DoT, NASA use Web 2.0 to increase satisfaction

By Max Cacas
Federal News Radio

Dig deeply into the recently released “Best Places To Work” survey and you’ll find much the same recipe for success among agencies that either rank high or have made significant improvement during the past year. Tools of social media/collaboration are one key to that improvement.

“We wanted to concentrate getting some practical, hands-on advice from those who had significantly improved, or who have had a history of doing well in employee satisfaction or driving agency mission,” said Jennifer Dorn, the president and CEO of the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), which sponsored an executive workshop for agencies, called “Creating a Culture Where Employees Thrive and Agencies Succeed,” Monday.

NAPA, which has provided research and advice to both agencies and Congress on management issues, has had a long-standing interest in topics concerning human resource management.


For the discussion of what goes into creating a culture that puts an agency into the top five of the Best Places to Work Survey, NAPA invited representatives from two organizations: NASA, which ranked fifth, and the Department of Transportation, which only placed 26th overall, but increased its ranking from 2009 by 16 percent.

Marlise Streitmatter, deputy chief of staff at DoT, reinforced the premise that buy-in from the very top was a key to an agency moving up in the rankings. She said a very poor placement in the 2008 survey spurred action from the secretary’s suite.

“Of the four areas covered by the survey, performance management, leadership, and job satisfaction, the department rated near the bottom in all categories,” Streitmatter said. “The 2008 survey results came as a bit of a shock. We took two steps to begin addressing the issues. First, the secretary determined that this would be a priority. He communicated this very clearly to his leadership team, and continued to emphasize it to employees in the ensuing months. His constant refrain is ‘You’re doing important jobs, and we want you to be happy coming to work every day.’ Second, we reached out to other federal agencies that had shown improvement in their results to get a sense of best practices.”

Streitmatter heard about one such very successful program at one of those agencies from NAPA’s Dorn, a message board that lets employees submit their own ideas for improving agency performance, and have those ideas rated, ranked and commented upon by everyone from the newest administrative hire, to the secretary himself.

“TSA (Transportation Security Administration), had developed a tool called IdeaFactory, so they could communicate better with their field employees,” she said. “Once the 2008 survey results came out, and we saw how poorly we had done, we were looking for ways to engage our employees.”

Streitmatter said DoT rejected the formation of a more traditional council to which workers could submit problems, realizing that they needed to find an approach that appealed to younger workers.

Streitmatter said DoT now has its own version of TSA’s IdeaFactory, called IdeaHUB, which has been a big factor in the department’s improved performance in the survey.

Toni Dawsey, assistant administrator for human capital management and Chief Human Capital Officer with NASA, said the space agency had to adjust to the uncertainty of major changes to the country’s space program. Previously, NASA has enjoyed top 10 rankings in the Best Places survey.

“President Bush announced his vision for exploration, and we learned that our beloved Shuttle was going to be retired, and that we were going back to the Moon, and on to Mars,” she said. “And that really shook the agency. They went from this stable, operational environment, to they weren’t sure what.”

Dawsey said since those days, the last two NASA administrators have presided over the creation of a new culture called cross-generation, which she said involved encouraging better communication between much of the agency’s senior management and workforce with younger, newly recruited members of Generation X by using Web 2.0 tools.

“We have Spacebook, we have Facebooks, our deputy administrator Twitters with them,” she said. “And what we’ve done is we’ve opened communication to be more generationally friendly. And the older generations thought, ‘yeah, this is working for me, too!'”

Both Dawsey and Streitmatter said their agencies continued improvement in the Best Places to Work survey will hinge on continued emphasis on communication, employee engagement and progressive workplace programs.

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