Creativity, innovation slighted, many feds say


If there were ever a time for the federal government to recognize the value of new approaches and ideas, this would be it.

But at most major federal agencies, fewer than half of employees believe that’s actually happening, according to a survey analysis released today by the Partnership for Public Service.

The two exceptions were NASA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where more than 60 percent of respondents agreed that “creativity and innovation are rewarded.” At the three military services and 23 agencies, however, the comparable ratios were below 50 percent and at a couple—including the Transportation Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—they were below one-third.

At the bottom was the Securities and Exchange Commission, where just 28.4 percent of responding employees saw such incentives for innovation.

That’s the same SEC that’s picking up a slew of new responsibilities under the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul signed last year. In an email, spokesman John Nester touted the fact that–in response to another survey question–nearly 9 in 10 SEC staffers said they were “constantly looking for ways to do their jobs better.” The agency is “looking for ways to better encourage and reward them for that,” Nester added.

The analysis draws on data from last year’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, which attracted responses from more than 250,000 full-time permanent feds. At every agency covered, overwhelming majorities of respondents said they were “constantly” looking for ways to do their jobs better. At most, more than half said that they felt encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things.

What gives?

“We have a work force that is individually motivated to try new things to succeed and they’re not receiving either leadership or organizational support in trying to be creative and innovative,” Partnership President Max Stier said in a phone interview. “That’s a problem.”

The analysis singles out a half-dozen conditions–such as involving employees in decisions that affect their work–that help drive innovation. And probably managers at just about every federal agency would claim that they’re all for getting away from business as usual. So is there a disconnect between lip service and reality? What do you think?


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  1. One of the problems in DOD with civillians are that there are too many Managers and “Yes” men/women and very few Leaders.

    These managers may be very smart and have technical expertise. However, leadership skills and training has a very low priority when they were selected for the job.

    For many managers, the supervisory part of there job is treated as an “additional duty” of little importance.

  2. “…they’re all for getting away from business as usual…”

    How about trying “Results-Only Work Environment” (google it). It empowers employees to be creative and innovative and really produce results.

  3. Innovation? Rewards? Who are we trying to kid?

    Our pay is frozen, our benefits are threatened, job cuts are coming and only 1 person can be hired for every 3 that leave! Innovation? Most of us fight to accomplish our jobs (“do more with less”) within a 40-hour week. It takes innovation and ingenuity to work with roadblocks, command-structure and all the other “hoops” we jump through on a day-to-day basis! We innovate in small ways but that’s not what is ever looked for.

    As far as rewards go…there is NO MONEY! We might get a day off but then you just have that much more work when you get back. There was no money given for last year’s Performance Awards; it was all time off.

    I don’t come to work to get rewarded…I work hard every day, doing what I must to get the job done and hope/pray that I will have a retirement in a few years.

  4. +1 to what Jennifer says.

    As a manager, our pay pool could only give performance bonuses to 50% of employees in the total pay pool, and my organization within that pool fell far below 50% in receipts, even though they are exceptional workers and innovators, because of “grade inflation” by other organizations in the pay pool. Even if I give them cash awards during the year, that amount would then be taken away from their performance pay at the end of the year!

    “Cyber” is the new hotness. We are constantly barraged with information about how important IT is to the warfighter, and how vulnerable it is to enemy infiltration, modification, and theft. Rather than growing to meet the continually increasing requirements and regulations we get each year, our organization is facing a 15% cut. Do more with less.

    If we were lazy bums who sat around all day and did nothing, I would say let us hang. We are not. We are CONSTANTLY having to come up with workarounds to try to do more tasks with a stagnant budget. This will only get worse as the DoD is seen as a sacrificial place to cut dollars to reform the federal budget.

    Luckily there are initiatives like Civilian Education System that are trying to professionalize leaders in the civil service. The problem is that its not part of hiring criteria, and its not taken seriously by our leadership.

    Just keep rowing. Be Silent. Consume. Die.

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