Engaging Government Employees

Motivate and Inspire Your People to Achieve Superior Performance

 Engaging Government Employees

Author: Robert J. Lavigna
Pub Date: July 2013
Print Edition: $24.95
Print ISBN: 9780814432792
Page Count: 288
Format: Hardback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814432815

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From Chapter 1

The Power of Employee Engagement and What This Book Is About


 There are many other books about employee engagement, and some are excellent. But this book departs from the others in three ways.

First, I focus on the science of employee engagement—that is, what the research clearly proves about the power of engagement to improve individual and organizational performance. Instead of relying on my insights “culled from my many years of experience” or “my work with many different types of organizations,” I emphasize what the engagement research has proven empirically and how these results apply to government organizations.

Sure, I have experience with engagement, and I will cite some of these experiences as examples, but I don’t trust purely anecdotal experiences and don’t believe they necessarily apply to the situations or challenges other managers face. I don’t rely exclusively on my personal experiences to make the case for why government leaders, managers, frontline supervisors, and employees should focus on engagement. Instead, I rely on the research and empirical evidence.

Second, my focus is government. There are other fine works on the science of engagement, but they don’t emphasize the public sector. In Chapter 4, I highlight the unique challenges government faces, the fundamental differences between the public and private sectors, and the implications of these differences for managers—and for employee engagement. I argue that, in some respects, these differences make it harder to manage in the public sector. As a result, public-sector leaders, managers, and frontline supervisors must approach engagement differently than their private-sector counterparts.

In addition to the hostile environment the government operates in today, other key factors that distinguish the public sector from the private sector include political leadership that changes frequently; hard-to-measure goals and impacts; complicated, rule-bound, and sometimes irrational decision making; multiple external stakeholders with power and influence; an older, more educated, and more white-collar workforce; strong civil-service rules and employee protections; heavy union influence; limited financial tools to influence and reward employee behavior; public visibility of government actions; and, more positively, a workforce that is intrinsically motivated toward public service. I believe that government leaders and managers need to understand these differences and their implications for employee engagement. This argument is a key focus of this book.

The third way in which this book departs from many other works on engagement is that I don’t present a one-size-fits-all approach to improving engagement. There are many engagement models and approaches that their designers maintain can be adopted just about anywhere. In contrast, I don’t see how any single employee-engagement model can apply to all organizations and situations, particularly in government. Just in the United States, there are more than 85,000 government jurisdictions and agencies, and each has its own mission, strategy, values, and culture.

Instead, I believe that every organization needs to measure its own level of employee engagement, analyze the results to identify specific areas to improve, set priorities for action, and then act on the data. While there are some broad principles that apply generally to engagement (which I’ll discuss), there is no single solution that will automatically improve engagement across all organizations.

I do present a model in Chapter 7, but it is an engagement process model—that is, a model that a public-sector organization can adapt and adopt to assess its level of employee engagement. The organization needs to then act on these results to improve engagement. The model is intended to help each agency generate the data it needs to draw conclusions about what its employee-engagement issues are and how to deal with them to improve engagement, but it does not prescribe generic solutions. In Chapter 12, I describe what some government agencies have done to improve engagement, but I present these actions as examples, not prescriptions.

From the start, it is important to understand that there is no silver bullet to achieve high levels of employee engagement. Instead, what’s needed is silver buckshot—an integrated series of actions, specific to each government jurisdiction or agency, to measure and then improve engagement.

Here’s a quote that I think sums up the power of employee engagement. According to Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS, a leading business software company that is also a perennial member of Fortune magazine’s annual “100 Best Companies to Work For,” “My chief assets drive out the gate every day. My job is to make sure they come back.”9

Goodnight’s statement is just as applicable (or maybe even more applicable) to government. And improving engagement is one clearly documented way to make sure that when the chief assets of government leave at the end of the day, they do plan to return tomorrow.


 Excerpted from ENGAGING GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES by Robert J. Lavigna. Copyright © 2013 by Robert J. Lavigna. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of American Management Association, New York, NY. Used with permission.

All rights reserved. http://www.amacombooks.org.


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