The Government Accountability Office moved up two spots to become the number one midsize agency in the 2020 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® rankings. The agency received a Best Places to Work score of 89.4 out of 100, 20.4 points above the government-wide average.
While the GAO has been a top-tier Best Places to Work midsize agency for years, it has focused most recently on using employee experience data to improve its performance management system and increase leadership accountability.
“It is truly an organization of accountability,” said Jenny Grover, GAO’s managing director for the professional development program. “It’s in our name. It’s in our culture.”
This approach has been driven home by Gene L. Dodaro, the Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO, who has led the organization for more than a decade and is deeply committed to improving employee engagement and the quality of the workforce.
According to Kate Siggerud, the agency’s chief operating officer, GAO managers have access to their respective teams’ employee experience survey responses and must devise engagement plans accordingly.
Senior leaders also review thousands of agency comments before organizing a large town hall with GAO employees to discuss overall trends.
“We go over the good, the bad and the ugly, and where things are better or worse than they were the year before,” Siggerud said.
Employees also can access the data on the GAO intranet, a practice that has helped build a culture of leadership accountability at the agency.
Recently, comments from the employee survey revealed dissatisfaction with GAO’s performance management policies. As a result, agency leaders revised GAO’s evaluation system and created new toolkits and annual training sessions for managers and supervisors who are required to provide employees with performance feedback.
Notably, leaders across the organization are evaluated on how much they value and respect their employees, and treat them fairly. GAO calls these core tenets its “people values.”
Grover said that “VRTF [value, respect and treat people fairly] has become a verb at GAO” and that it is not uncommon for people at management meetings to go around the room and talk about how they emphasize “people values” at work.
“It is something that we work on at a very micro level,” she said.
Grover also attributed GAO’s improved Best Places to Work ranking to the agency’s two-year professional development program for entry-level employees. The program requires staff to work for eight months on three different GAO teams and helps new hires develop their professional skills, gain project experience and better understand how the agency works.
“We’re sending a message to every employee that you’re a critical aspect of our mission success and that we’re going to invest in you,” Grover said.
GAO also improved its Best Places to Work score because it opened new lines of communication between staff and management during the pandemic. While the agency already permitted many of its employees to work remotely part time, the unprecedented shift to telework left many of them with questions and concerns.
Senior leaders addressed these questions during monthly town halls and through constant communication.
“In the first two months of the pandemic, there were notices every day that outlined how we were handling the many questions that came up as people tried to successfully change to this kind of a working environment,” Siggerud said.
In turn, the agency allowed employees to work during different hours and provided more administrative leave for caregiving responsibilities.
Various employee groups—communities of practice that focused on skills development and sharing best practices, and councils that focused on diversity, equity and inclusion programming—also kept going.
“That was another way to bring our employees together to have common experiences, even if we weren’t together in a room doing those things,” Siggerud said.
Collectively, these practices enabled GAO to improve its 2020 Best Places to Work ranking and continue building a sustained culture of employee engagement.
“Employees are the most valuable resource that federal agencies have,” Siggerud said. “Their ability to carry out their mission rises and falls with the engagement of their employees.”
This profile was written by Partnership for Public Service staff member Barry Goldberg