Effective Leadership: Empowerment

Effective Leadership: Empowerment

The “Effective Leadership: Empowerment” category measures how satisfied employees are with their involvement in decisions that affect their work.    

We spoke to several agency leaders about the opportunities, strategies and partnerships that they used in 2022 to excel in this area. The examples below offer models for other federal leaders and agencies to strengthen the employee experience. 

Challenges and opportunities

In 2022, the federal workforce continued adapting to the shift to remote and hybrid work. How agencies went about developing and enacting plans to implement hybrid work or a “return to the office” had a major impact on how empowered employees felt in the workplace.  

Most likely, the strongest factor affecting employees’ view of their own empowerment was how well leaders at various levels listened to their needs and concerns, and how well staff could see the impact of their work on their organization’s goals  

Organizational structuring and the use of digital technology played a significant role in both of these areas. These efforts improved communication channels, supported the development of new relationships and made processes more transparent, enabling employees to better understand the impact of their actions, and creating a more flexible and accessible workplace. 

“We have been successful at maintaining or improving our scores in various categories because our employees have felt especially encouraged to provide feedback, and our management has been open to putting their input into action.”

A senior leader of the Securities and Exchange Commission

Strategies in action

  • Establish clear goals and allow employees to take ownership of their work: At the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, subcomponents that were rated most highly in the Empowerment category had employees that were involved in work that had been clearly defined and communicated by leadership. These subcomponents also provided opportunities for employees to take ownership of work projects, many of which were critical to their mission work and other basic functions. For example, the Office of Negotiations & Restructuring played a big role in developing the Special Financial Assistance Programcreated by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. This program provides funding to severely underfunded multiemployer pension plans and will ensure that millions of America’s workers, retirees, and their families receive the pension benefits they earned. The office developed regulations, designed the systems for plan applications and educated the pension community. 
  • Multidirectional communication and recognition: Several agencies mentioned that they have made efforts to increase communication and transparency between leadership and employees. In addition to relying on survey data, the Securities and Exchange Commission maintains manager-employee working groups, which empower employees to provide continuous feedback on different aspects of their work. The Department of Defense Education Activity holds in-person and virtual meetings that engage employees at both headquarters and in the field to guide the development of programs, implementation policy and strategy.
  • High participation in feedback mechanisms: Several agencies with high scores in this category, like the Department of Veterans Affairs, had strong participation in employee surveys. They attribute this engagement to the agencies being transparent with the resulting data and using it to inform and empower decision-making at all levels. 

“VA’s fiscal year 2022 response rate was 71%, which is the agency’s highest response rate in the last 10 years. …[Our] employees see their input put into action at the lowest level in the organization.”

Senior official at the Department of Veterans Affairs   

Looking Forward

Rather than rest on their achievements, the agencies we interviewed plan to capitalize on their recent advancements in employee empowerment and create additional opportunities for the workforce to play key roles in organizational decisions and operations.  

  • Encouraging further participation in feedback: The Department of Defense Education Activity is making efforts to amplify its employees’ voices. Since staff are primarily educators who are not always active during the summer months, program leaders are reaching out to the Office of Personnel Management to ensure that employees can participate in the 2023 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey should it take place in early summer like the 2022’s survey did.  
  • Seeking and maintaining partnerships: During the development of the Special Financial Assistance Program, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s Office of Negotiations & Restructuring and agency leadership created interdepartmental and interagency working groups to help develop the regulations and procedures that would govern the new program. These efforts have strengthened employee engagement and staff collaboration and will lay the groundwork for future growth in both of these areas.  

“The Office of Negotiations & Restructuring will continue to use interdepartmental teams, which we have found engages and empowers employees to contribute their best efforts.”

Senior official at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation