The Defense Logistics Agency has a new recipe for achieving organizational health and the well-being of its employees. With regular Health of the Agency assessments and stronger collaboration among offices such as DLA Human Resources and Equal Employment Opportunity, leaders are now monitoring agencywide trends that signal the need for improvement.
The effort brings together experts and statistics from a variety of disciplines including human resources, diversity, safety, sexual assault prevention and response, equal employment opportunity, and the DLA Enterprise Hotline, which takes in reports of suspected fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement.
“The more data we have about our people, whether it be demographic information or behavior-based information through things like culture surveys, the better we’re able to weave together an accurate story of the current state of the organization’s health,” said DLA Human Resources Director Brad Bunn.
“That can help us chart a path in terms of the programs we offer, how we build policy that affects people and how we do change management.”
Representatives from each area will gather quarterly to discuss trends in human capital programs with DLA Director Army Lt. Gen. Darrell Williams. The intent is to bring together staff elements that don’t typically have recurring interactions in a forum where leaders can evaluate strengths and weaknesses, then discuss potential remedies for problem areas.
Rather than focusing on specific complaints and individuals, the initiative highlights overall, enterprisewide trends.
“There are a lot of different organizations in DLA working efforts to support people and culture, but they aren’t always synchronized at the enterprise level,” said DLA Chief of Staff Kristin French. “This initiative allows them to collectively review all the different areas that affect the organization’s morale, health and welfare and take a deeper dive into how they can work together to resolve issues that affect the organization as a whole.”
Building a team of representatives from numerous disciplines is key because most issues involve input from multiple parts of the agency, Bunn added.
“Let’s say we have an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint that deals with a non-selection; someone didn’t get promoted and they file an EEO complaint,” he said. “Legal and EEO professionals are inevitably going to get involved along with our HR professionals and the chain of command.”
EEO also works with officials from the Office of the Inspector General and alternative dispute resolution experts to determine the true cause of complaints, said EEO Director Janice Samuel.
“Sometimes we have to dig a little deeper to know what the issue is actually about,” she said. “If it’s about an employee feeling like their boss is bullying them, for example, that’s workplace harassment, not EEO. What we’re doing through the Health of the Agency is partnering more frequently with potential players, which helps us ensure employees are going to the right venue where their issue can be resolved.”
Samuel said greater collaboration has helped her understand how her team is intertwined with other parts of the organization.
“We really do need each other. We need each other to get things done and make improvements that impact the entire agency,” she said.
The initiative, which launched in October, has already led to proactive steps in areas like the new performance evaluation system known as the Department of Defense Performance Management and Appraisal Program. Although the number of grievances formally raised by DLA employees is relatively low in all categories, Health of the Agency representatives recognized the potential for increased complaints as a result of DPMAP.
“Just by virtue of having this group together we’ve been able to alert the director that as DPMAP ratings get finalized, communicated and executed, we’re probably going to see a little more angst in the workforce,” Bunn said. “The system we moved from didn’t generate complaints because pretty much everyone got the same rating, but under DPMAP we expect there to be more disputes.”
DLA Human Resources therefore began a movement to educate employees on such features as the “My Performance” tool and provided tips on writing effective employee-input statements.
A hike in hotline complaints regarding employee-supervisor relationships also spurred additions to leadership-development training.
“We realized that some of our hotline complaints related to equal employment opportunity, which usually has to do with shortfalls in leadership skills and leadership approaches. That’s already caused us to take another look at our leadership competencies and beef up on soft skills in our leadership training and development programs,” Bunn said.
And since mishaps and injuries historically rise during spring and summer when employees spend more time outdoors participating in activities like boating and cycling, Health of the Agency representatives proposed a campaign promoting summer safety.
“Campaigns like these are hard to measure, but they’re helpful,” he said. “If they cause just one employee to put on a life jacket when they’re on a boat or put on a helmet before getting on a motorcycle, then, to me, it’s worth it.”
DLA’s perpetual push toward improving the health and welfare of the agency should motivate employees, said French, who has observed well-being trends at numerous military organizations while serving as an Army officer and commanding general.
“Our employees should be comforted by the fact that DLA spends a great amount of time focusing on people and culture,” she said. “A lot of effort goes into making sure people are taken care of with everything from health fairs and child care centers at our major subordinate commands to the fitness centers that we all have access to. There’s a lot of goodness in what DLA does for its people and culture.”
Budget changes and the demand for reform and auditability continue to challenge DoD and DLA employees, however, and an enduring focus on well-being is essential to ensuring employees have a positive environment and the tools to thrive, French added.
“I think as we build our Health of the Agency reviews, we’ll get smarter on the challenges we’re all under and make sure our staff is honed in on areas that could cause us issues in the future,” she said. “It’s all about supporting the warfighter, and we need to make sure our workforce can focus on that in spite of all the dynamic changes going on around us.”
People and culture are foundational elements of the DLA’s strategic plan, which describes employees as the “secret ingredient to DLA’s success.” Bunn said his interactions with other leaders, labor unions and employees indicate that employees have a positive attitude about the work of the agency. That doesn’t mean there aren’t flaws though, and broadcasting the latest Culture Survey results throughout the agency is proof that DLA leaders want transparency.
“We care enough that we don’t focus only on the positives,” he said. “We’re willing to do something about the negatives, and that generally is what keeps people loyal to an organization, knowing that management is about more than just output, quantities and performance.”