A growing body of evidence in the public and private sector has shown a strong relationship between high levels of employee engagement and improved organizational results.  As the President said in his recent remarks to the SES, “One of the things that we know in the private sector about continuous improvement is you've got to have the folks right there on the front lines able to make suggestions and know that they're heard, and to not simply be rewarded for doing an outstanding job, but to see their ideas implemented in ways that really make a difference.”

OPM has worked with agencies to significantly improve the utility of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (EVS) to increase the ability of leaders, managers, and supervisors to use employee feedback to improve their organization.  For example, OPM now conducts the survey annually, has worked with agencies to increase the level of detailed reports made available to agencies from a few hundred to more than 21,000, and provides interactive visualizations of the data through the newly released Dashboard.  Since the beginning of this Administration, agencies have been developing improvement action plans with several notable successes in improving factors/conditions related to engagement, as measured by the Employee Engagement Index (the 15 EVS questions related to leadership, supervisors and intrinsic work experience; See Appendix 4).  For example, since 2010, the Department of Education has improved scores in this Index from 62.6% to 66.6%.  During the same time, the Department of Transportation has improved from 60.8% to 63.7%.  Individual Department components such as the Bureau of Engraving and Printing went from 61% in 2011 to 66% in 2014.  In five years, the Federal Labor Relations Authority improved from the lowest rated agency to 82%.

To further institutionalize a focus on improving employee engagement and mission performance, the guidance in this memo is integrated with existing human capital performance review requirements under 5 CFR Part 250, the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRA), the President’s Management Agenda benchmarking initiative, as well as OPM’s HRStat initiative.  Included is a set of actions, some of which require immediate attention.  This memorandum does not include new reporting requirements, but does clarify roles and responsibilities, as well as puts forth a series of management practices and routines that are important to fostering an organizational culture of employee engagement and performance.


A key objective of the People and Culture CAP Goal of the PMA is to drive more effective and efficient performance of agency and government missions by unlocking the full potential of the Federal workforce in place today and building the workforce we need for the future.” The Federal workforce is the crucial driver of mission success.  We believe that employee engagement is a leading indicator of performance and should be a focus for all levels of an agency – from the front line employee to the agency head.  Employee engagement is not only a Human Resources function, but a cross-cutting leadership effort that is directly tied to mission success.  Engagement occurs in every unit between employees and their supervisors.  The top-line goal for Federal agencies is to improve from 2014’s 63% Engagement Index score to 67% on the 2016 survey.  This ambitious goal can only be met if we use the feedback from employees to inform actions by each leader, manager and supervisor, and empower supervisors at unit levels to foster a culture of employee engagement locally.


Currently, agency results in the Employee Engagement Index vary widely across and within agencies, including among organizations that perform similar functions.  The Administration is committed to improving employee morale, but there are no single solutions to improvement.  Rather, it will take actions at all levels of the organization to achieve our improvement targets.  These may range from the simple fixes like celebrating our successes and increasing partnership conversations with local labor organizations to more challenging solutions such as more regular and meaningful performance discussions with supervisors and managers.  Agencies that have successfully changed their culture report that it takes about three years of consistent focus before sustained results are typically achieved. 

The Employee Engagement Index score goal in the EVS reflects the importance of employee engagement to improving overall mission success, and the goal is not to just reach a threshold and stop.  For example, question 41 (asking whether employees believe the results of the survey will lead to change) is a strong indicator of whether employees trust the leadership so setting perpetually high reach goals will help ensure employees remain engaged .  Specifically, this guidance describes the management routines and the tools to strengthen Federal workforce engagement that agencies should adopt.  Appendix 1 provides agencies more clarity on the timeline for EVS administration.  Appendix 2 describes a continual improvement process that seeks to build an organizational culture with engaged employees using the following steps:

  • planning by reviewing and analyzing data to identify areas/organizations of strength and weakness, gathering input from employees, and using the new tools to set targets and identify improvement actions;
  • implementing agreed-upon actions; and
  • reviewing progress to determine what works and to inform future actions. 

As part of a collaborative and continuous improvement effort, labor representatives and local Labor Management Forums (LMF) can also provide valuable insights throughout the process and assist in gaining employee commitment and input.  Other useful indices include the New Inclusion Quotient (New IQ) that consists of 20 EVS questions with the highest correlation to inclusive environments, the EVS Global Satisfaction Index, Leaders/Supervisor Lead Indices and the Intrinsic Work Experience Index, as well as agency-created examples such as NASA’s Innovation Index.  Agencies can also use pulse surveys, town halls, and focus groups to gain more frequent, timely, and focused feedback.  See Appendix 3 for a list of resources available, Appendix 4 for a list of the EVS questions in the Employee Engagement Index and Appendix 5 for current PMC Agency levels on each of the three Index areas.

Finally, we are requesting each Agency to identify one senior accountable official to be responsible for improving employee engagement and be a point of contact for OPM, PPO, and OMB to coordinate the Agency’s involvement in Government-wide engagement communication.  This individual may be placed where the Agency deems most appropriate (e.g. Performance Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief of Staff, Chief Human Capital Officer, etc.).  If the individual is a political appointee, a career appointee should serve as a back-up to ensure consistency through transition.

Next Steps:

  • By January 23, 2015: Each agency will identify the Senior Accountable Official (SAO), and career deputy, if applicable, responsible for ensuring the agency’s commitment to improving employee engagement.
  • By January 31, 2015: Each Deputy Secretary or equivalent will have reviewed progress on employee engagement and other agency-specific areas of focus with components or offices that directly report to the Deputy or Agency Head.  Agencies should take a more formal approach with the components already identified as requiring improvement.
  • During January 2015: CHCOs will use the HRStat quarterly review mechanism to identify and baseline employee engagement metrics and targets to be tracked on a quarterly basis.
  • By February 27, 2015: Each component head will conduct a comparable review of their EVS data with their senior subcomponent leadership teams (including field offices), focusing in particular on engagement and other agency-specific areas of focus.  Such reviews should include a determination of areas of focus, proven strategies for improving employee engagement, and policies and practices for disseminating the data each year throughout the organization, including to each manager with breakout results.  As OPM has striven to release results within two months of the survey’s completion, each agency can build consistency to its annual schedule.
  • By February 27, 2015: PIOs, in collaboration with the SAOs, will ensure baselines and organizational targets for strengthening employee engagement are included within GPRA Annual Performance Plans, with a focus on a percent change and not simply an absolute level (as appropriate).  PIOs will ensure that applicable baselines, organizational targets and/or measures for improvements in employee engagement and results are included in future performance planning and reporting activities.  This includes incorporating such targets and/or measures in the FY16/17 Annual Performance Plans and resulting Annual Performance Reports. 
  • On-going: Deputy Secretaries will ensure SES Performance Plans include some measurable component related to action planning and/or results to improve employee engagement or based on employee feedback.  The measurable item should be related to the Leading People Executive Core Qualification and should reflect an active feedback loop.  Full implementation is expected in 2016.
  • On-going: CHCOs use HRStat to conduct quarterly reviews to measure progress and identify actions to enhance organizational culture and employee engagement.  The CHCO and LMC work groups will meet throughout the year to exchange lessons learned and develop engagement tools and best practices to be shared on and via other appropriate means.  In fall 2015, the SAOs and OPM will convene a larger forum.