NIH is mastering the ‘ART’ of understanding employee engagement data

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is perhaps best known for its cancer research or creating popular vaccines.

But now it’s helping federal managers overcome the headache that comes with the annual data dump of Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) results.


A small team at NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases developed a tool to help agency managers sift through piles of annual FEVS data from the Office of Personnel Management more quickly. The tool, which NIH analysts are handing out to other agencies for no charge, gives managers a better picture of employee engagement over the past year, and it can kick start an organization’s conversations about the results and ways to improve them sooner in the coming year.

After all, it can often take weeks or months to distill the numbers to more actionable data, Camille Hoover, an executive officer at NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, said in an interview with Federal News Radio.

“Instead of waiting weeks or months to get your analysis, with this tool, what we have created is a dashboard where you can, within minutes, hone in on your organization — where it’s successful, where things need to be improved [and] where there’s obviously pain points for the employees of the organization,” she said.

The Employee Viewpoint Survey Analysis and Results Tool, or EVS ART, is an Excel-based program that pulls data points from each of the main themes on the annual OPM survey, such as employee engagement, intrinsic work experience and global satisfaction. The tool organizes the survey results based on those themes by agency, subcomponent and office, and it shows the change in responses for a specific item over the years.

“It’s actually conditionally formatted so that the user can see the story,” said Robin Klevins, a senior adviser to the executive officer who created and designed EVS ART with her colleague, Vy Tran. “The themes jump up off of the pages. You don’t even have to know how the tool works to be able to see the story, to see where we need to focus, where our strengths are [and] where our opportunities for improvement are.” 

A “heat map” feature uses colors to show managers their highest and lowest scores — areas that might be strengths or challenges for the agency or office.

“It goes beyond that,” Klevins said. “The heat map tells you where to start looking. The information that you find behind it in the report is like a path. It narrows that down to [what] you actually need to be focusing on.”

One HHS subcomponent told Klevins and Hoover that it cut the time it spent analyzing and reporting on the FEVS data from 72 days to one.

“That’s a huge cost savings, and then they can use that information immediately to start strategically implementing employee-based initiatives or projects or changes,” Klevins said. “Because they were able to save that amount of time, it was literally a 99 percent reduction in time and costs. They have increased the reporting six-fold, so now there are an additional 126 managers [and] supervisors who are going to be getting their customized information for their areas for the first time. And that’s where the important stuff happens, at the front.” 

Hoover said she’s used EVS ART to find areas within the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases that could improve. On the surface, her agency’s scores were high. But when she took a closer look, Hoover found some challenges.

“We did have some changes in leadership,” she said. “We did some structural changes. I started holding workshops for the leaders to make sure they had the tools, were engaged and competent as leaders. We did a lot of communications so that the people of the organization understood that their voice was heard and the initiatives we were doing [were] the result of the fact they were unhappy in certain areas.”

Managers and engagement experts have said it’s particularly telling if more employees say they believe their agency leaders will use the results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey to make noticeable improvements.

A positive response to that question — along with a high participation rate — is typically a sign that employees are having positive work experiences. The two measures are tied together, and Klevins and Hoover said they’ve both seen participation rates and overall confidence in the survey improve over the past few years.

Responding to the FEVS data more quickly means NIH and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases can more easily begin conversations with their employees about the results and ways to improve.

“It took such a long time to do the analysis, to get it right, that it took us longer to actually start those initiatives [and] those activities,” Klevins said. “We want people to actually see that you spoke, we listened [and] this happened. We want them to be able to see that as soon as we get the information back.”

Klevins and Tran designed and developed EVS Art about two years ago. Now, they’re beginning to share the tool with other subcomponents within the Health and Human Services Department, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration.

Klevins and Hoover’s team are beginning to meet with other executives at the Homeland Security and Interior Departments to demo EVS ART.

“We want to share it as broadly as possible,” she said. “We want to get it out to them. There are no licenses required. Anyone can use it.”

All federal employees from any agency can find EVS ART on OMB’s community MAX portal here.