Analysis: "Feds Don't Like Their Agency Leaders" (Federal Times 4/30/12)

Source: Partnership for Public Service, "Best Places To Work Challenge: The Federal Leadership Snapshot," April 2012

"When it comes to empowering, motivating and communicating with employees, top federal executives fare worse in the eyes of their employees than do corporate leaders. That is the conclusion of a new study by the Partnership for Public Service, which analyzed data gathered in last year's federal employee satisfaction survey conducted by the Office of Personnel Management." 

Full story here.

How should one understand these findings, and what can we do about them?

One could start by comparing results between those scoring higher and lower.

The table above is a screenshot from the Partnership For Public Service's leadership analysis. It shows that last year, there was a (huge) 14.6 point gap between satisfaction with supervisors (49.3) and satisfaction with senior leaders (63.9).

This leads to some clues as to why supervisors are comparatively more highly rated:
  • Performance incentive: Supervisors see their employees as a direct customer whose complaints can hurt their careers. They manage up, sideways, and down. Senior leaders don't - they generally manage sideways and upward.
  • Physical proximity: Supervisors are confronted by employees every day. Senior leaders aren't.
  • Empathy: Supervisors learn about their employees' lives. Senior leaders don't.
 Of course there are two methodological flaws with this kind of analysis:
  1. Senior leaders are leaders while supervisors are managers, so the kind of work they do is different. Specifically, leadership involves change which is inherently uncomfortable.
  2. Senior leaders serve the mission directly while managers serve the employees so that they can carry out the mission. So the evaluation criteria should be different. 
Nevertheless senior leaders should clearly be evaluated by how well they inspire the workforce to get the job done and done right. And on this score, as a group, they fail: Just 42.6 percent said senior leaders "generate high levels of motivation and commitment."

If this score is accurately indicative of how people feel, then clearly something is wrong: If employees aren't inspired then how can they do the work well? Meaning time and money are wasted on inefficiency, disengagement, infighting, etc.

Another item to notice here is that between 2003-2011 satisfaction with supervisors went up 5.3 points (which is statistically meaningful though not dramatic) and satisfaction with senior leaders went up 6.6 points. Yet the score for senior leaders remains stuck below 50.

This is a dangerous situation from a human capital perspective because the federal government is now seeing an influx of new recruits to power public service - who will inherently have higher expectations of leadership than those who have been with the agency for many years.

Isn't there a statistic showing that people tend to leave agencies by the 3-year mark? Could this be why?

If new recruits aren't inspired within the government, they will not stay and we won't have a workforce to inspire.