Professional Development

Learning Culture: 10 Personalized Employee Experiences

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The question of “how do we create a more agile culture?” is on most federal leaders’ minds. Imagine a future where all employees, from the frontlines to C-suite, engage one another in more frequent conversation. What kind of relationships and experiences inspire a more insightful and efficient workplace? What role does a more inclusive and engaging human-centered workplace play in IT modernization?

Engagement begins with the individual. No matter where you sit in an organization, you can organize or engage in new workplace experiences. Employee experience solutions begin with exploring small changes with how we experience work on an everyday cadence. A team from the Centers of Excellence (CoE) convened a group of federal Human Capital, IT, and Technology Specialists to identify ways that you can lead from your position. You can make positive changes happen at a minimal cost. As a follow-up to the Future of Teamwork: 10 Employee Engagement Experiences to Foster Collaboration, check out the list of 10 ways you can grow with more personalized learning in your organization.

1) Coffee chats: Change happens one person at a time. Encourage people to make time for informal coffee chats where they can ask questions and learn more about each other’s visions. When people make “listening” a regular habit over “hearing,” it’s easier to find achievable solutions for pain points. When we listen and understand more quickly, we’re able to uncover the workplace pains or barriers that matter the most to people. Check out 18F’s public-facing GitHub repository of the Coffeemate chatbot which helps team members get to know each other by setting them up on virtual coffees.

Photo of a hand holding up a black coffee mug that has the words, Don't Silo Me, and the hashtag, Future Of Gov, in white lettering; in the background is an American flag near an office window.

Collaboration across divisions, offices, centers, or groups can happen by sharing one mug of coffee at a time.

2) Employee talks: Invite employees to take the stage in your organization. You can book a large conference room, shared event space, or organize a webinar timeslot and plan a series of employee talks in your department. Any kind of talk opportunity with a bit of marketing is a simple way to invite individuals or teams of colleagues to share visionary stories for the future. Talks are also useful in creating space and time for people to exchange information across silos! Think of it like a TED talk that’s for government. Invite your colleagues to bring their own lunch if you schedule during a lunchtime slot when you might find more calendar availability.

A man speaks at a podium. To his left is a large projector screen with a listing of more than 30 names on a presentation slide about Chief Information Officer award winners.

Employees at GSA IT are offered time in the spotlight to share success stories on the stage.

3) Candid Interviews: Simple and highly effective tactics like candid smartphone interviews make being transparent easier in the workplace. Invite leaders to open curious employee questions and capture it with your work-issued smartphone camera! A leader will select questions and answer each one on the fly. Questions are crafted by employees and cover a range of topics — the most successful questions are light and fun so that teams can get to know their leaders better.

Screen capture of a video player and one man speaking in front of a bright yellow backdrop. Caption: Internal storytelling videos, like The Sizzle Seat, lift up employee stories.

Internal storytelling videos, like The Sizzle Seat, lift up employee stories.

4) Fun award ceremonies: Don’t wait for big wins to grant awards. Celebrate employee successes along the way. The more often you can reward others, the better feelings of excitement they will have. Employees feel happier and more encouraged when energized with awards and celebrations. For example, some weekly wins could be integrated as simple awards in ongoing team meetings.

A large group from the Centers of Excellence celebrating an employee’s achievements at a team building day

A large group from the Centers of Excellence celebrating an employee’s achievements at a team building day

5) Details and Rotations: You can engage in stretch assignments and support details. You can also create new methods for people to move around an office, division, center, or agency! Internal mobility opens up new ways of thinking and working. It’s a process that encourages people to engage in new conversations and look at old problems from new vantage points. Trying new combinations of people and resources — creating interdisciplinary teams across silos — is the future. Read our piece on USDA Apprenticeship Experiences to break down workforce innovation barriers and check out opportunities on Open Opportunities.

6) Mentor for a day: Make relationships with a local high school. Work with school officials to invite interested students to shadow in your organization for a day. One-on-one connections with the upcoming generation of leaders can breathe new inspiration in your mission to serve in the government, too. Remind professionals of how vital their role is when they inspire our next generation! When someone shadows another person, everyday routines come to life with more energy and zest as new learning is involved. Learn more about GSA’s work in this area.

Small groups of high school students are seated in circles and discuss career opportunities with GSA IT professionals.

Small groups of high school students are seated in circles and discuss career opportunities with GSA IT professionals.

7) Photo wall: You can create a photo wall of your team and colleagues, including their name, role, and other fun facts. Use this wall as a starting point for relationship building. Ask people about themselves — this experience can be the start of a dynamic conversation. Most offices have paper, color printers, and tape. This activity can be done for free or staff can repurpose office items into inspiring decoration around the office.

A leader within the Centers of Excellence arranges her team’s photos on a whiteboard to inspire and engage.

A leader within the Centers of Excellence arranges her team’s photos on a whiteboard to inspire and engage.

8) Journal: A big part of the transformation journey is reflecting on what you’ve learned. Find ways to step out of the daily schedule and reflect on your values, lessons learned, and visions for the future. Reflecting can be a great learning opportunity to prepare for the future, iterate, and grow smarter. To maximize your growth mindset, consider engaging a coach through the Federal Coaching Network or the Treasury Executive Institute’s leadership and executive development and coaching services!

A photo of a small, unlined journal with notes written in green marker.

9) Learning Labs: As mentioned in the previous list for team engagement tactics, exploring new ways of working begins with learning new ideas. You are an expert in many things, what can you teach your team? Learning Labs can also be a place where you can introduce your colleagues to each other — try using the README activity (PDF, 102 kb, 5 pages)! This is low cost and low effort. In as little as 45 minutes, you could introduce a whole new world to your federal community.

A group of 3 women and 2 men standing in front of a dry erase board smiling

A photo of a team working together to learn each other’s technical areas of expertise; in this photo, it was human-centered design and cloud.

10) Rituals and habits: Successful organizational transformation rests on individuals exploring new rituals and habits. It’s possible to create new traditions while respecting what has come before. How can you explore new shifts in daily routines and habits that help spur growth mindsets? Make it a habit to explore one new ritual or habit on a regular basis. If you don’t think you have time to do this, consider letting one old habit go temporarily (or permanently!) to create space to try new things out.

If this list has spurred ideas for you, let us know! Email connectcoe@gsa.gov with your ideas.


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