Former senior leader in the federal government shares insights on how agencies can increase employee engagement and improve the public sector employee experience.
The pandemic, combined with shifting employee and public customer expectations, have led many government agencies to set goals to transform the experience of public service design and delivery.
For those organizations looking to embark on this journey, your work must first begin by looking inward to ensure that your people are best positioned to help you achieve that goal. That means focusing on improving the internal health of your workforce. By using human-centered design and more personalized data, you have the power to transform your workforce experiences to help fuel better and more equitable experiences for all.
Nina Bianchi, new Public Sector Solution Principal for Medallia, shares her perspective on the top challenges and opportunities for government agencies looking to transform the public sector employee experience as well as employee engagement in the public sector.
Tell us about your background and why you joined Medallia.
I believe Medallia can bring people and data together to do monumental things in a way that no one else can. This community is key to unlocking Democracy 2.0. “2.0” refers to a future where all voices are heard, understood, and served with seamless government experiences delivered with empathy and compassion. Before joining Medallia, I led people-centered change alongside brave teams and excellent leaders in the U.S. federal government. During the peak of the global pandemic crisis, I served as Chief of People and Culture at the IT Modernization Centers of Excellence at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, advancing new ways of working and culture transformation. It was incredible to support the FDA during this moment, as the world was relying on us to accelerate the vaccine authorizations safely and securely. Before serving at the FDA, I led workforce transformation efforts as a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow as part of the Biden Cancer Moonshot™ initiative, focusing on experience and operational innovation required to drive personalized medicine.
What factors are driving change in the public sector employee experience?
Public agencies are under a lot of pressure to modernize government through technology transformation. Change management leaders know that the secret to technology-driven strategy is to combine a focus on workforce with more inclusive, people-centered approaches. Our experience of public services does not magically change because of a strategic plan on paper, an executive memo, a new software purchase, or a few townhall leadership presentations alone. Better government services and policies improve when our public sector employees have the time and space to evolve. This requires coaching and helping federal government employees, from frontlines to C-suite, learn how to learn again. It also requires syncing organizational changes with technology changes that free employees’ time up to move from low to higher-value tasks. We’re holding space for people to, quite literally, work out of the “org chart boxes” and connect to one another, better.
I love something you said, Melissa, in Medallia’s 2021 Experience conference. You said, “employee behavior is customer experience,” and that is precisely the truth! Helping our public sector employees advance new ways of working — which is all about employee behavior and cultural practices — is the key to ushering in more effective, just, and inspiring democracy. Medallia can help organizations prototype the art of possibility and reimagine the moments that matter most across the employee experience journey.
What can public sector agencies learn from leaders who are innovating when it comes to the public sector employee experience?
I’ve observed that today’s public sector leaders struggle to meet people where they are, to truly understand their highly differentiated needs. I model the art of possibility by listening and seeking to understand what actions make sense to take at the right time. However, I can also admit that I alone — as an analog listener — cannot see all that is often unheard and unseen. Public sector leaders of the future need to see, hear, and connect with all of the people they serve, and they need more powerful tools to do that effectively. We call this “equitable listening,” or the process of receiving, understanding, and responding in a way that is fair, impartial, and representative of those who you serve. Equitable listening is the foundation to building trust and breaking down barriers to reaching and connecting with all employees. This is special for the public sector because the essence of democracy is participatory. We have the power to generate more innovative policies and services — that serve all people — with leadership by design.
How is the success of the overall public service experience connected to internal public sector employee experiences?
Agencies can improve the way they deliver services to the public by focusing on improving the internal health — adaptability, engagement, and productivity — of their workforce. The models and standards built into an agency’s employee culture will help to determine the foundational internal work culture. Improving internal organization operations centers on equitable listening and participatory practices. This isn’t a mere anecdote — inclusion of the employee voice in a healthy and thriving organization dates back to the Toyota production system. There’s this great Harvard Business School use case from the Virginia Mason Medical Center, that shows that leaders in quality, reliability, and value grow by including the voice of “frontline workers to solve production problems” and by prioritizing “good thinking and a commitment to learning.”
At Medallia, we believe that a healthy work culture drives the way public-facing goods and services are delivered. By bringing together employee experience and customer experience data in one place, leaders can easily identify what employees are experiencing internally and how those experiences are impacting public service delivery.
Can you share an example of an agency getting it right when it comes to public sector employee experiences?
Leaders who foster a culture of lifelong learning are more likely to see quicker success and better outcomes for their organizations. Learning and collaborative behaviors are essential to open mindsets that drive solutions to seemingly unbeatable problems. “Getting it right” is by no means a single solution, nor is employee experience a finite destination. Getting it right begins with a collaborative attitude to help employees foster connections and focusing on improving experiences iteratively over time.
I’ve helped to shape promising efforts afoot within the federal government, starting with baby steps. My teams, through the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), led pop-up style upskilling and leadership advancement opportunities around tech and data. Examples include: pop-up learning labs like this For the Future of Federal Data, Dashboards, and Storytelling or this Learning Culture: 10 Personalized Employee Experiences. The GSA IT Modernization Centers of Excellence also facilitated an Apprenticeship platform at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has helped accelerate transformation outcomes and engage employees in more equitable and inclusive ways. A number of the USDA Apprentices have since moved on to start USDA’s Chief Customer Experience Office.
My team also helped to catalyze a New Ways of Working (NWOW) movement across the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Part of this work involves shifting to agile methodology and moving from siloed program offices and divisions to interdisciplinary teams that keep people, whether internal customers or employees, at the center of service design and delivery.
This vital internal transformation work is integral to the future of a more equitable democracy. NWOW movements that blend EX, CX, culture transformation, and IT modernization are ahead of the federal curve.
If you’re ready to activate the true potential of your people and improve every area of your business, download our Definitive Guide to Employee Experience and discover the exact steps top organizations are taking to elevate employee experience and improve engagement, customer satisfaction, and more.