The “Innovation” category measures how employees perceive their agencies’ efforts to improve the way work is done, staff members’ personal motivation to drive change, and the support and rewards they receive for promoting new ideas.  

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

The agencies we spoke to said they are still examining and altering policies to adapt to pandemic-era work changes, including hybrid work, shifting priorities in agency missions and the rapid implementation of new programs. Directives that mandated advancements in areas like diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, the safe use of technology, and other work-related processes have also driven innovation.  

While challenges to promoting innovation or implementing innovative policies in the workplace persist—such as budgetary concerns and finding expertise in change management—agencies found their own employees to be a major asset in this work. As we show below, several agencies enabled staff to help manage and oversee important organizational changes. We hope that these efforts will serve as examples for workplaces that want to generate employee-led innovation.  

“The agency focused on workplace safety and work-life balance, demonstrating that high quality work products could be produced with maximum flexibility.”

Senior leader from the Surface Transportation Board 

Strategies in action

  • Openness to new modes of working: The Surface Transportation Board has actively embraced online communication by conducting the Board’s public-facing proceedings through hybrid hearings, livestreaming and sharing recordings of the events on the organization’s YouTube channel. This change allowed employees to join hearings remotely and increased transparency into decisions impacting key agency functions. It also improved the agency’s customer service by increasing opportunities for stakeholders and partners residing outside the Washington, D.C., area, to give their input during hearing sessions and proceedings. 
  • Multiple avenues for learning: The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Office of the Inspector General developed multiple ways for employees to make suggestions to improve the workplace through innovation. For example, team leads at the office host debrief sessions at the end of projects to identify and preserve lessons learned. Openline—an anonymous communication line that fields staff suggestions and concerns—and an internal advisory team called the Leadership Council also solicits new ideas from employees.  
  • Innovating to improve service: Innovative processes and legal theories at the National Labor Relations Board have enabled the agency to improve customer service in its mission to protect workers’ rights more effectively and efficiently. As a result, the NLRB has obtained millions of dollars of compensatory damages and thousands of reinstatement offers from employers for victims of unfair labor practices between the 2021 and 2022 FEVS. 

“We have a team of cross-functional individual contributors we call the Leadership Council who offer input and suggestions to Office of the Inspector General leadership to advance operations and the [overall] work environment.”

Senior leader at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Office of the Inspector General 

Looking Forward

  • Building on workplace culture: Creating an organizational culture that fosters innovation is a long-term process. The Surface Transportation Board believes that the changes it has implemented so far and the new tools it plans to provide to employees will further encourage and empower employees to modernize the way that their work will be accomplished. 
  • Receptive leadership: A new inspector general, Ben Wagner, was appointed to the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Office of the Inspector General in the summer of 2022—right around the time the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey was distributed. Since his arrival, Wagner has been actively seeking employee input on how to improve operations and the workplace environment, which builds on the organization’s existing feedback mechanisms and lays the groundwork for future innovations at the office. 

“[Our employees] have embraced recent National Labor Relations Board initiatives that encourage outreach, community engagement and interagency collaboration, as well as vigorous enforcement of the National Labor Relations Act.”

Senior leader at the National Labor Relations Board