HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Nov. 20, 2017) – The results of two employee surveys at the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center pointed out areas where Huntsville Center excels and also identified nearly 40 recommendations for improvements here.
The results were from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute Organizational Climate Survey that a portion of Huntsville Center employees took in 2016.
The surveys showed favorable perceptions in areas including organizational cooperation and commitment, job and pay satisfaction, and in support for seeking help for personal issues. Many of these ratings were higher than the rest of the Corps of Engineers.
Survey results also showed employees perceive a need for improvements in areas including workspace quality employee-supervisor communication, employee recognition, workload distribution, and workplace conduct.
Valerie Ward, human resources strategic adviser, teamed up with Angela Morton, supervisory equal opportunity officer with the center’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office, to analyze the results and create a list of recommendations to address the areas that presented the largest opportunities for growth.
Ward managed the results of the 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, and Morton handled the 2016 DEOMI Organizational Climate Survey.
The FEVS asks employees how they perceive their workplace experiences, leadership, organization and job satisfaction. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management administers the survey annually across the federal government.
The DEOMI Organizational Climate Survey, or DEOCS, covers organizational effectiveness, equal opportunity issues, fair treatment, and sexual assault prevention and response. DEOMI administers the DEOCS at the request of commanders and/or when an organization receives a new commander.
Although the surveys are separate, Ward said they fit together well to gauge often-related workplace issues.
“I think we come from two different perspectives that complement each other, so I think it worked out really, really well,” said Ward.
Once they analyzed that feedback, Morton and Ward reported it to Col. John Hurley, Center commander, and a board of senior leaders: Lt. Col. Hugh Darville, deputy commander; Albert “Chip” Marin III, programs director; and Dan Heinzelman, business director.
Morton and Ward worked with members of the Huntsville workforce to brainstorm recommendations for growth and improvements. They did this through focus groups and sensing sessions, which were both face-to-face and non-attribution.
The focus groups gave employees who represented a cross-section of the workforce the opportunity to provide general input to Ward and Morton. These groups included employees from different organizations, occupations and grades.
The sensing sessions, on the other hand, were more targeted and helped Morton and Ward address areas that had a more negative response, Morton said.
“We had a really good participation from employees,” said Ward. “We told them it was non-attribution, and we asked that everybody respect that.”
“Overall, our surveys are very strong and show we have a healthy command climate,” said Hurley. “As a Center we scored higher than many of our counterparts throughout the Department of Defense, the Army and the Corps of Engineers. That said, this was the perfect opportunity to find ways we can improve as an organization, as employees and as supervisors.”
The more positive FEVS responses included a 100 percent agreement with the sentence, “When needed I am willing to put in the extra effort to get the job done,” a 92.5 percent agreement with “My agency is successful at accomplishing its mission,” an 89.4 percent agreement with “The people I work with cooperate to get the job done,” and an 87.8 percent agreement with “My supervisor supports my need to balance work and other life issues.”
Additionally, Huntsville Center outpaced the rest of the Corps of Engineers with favorable views on pay satisfaction, cooperation among employees and sections, and on supervisors’ effectiveness in evaluating the organization’s “progress toward meeting its goals and objectives.”
For DEOCS, the Center outpaced USACE in its favorable perceptions of organizational commitment, organizational cohesion and job satisfaction. The Center also scored high among employees in the areas of organizational performance and how encouraged they feel to seek help for problems such as depression, suicidal thoughts and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The final recommendations for growth fell into four topic areas for each survey. From FEVS, Ward’s focus was on perceptions of senior leaders; performance, awards and recognition; recruitment and promotions; and communication. From DEOCS, Morton addressed facilities and space; hostile work environment; workload distribution; and mentoring programs.
Under the FEVS focus areas, Ward said many employees wished their supervisors were more familiar with their critical supervisory roles and responsibilities. One example was the practice of recognizing differences in performance in meaningful ways, including rewarding high performers and taking steps to handle poor performers.
Due to this area of concern, Ward and Morton recommended the face-to-face class called “HR for Supervisors,” which covers employee-relations issues, time and leave, disciplinary actions, union issues and supporting diversity and EEO initiatives in the course of recruiting.
“The Army mandates that all supervisors take the Supervisor Development Course, which is an online class, but, based on some of the results and comments from employees, I felt that supervisors needed more in-depth, face-to-face training on dealing with HR personnel issues,” said Ward.
“They get to talk to their CPAC person in each one of those specialty areas and ask questions, listen to their answers, engage and know who they are,” Ward added. “So, when they do have an issue that comes up, they know whom to talk to, to get that specific advice about whatever the issues are.”
Morton recommended a class called “Verbal Judo,” based on a book of the same name. Certain sections have already taken the class, said Morton.
“It made a tremendous impact, I think, on the supervisors there, and in fact it was obvious in our sensing session with that group that it had helped a great deal,” said Morton.
Another hot topic from the surveys, focus groups and sensing sessions was workspace quality. This issue came up again on the more recent 2017 survey, and though a plan is in place, Ward predicts it will remain an issue until upgrades actually take place.
“We’re working on it,” said Ward. “They have a plan of action to upgrade this building and the other buildings that we have, but we’re just not there yet.”
After the focus groups and sensing sessions, Hurley conducted face-to-face town hall sessions with Center employees to hear their feedback in person.
“He wanted to make sure that he was present; that the employees had an opportunity to talk to him personally and hear from him personally,” said Ward.
Finally, Hurley directed leaders throughout Huntsville Center to develop corrective action plans.
Hurley said “corrective action” may have a negative connotation, but he said it’s really just a method to target areas for growth.
“The sensing sessions, focus groups and action plans were about talking to employees and finding out where and how to invest resources to get the biggest and quickest return,” said Hurley. “This is about opportunities.”
The next step is implementing the approved recommendations, tracking the progress and analyzing future feedback. Ward and Morton said one word that would describe this process was “accountability.”
“The commander wanted to assure the employees that we are looking at the surveys, analyzing them, and we’re planning on doing something about it – because a lot of time they take these surveys, and they don’t hear anything,” said Ward. “He wants to make sure that we’re taking that extra step and we’re actually doing something about it.”