Proof of Concept: Employee empowerment leads to business culture success
“The soft stuff is the hard stuff,” Jack Welch once said. The leadership guru and former chairman and CEO of General Electric knew that trying to change a company’s culture wasn’t easy … but it’s the stuff employees really care about. For ORAU President and CEO Andy Page, employee empowerment is everything. “It’s guiding principle #1 for ORAU’s Strategic Plan, and it’s changing how we do business here,” said Page.
While ORAU has always had a great culture, we set out to stimulate further cultural transformations and employee empowerment with the launch of a new set of Leadership Standards in 2018. It began with a simple concept: everyone is a leader. When we empower our employees to lead, we enhance our efforts to succeed as a business.
In the year since ORAU rolled out these standards, employees and managers have gone through training to strengthen these concepts. They also have participated in fun activities—like the Employees vs. Executives Kickball Game—to even the playing field and help flatten the organization, culturally.
The result has been positive employee satisfaction rates. In a biannual employee survey issued in 2019, ORAU had an 85% response rate, and 73% of employees reported viewing ORAU’s overall organizational culture as “good” or “very good.” “The high response rate says we have employees who are engaged and want to share their feedback,” said Lauren Shaffer, Ph.D., ORAU employee relations and diversity specialist.
In addition to the survey responses, the following insights shared by ORAU employees and managers reinforce the idea that cultural transformation begins with every employee being empowered to lead. The evidence may seem subtle, but for the stuff employees really care about, it is absolute proof of this concept.
Encouraging diversity and inclusion so that everyone has an opportunity to be heard and understood: “I’ve provided personality type (MBTI and Interaction Styles) team-building exercises for different groups within our organization. I found people have a hunger for understanding themselves and work style differences through the lens of personality type. People learn not only how to recognize their preferred ways to acquire/process information and organize their world but also how to appreciate that others often approach the world differently from them. It is at this juncture where they start to create a common language to talk about these differences and provide space for hopefully more transparent and authentic conversations."
—Annabel Fontaine, Administrative Associate, ORISE Director’s Office
Considering individual needs as we work together to fulfill the needs of the organization:
“For a time-sensitive project, I suggested our project team use a technique of less documentation, more interaction. We have daily update meetings where, like an Agile daily scrum meeting, we change the discussion to fit our specific needs. This gives everyone an opportunity to discuss anything impeding them from completing their tasks in a timely manner. So far so good!”
—Brandon Carter, Business Analyst, Resource Center for Performance Excellence
Openly communicating the “why” when sharing information: “Getting out of my office and walking around are great ways to not lose sight of what it takes to get something done and get that knowledge from the people doing it. Sometimes this helps shine a light on why something is the way it is. It may also shine a light on things we can change to make it better. In doing this, I realized some employees were still completing fields in an old system that are not necessary anymore, and we can eliminate that and save them time!”
—Angie Lester, Group Manager, Technology Support, Scientific Assessment Workforce Development Program
Driving performance excellence by empowering employees and encouraging innovative thought: “We needed more automation of our process for entering funding into our financial system. Instead of creating a new process myself, in a vacuum, I asked my team to develop a solution. They have a better understanding of the details and perform these tasks on a daily basis. Their solution resulted in a budget-neutral process improvement with minimal updates to the system. Everyone at ORAU is a subject matter expert in some form, and managers need to get out of the way and let them create!”
—Ric Salkeld, Manager, ORISE Funding Office