National Nuclear Security Administration

NNSA leadership shares tips to build a highly technical, inclusive workforce

June 20, 2017

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NNSA exchanged ideas on transformation of human capital management at the 2nd annual OPM Research Summit on June 7 at American University in Washington, D.C. From left to right: NNSA’s acquisition and project management office executive director Claire Dunne, inclusive diversity specialist Jesse Frank, NNSA Deputy Associate Administrator for Management Frank Lowery, deputy manager of NNSA’s Sandia Field Office Mike Duvall, and director of NNSA’s employee empowerment office Mary Ann Fresco.

NNSA leaders joined academic researchers, federal practitioners, and industry partners to exchange ideas on human resources management at the 2nd annual U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Research Summit June 7 at American University in Washington, D.C.

Taking questions from other human resources professionals during the panel session, NNSA Deputy Associate Administrator for Management Frank Lowery was asked to identify challenges to employee engagement. As an example, he talked about transparency in NNSA’s successful promotion system.

The summit highlighted organizations using innovative strategies to advance human capital policy and invited leaders to present strategies to implement new ideas and technologies. Because of its successful approach to create a highly technical, inclusive workforce, NNSA was invited to participate in a panel about challenges and uncertainties to promote inclusive diversity through data provided by the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), which gathers insights on employee engagement, productivity, innovation, and other employee concerns.

“Nuclear security is a complex mission with a need for diverse thought to create effective solutions,” said Mary Ann Fresco who heads up NNSA’s employee empowerment office. “NNSA organizations have used successful strategies to build and lead a diverse, engaged, highly technical workforce in an inclusive workplace.”

Fresco introduced the panel, which was moderated by inclusive diversity specialist Jesse Frank. The three panelists lead NNSA organizations in which FEVS scores improved in all four areas from 2014 to 2016. NNSA as a whole also improved, jumping 120 rankings in the Best Places to Work list and ranking among the top 10 most improved agencies in its category.

“Our diversity programs and professionals empower us to make sure employees respond with feedback, through methods like FEVS, so that we can plan and measure change,” said NNSA Deputy Associate Administrator for Management Frank Lowery.

“We have built focus on inclusivity into our career development programs,” deputy manager of NNSA’s Sandia Field Office Mike Duvall said. “For example, the midlevel career program includes a capstone project that asks a team of developing mid-level leaders to assess how NNSA can become the government employer of choice.” “In particular NNSA has succeeded at engaging a highly technical workforce, ensuring they feel and take advantage of opportunities to be heard,” Lowery said.

“NNSA continues the traditions of the Manhattan Project by employing the best and brightest in its workforce,” said Mike Duvall, deputy manager of NNSA’s Sandia Field Office. “It’s important for us to get feedback in order to ensure as leaders we are being consistent and fair.”

NNSA’s successful inclusive tools and resources include the New IQ Approach, human-centered design, a focus on leadership, engagement of the workforce, and outreach for increased FEVS participation.

To get organizations to participate in the FEVS, NNSA incentivized survey-taking through competition, Lowery said. NNSA’s employee empowerment organization relays the agency’s FEVS participation rates frequently during the survey period to encourage participation in a friendly competition that drives engagement.

NNSA’s acquisition and project management office executive director Claire Dunne: “As a leader, it’s critical that you know what you know, and you know what you don’t know. This is a good way to battle top-down leadership as well as the ‘always done it this way’ mentality.” “By asking employees to both identify concerns and contribute solutions, you get better buy-in from employees on future changes,” said Claire Dunne, NNSA’s acquisition and project management office executive director. “Instead of telling employees what to do, we are partnering with them and involving them on the best ways to move forward.”

“At the heart of leadership is the fact that organizations are made of people,” Dunne said. “As humans, people just want to enjoy what they do day-to-day and feel that their contributions are valued.”

According to past FEVS results, NNSA’s strengths include making sure employees understand how their jobs contribute to overall missions. NNSA’s pay-for-performance system also receives high marks from employees for appropriately rewarding top performers. As for what NNSA can work on, its leaders are already preparing to incorporate new feedback from employees.

“Sometimes hearing criticism and failures from employees hurts. But it’s what you do with that hurt that makes all the difference,” Lowery said. “Inclusion means learning lessons from everyone, and being open through personal engagement.”

Director of NNSA’s employee empowerment office Mary Ann Fresco explains how NNSA organizations have implemented successful strategies to build and lead a diverse, engaged workforce in an inclusive workplace.