Applying professional developmental tools to employee engagement.

Author:Fu, Elizabeth


High employee engagement is connected to better customer service, higher productivity lower turnover rates, lower absenteeism, and several performance outcomes. (1) But data on employee engagement suggest that governments have room for improvement in this area. A 2014 survey of state and local government employees found that fewer than a half of respondents had an understanding of their organization's direction, indicating a disconnect between employees and the mission and vision of their organizations."

In an article for the Atlantic, Derek Thompson writes that "any organization that focuses on improving engagement doesn't strive to improve engagement for its own sake. The goal should be to improve engagement as a strategy to improve performance." (3) In other words, ask how an employee's goals relate to the organization's goals, and vice versa. Keep in mind, however, that the traditional way of doing this --giving feedback to employees as part of an annual performance review--is probably ineffective; many studies have found that feedback elicited from traditional performance reviews may bore goal-oriented individuals and discourage relatively new employees.'

Local government finance offices are taking on the challenge of creating more effective strategies. Below, five of these jurisdictions--the City of Fredericton, New Brunswick; Town of Gilbert, Arizona; Oakland County, Michigan; City of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; and St. Johns River Water Management District in Florida-share important lessons from their own experiences.


Any personal development strategy needs to start with an assessment of the employee's strengths and values. The local governments mentioned in this article chose to work with two self-assessment tools that are easy to use and inexpensive, with results that are supported by scientific research: Mindset and StrengthsFinder.

Mindset. Mindset is a collection of online development materials, learning curricula, webinars, and workshops that are based on research by Carol Dweck, a leading researcher of motivation. Dweck posits that people have either a "fixed" or a "growth" mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that their basic qualities and abilities cannot be changed, while people with a growth mindset believe the opposite--that their basic qualities and abilities can be developed over time, with the proper practice and encouragement. (5) Dweck's assessment identifies whether an individual tends toward a fixed or growth mindset. The materials help those with more of a fixed mindset to start working on a growth mindset, and those who tend more toward a growth mindset to discover any remaining self-limiting beliefs that might prevent them from reaching their full potential. Dweck's research shows that a growth mindset is necessary for meaningful personal development.

StrengthsFinder. StrengthsFinder was developed in 1998 by psychologist Donald 0. Clifton and researcher Tom Rath, along with a team of Gallup scientists. StrengthsFinder includes books, an online assessment program, and training sessions. The assessment helps identify a person's natural talents, lists his or her most important strengths, and gives advice on developing professional skills that are aligned with the strengths identified.

Putting Results to Use. Generally speaking, assessments provide an opportunity for individuals to focus on themselves before getting into the details of a personal development plan, creating a newfound perspective that allows the user to get the most from the experience. For example,

for staff in Oakland County's finance office, taking the Mindset assessment allowed staff to be aware of their "inner voice." This is important because if someone's inner voice is telling them that their skills and abilities are fixed and they are not capable of personal growth, then a personal development plan will not get them far.

The results can be surprising. Before taking...

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