UnlockTalent.gov starts the conversation on improving workforce engagement

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UnlockTalent.gov — the Web-based tool to help federal leadership easily access and visualize workforce data — is officially available for agencies and departments governmentwide. While some early users are quick to point out possible improvements, the general consensus is that the digital tool is a necessary conversation starter for better federal workforce engagement.

Before UnlockTalent.gov was launched by the Office of Personnel Management in July, mangers hoping to extract insight from the numerous federal surveys of their workers — like the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) and the Enterprise Human Resources Integration survey — had to access those multiple data sets in multiple locations. But now, even if the highest tiers of agency leadership are not as concerned about the sentiment of their employees as they should be, those familiar with the tool argue that its integration of multiple data sets into on easy-to-use platform lowers the bar for managers to view and make use of the data.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 10.42.08 AM UnlockTalent.gov uses multiple federal workforce data sets to show agencies their engagement scores in a user-friendly dashboard. (Credit: UnlockTalent.gov)

“It takes a lot of time to put a lot of those data sources together and then try to understand and figure out ‘How can I use this to help improve employee engagement?'” Arianne Gallagher, a senior policy adviser at OPM, said during an ACT-IAC webinar Thursday. Gallagher said the website is also adaptive, which makes it easier for leadership to view it across multiple devices, and it uses eye-catching visualizations to make analyzing the data less of a chore.

Michael Lawyer, special assistant to the chief human capital officer at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said from a data analyst’s perspective he was initially thrown off by the tool until he realized how easy it made his life and how the leadership in his agency would love it. “This has really enabled us to help get our executives curious. And that’s been the thing that’s beginning to drive change,” Lawyer said. “Because before this tool was available, I relied on finding enough analysts who had enough time and enough [Microsoft] Excel expertise … to crank it all together and spin out a product the executive would actually read.”

Because the tool is free and so easy to use, Lawyer said it’s inviting and incites curiosity in his executives who have used it so far. That curiosity, he said, is starting a feedback loop that he hopes will drive more engagement in next year’s FEVS and in the workforce in general.

“It’s hard to formulate the sort of top-level strategies. But as we get more granular data behind this really well-designed tool, it’s just inviting more people to explore it,” Lawyer said. “We’ve begun to have those conversations with a couple people, which has been really amazing to see the data used and that’s what we’re expecting to start driving next year’s participation rate. That’s where our success stories are starting to come in.”

Gallagher said that’s exactly what OPM is hoping — that those sort of conversations start popping up because of the data.

“The tool is helping to push out this conversation in terms of, ‘OK, we know what our engagement score is, so what are we going to do about it?'” she said. “One of the things that we hope as time goes on is that agencies use this as a resource but also have it pull agencies to figure out successful strategies … and implement change.”

Like any tool in its infancy, UnlockTalent.gov is a work in progress. Gallagher said OPM is using lean startup methodology to build a minimum viable product based around the needs and wants of agencies.

“What we’re trying to do is just figure out what we can put on this site that will make it valuable so that people will actually use it,” she said. “So we’re doing multiple iterations at a time and figuring out what metrics are really valuable and where can we go from there? How can we build this to make it really powerful? We’re scratching the surface, and we’re working with agencies from all over to figure out how we can do this and do this the right way.”

In coming iterations, OPM hopes to build out a feature called HR Core Metrics “to show the data points in the context of the employee life cycle.” Likewise, Gallagher said OPM is addressing other concerns, like letting users download the data sets from the website, opening data to be shared among agencies and allowing agencies to incorporate their own other data sets for a more comprehensive view of their workforce.

“We want to have users looking at it and using it through multiple times, telling us how we can make it better,” she said. “User input is critical. It takes a village to build this site. We want to make sure we don’t build it and then it dies because nobody is using it. We want to make sure that over time we are making sure that all the upgrades and everything we do with the site has a user-centric approach and is valuable to the users.”

While it’s just the beginning for UnlockTalent.gov, Lawyer is optimistic about its ability to drive change.

“We’re early in that process, so I can’t say it works, but I’m getting a lot more phone calls about this year’s FEVS data than I ever have in prior years,” he said.

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Agencies, big data, data analytics, Departments, Government IT News, Innovation, Office of Personnel Management (OPM), open data, Tech, workforce
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