Four Key Steps Federal Leaders Can Take to Enhance the Culture of Accountability in Their Work Areas and Address Poor Employee Performance

By Robin Broadnax

Enhancing the culture of accountability in your agency will more than likely be an important leadership success factor under the Trump administration.  With the hiring freeze already in place and reductions in the federal workforce rumored, having every employee be productive and performing to expectation will be key to meeting future agency and mission goals.

As an Executive Coach and Consultant working with leaders in various federal agencies, one of the most common things I have seen are leaders that struggle with low performing employees.  I have even had some leaders tell me that it is impossible to manage the performance of low performing employees in the federal government.

Although it is difficult, I have worked with several leaders that have successfully enhanced the culture of accountability within their work areas and addressed performance issues.  They prove it is possible.  Some of these leaders are at the SES level and some are at the Branch Chief level.  All of these leaders have either seen improvements in employee performance, successfully moved their employees through the discipline process, or had their low performing employees leave to find roles that better fit their skills.

So you might ask, how do I as a federal leader create this culture?  The steps below outline what you can do as a leader to ensure that you are setting the stage to get the best performance of those that work for you.

  1. Work to align employee performance goals to those of the organization and the leaders above you.  In order to enhance the culture of accountability in a work area, there must be strategic alignment with the agencies goals and leadership support through all ranks of the organization.  I have worked with leaders that wanted to hold those that work for them accountable, but the leaders above them did not support it so they could not effectively address the issues.  Many times, linking the impact of having difficult performance conversations to organizational goals can create leadership alignment.
  1. Take leadership training on having difficult performance conversations.  If you have leaders working for you, provide this training for all leaders in your area that are responsible for managing the performance of others.  This is probably the number one reason I see leaders not having difficult performance conversations.  Many leaders have told me that they don’t like conflict and are worried that addressing poor performance will make their employees emotional.  We know from research that for many people, conflict sends them into the fight or flight response.  Having training and a plan can help leaders prevent this response from getting them off track when trying to address performance issues.
  1. Get a leadership coach. If you have leaders working for you, provide leadership coaching for all leaders in your area that are responsible for managing the performance of others.  Training is key for a leaders to have the knowledge to have difficult performance conversations, but actually taking those skills out into the workplace is a totally different thing.  Studies show that only about 10-25% of what is taught in class is retained and applied in the workplace. When training is coupled with coaching that number goes up to about 75 -90%.  Having difficult performance conversations can be very stressful for many people. Having the support of an Executive coach can help leaders push through any anxiety that may prevent them from engaging in these conversations.
  1. Set goals for yourself related to enhancing the culture of accountability in your work area.  If you have leaders that work for you, work with them to create goals related to enhancing the culture of accountability.  Put these goals in the Performance Management Appraisal Program (PMAP).  Most leaders are busy and they prioritize based on the goals set in their PMAP.  In order to enhance the culture of accountability, mechanisms need to be in place to reward those that demonstrate the behaviors needed to an enhance culture of accountability.  There should also be consequences for not having difficult performance conversations.

About Suntiva:

Suntiva is a business transformation and technology company located in Falls Church, VA, serving government agencies. We enable our clients to improve performance through people, process, and technology in significant, measurable, and sustainable ways. We provide mission critical information technology, digital transformation, organizational performance, human capital, and acquisition lifecycle solutions—with great minds and great hearts.