Category Archives: Organizational Health

Crystal Agencies – Watching Data Flow Through Federal Agencies

In my recent column for the PA Times, I wrote about how federal agencies can use the latest data visualization tools to fulfill the data, accountability, and transparency initiatives of the President’s Management Agenda (PMA).

From the PMA: “Data, accountability, and transparency initiatives must provide the tools to deliver visibly better results to the public while improving accountability to taxpayers for sound fiscal stewardship and mission results.”

To aid in implementing the PMA, the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) launched a challenge to stand up the Government Effectiveness Advanced Research (GEAR) Center. “Today’s digital economy has transformed how citizens interact with government. By leveraging technology and innovation, the GEAR Center will ensure our government connects to cutting-edge thinking and real-world solutions,” stated OMB’s Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert.

a collection of clear crystals

Back when I worked at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), I had the idea of using the internal data assets of federal agencies to create digital twins of the agencies. The advantage of a digital twin is that we could test out policies on the twin before implementing the policy on the actual agency.

To get to digital twin stage, agencies first need to build their capacity to visualize data flows in their organization. According to Phil Simon, author of The Visual Organization: Data Visualization, Big Data, and the Quest for Better Decisions, organizations go through four-levels of data visualizations. The first level is creating static visualizations of the organization’s small data sets. The organization then moves to the second level of creating interactive visualizations of small data sets. The third level is creating static visualizations of big data sets. The final and fourth level is creating interactions for the big data set visualizations.

Phil Simon recommends that organizations begin with small data sets to sharpen their skills with data visualization planning and tools. I’ve seen examples of this when several federal agencies used Tableau (a proprietary data visualization tool) to work with their small data sets from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). The FEVS is a survey of federal employees to gauge their perceptions on their leadership, engagement in their work, and their work climate. The ability to program interactivity into the FEVS data produced insights into the data that would not have been apparent in the static visualizations.

The FEVS is a relatively small data set compared to the big data sets that federal agencies possess. However, the tools for collecting, analyzing, and visualizing big data have advanced significantly in the last decade. Most of the modern tools require little training to produce sophisticated visualizations. As the federal agencies move to the cloud, it becomes easier to connect different data sets to build more comprehensive big data sets with novel visualizations. The more data sets connected and visualized, the more transparent the agency’s data assets and flows.

I Can Even! Engaging Employees by Enabling Employees

A popular phrase which is most annoying is “I can’t even.” According to the Urban Dictionary, “I can’t even” means that the person is so overwhelmed with emotion they cannot function. However, in the workplace, “I can’t even” often means that the person is frustrated or unwilling to do a work task. Even with the best efforts to engage employees, not enabling employees will lead to frustration.

Mark Royal and Tom Agnew, in their 2012 book The Enemy of Engagement, explain why enabling employees are just as important as engaging employees. “Frustration is created for those employees who are thwarted in their attempts to be successful despite their deep feelings of commitment and engagement. In other words, frustration is brought on by a belief in the organization and a desire to help it to be successful!” (p. 29)

Employee holding his head in frustration.

Frustrated employees solve their problems in one of three ways. The frustrated employee looks for a breakthrough or a solution to his or her frustrations. Or, the frustrated employee has a breakdown. Finally, a frustrated employee may make a clean break from the organization and its frustrations.

Royal and Agnew give the following suggestions for building employee enablement:

Performance Management (p. 134)

Specify clearly what employees need to accomplish.

Set challenging but attainable performance standards.

Provide ongoing feedback regarding progress relative to goals.

Authority and Empowerment (p. 136)

Give employees the authority and decision-making responsibility needed to do their jobs.

Allow employees to have input into the way their work is structured.

Encourage employees to come up with new and better ways of doing things.

Resources(p. 137)

Give employees the resources they need to do their jobs.

Ensure all information needed is readily available and up-to-date.

Maintain adequate staffing levels and review job designs and workloads when the organization changes.

Training (p. 139)

Get new employees fully trained before expecting full performance.

Ensure skills of current employees keep up with changing job demands.

Provide opportunities for employees to expand their current skill sets.

Collaboration (p. 140)

Facilitate strong cooperation and teamwork within the unit.

Establish supportive relationships with other groups to which the unit is connected.

Promote effective sharing of resources and information across the organization.

Work, Structure, and Process (pp. 141-142)

Structure and organize work processes within your unit to ensure optimal efficiency.

Coordinate with other units to clarify decision-making accountabilities and enhance cross-unit operating effectiveness.

Continually seek new technologies and creative approaches to improve overall internal effectiveness.

By following these 18 actions, you can have your employees saying, “I CAN even!” instead of “I CAN’T even!”