There is immense pressure on government agencies to rein in costs while maintaining the value delivered to citizens. “Doing more with less” is beyond cliché at this point, but that’s exactly the challenge agencies face this year given the austere conditions of the federal workplace –shrinking budgets, increasing workloads, and hiring freezes. To this end, a recent study by CEB shows that government leaders believe they need an 18% productivity improvement in the performance of their employees to reach mission targets.
Such aspirational goals will only be realized with a new approach to enabling performance that focuses on employee productivity through collaboration across networks rather than simple individual task completion. The traditional view focuses on an employee’s ability to complete their individual assignments inside their function and inside their work unit, but this no longer reflects the realities of how work gets done. Secular changes in how we work, accelerated by the proliferation of technology, have changed the profile of the “high performer.” Our mission goals are more complex, our decisions are more driven by data, and our workflow requires more collaboration within and across agencies.
Collectively, these changes require employees to have a broader perspective on their potential contribution to the enterprise by leveraging their “network.” CEB research shows that the importance of “network performance” on organizational success has doubled over the past 10 years. To achieve breakthrough gains in productivity, agencies must therefore broaden their view and consider how they can manage employees to inflect both individual task performance as well as network performance.
In practice, effective network performers consistently demonstrate behaviors that contribute to and benefit from their networks, such as:
- Harnessing great ideas from other parts of the organization and using them in one’s own work
- Soliciting colleagues’ ideas and opinions
- Sharing insight, feedback and knowledge with other coworkers
- Proactively cultivating their own networks of contacts as well as contributing to others’
For the best network performers, these activities extend beyond direct managers and peers, to employees across divisions, functions, and even to external partners in other agencies or outside of the government. Unfortunately, only 20% of employees display high levels of network performance. To foster network performance and learning across the team, managers can take the following steps:
- Focus Employees on Enterprise Contribution Over Individual Tasks – While many acknowledge that network learning activities are important, these activities are commonly not explicit in employees’ formal role definitions. By focusing employees on broader goals rather than specific individual tasks, managers grant employees the flexibility and autonomy to identify network solutions that maximize their impact to the enterprise (i.e. – through sharing insights or knowledge with other coworkers, or tapping coworkers for ideas). After observing such behaviors, managers can reinforce them across the team through public recognition and rewards.
- Target Network Performance Competencies: Research shows that some competencies are more indicative of network performance than others (i.e. – Teamwork, Organizational Awareness, Self-Awareness and Influence). Managers should communicate the importance of network performance competencies, incorporate these competencies into development conversations with employees and HR, and hold employees accountable for developing these competencies across the year.
- Increase the Size and Quality of Employee Networks: The best network learning activities occur between individuals or groups that interact on the job who can mutually benefit from the collaboration and offer relevant feedback and support. Managers can help employees identify these connections and cultivate these relationships by:
- Embedding network learning opportunities into existing team meetings and processes. Questioning others, sharing feedback and knowledge with others, and observing and replicating others’ work represent the most impactful network learning opportunities.
- Identifying informal leaders (key opinion influencers) that can play a leading role in advocating and teaching network performance behaviors.
- Helping employees understand the priorities and motivations of stakeholders, as well as the dynamics of stakeholder relationships.
While network performance remains just one piece of the performance puzzle, it is an area of increasing influence that is often overlooked. This is especially true in the public sector, where many executives have lamented the “siloed” nature of their function, division and agency. Only through a new perspective on performance will agencies be able to achieve the productivity efficiencies they seek.