Unlocktalent.gov architect on engaging the workforce with data
By Carten Cordell
Kimya Lee is head of OPM's unlock talent.gov and is seen at the Office of Personnel management May 09, 2016. (Daniel Woolfolk/Staff)
Kimya Lee has a thing for data — or at least its potential. As the Office of Personnel Management's senior adviser on research and evaluation, Lee has been the face of the agency's efforts to use big data to understand the federal workforce.
Her work on the analytics website, Unlocktalent.gov, has been cited for its effective use and presentation of Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey data to give agency managers a better insight into the health and engagement of their agencies.
Now a finalist for the Partnership for Public Service's Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, Lee sat down with Senior Reporter Carten Cordell to talk about what Unlocktalent.gov has achieved and what her future plans for it are.
Talking about where the site is moving now, nSince you have expanded it the site to Senior Executive Service users, how are you moving forward with it this year?
So just at the end of 2014, we moved it to all SES, right. And so it was just over 7,000 users. And then a few months later, the decision was made that this is a tool that should be used for management but also for transparency. Because as we built trust, you know, I always think about trust, it's like transparency plus time equals trust.
And so wWe have our employees taken a survey each year and some agencies provide them with the results and other agencies may not. So we wanted a way for employees who are providing their voice to see what's going on in their agency. And so in 2015, we opened up the site. So tThere is a two-tier [site] right now. The first tier is a public site where you can go, the general public can look at some overall numbers for an agency, but also what I like about that is you can also look at the trends. Because one data point for one year tells you very little. You can show that you know 64 percent of our employees are engaged, taking that out of context, that doesn't tell you too much. But if you see that over the last five years, this being an increase, then you know if we're going in the right direction versus if it’s decreasing — then you know we have some stuff to look at.
So what features does the site offer its users right now?
So in 2015, we opened it up to the public, but we went one step further. As a federal employee, you can go and register, put in your information with your government email address, and we give you access to your agency results, and this is part of that transparency. Your agency results are not just, 'Since I work in [Transportation Security Administration], I'm only going to see TSA results.' No. What we want to do is to get the conversation started. So as a [Department of Homeland Security] employee, you put in your email address and you get the DHS, but also all of the components under DHS. That helps with that transparency.
Also, when you log in as an employee or a senior leader, when you get to that first page, there's a map. The map isn't just about survey data. This is about administrative data. So there's a map, I can go in and I can see my workforce. What that shows is you can see workforce across the country, but you can look at retirement eligibility. What percentage of my workforce is retirement eligible? One agency I looked at, it said 10 percent of their workforce — almost 40,000 — was retirement eligible. You can make a decision on that, but when you click onto one of the states, I believe it was Florida, 17 percent of their workforce in Florida is retirement eligible. You know what they're going to do about that is different than what they would do if only 10 percent of their workforce was retirement eligible. So those are the things that currently as a federal employee you can go in and you take can take a look at for your agency as well as for the government.
Another piece I think that's really, really important is that when we talk about employee engagement, when we talk with the agencies, engagement is local. I want to know what's going on in my office or in my component because that's what matters to me because I can see myself in that data. And you can go on and you can say, ‘Hey, based off of the information I can go down to this level and I can see the overall engagement scores, but is that enough information?' I want to look at it by different demographics. I want to look at it as mMy favorite one is when you look at individuals who say they are going to leave the government and you look at their engagement scores.’So iIndividuals who said they're going to stay within their agency, their engagement scores are higher. Individuals who said they're going to possibly leave their agency but go to another agency, their engagement scores are a little lower. But when individuals say, ‘I am leaving the federal government,’ they have the lowest engagement scores and that's information we can use.
What have you heard from agencies in terms of feedback? Features that they like or would like to see on the website?
So just on two different fronts. Usually, we hear that employees are very grateful and they appreciate the idea of trying to get the data out to them. We say that your voice matters and we have to really show it. And for agencies, they like the idea that it’s simple and sometimes that's hard because we're dealing with really, really complex issues. A simple clean website where they can go and find the information.
What we do — actually, we're about to do this right now — we put out a call to agencies and we say, ‘You know, we're going to do some focus groups on our website.' We want people to tell us what’s working and what’s not working and what they would like to see [and] any challenges they have been having. One of the important questions we ask is in order for this website to be successful or if we are going to think about this website and if it didn't have which feature would it mean that if failed?’ Because if I say, ‘What features would you like to have,’ people would like to have lots of different features. But if you get down to the bottom like what would be a failure, they would say at a minimum, we need this and that's how we prioritize all of this.
The field of data analytics, at least its application to government, still feels very new. Does the adoption of this tool by the managers feel at times like a new toy for them?
With any new tool, they have to see the value immediately. And they have to understand that it's not going to go away. But also, you know, from OPM's standpoint, we have to continue to push the envelope a little bit because we want people to keep coming back. We wanted it to be as useful as possible. I'm not saying the website can be all things for everyone.
I think about it like a GPS, right. The GPS can get you on a highway, [but] it's your decision of what lane to take. For some agencies with a more mature model, they've been looking at this for a long time and maybe they're in a fast lane. They see the results. They know what to do and they're going for it. For other agencies, they're still learning about this and so they are in another lane. The website will not give you every answer. It will helpfully point you in a direction where you can focus on.
So I guess you are excited about wWhat are you working on this year?
I am. So I said that right now we have two tiers. We're going to work on a third tier. There's this fine line between putting out useful data and protecting the confidentiality of individuals who are taking a survey. And still a lot of times we hear, ‘Just release everything,’ but that's not very responsible. We wouldn't be responsible with the data if we just released everything as well as if we just put everything out there, the website will be a mish-mash of lots of different information not very useful at all. So wWe have to be very cognizant of what we're doing.
So with this next tier, we're calling it, "The Executive Tier." So they'll be able to go down a little further in their agency as well as different cuts of the data. So we're working on that.
I mentioned the map. As an employee I can go into the map, [but] we want to show that to the public as well. Hopefully with this next round of upgrades, when you log on to Unlocktalent.gov, there will they'll be a map of the total workforce without having to log on as an agency.
And the third thing is we have a "Community of Practice" page, and in this page we present videos, papers and interviews with agencies on what they're doing. It’s kind of like best practices. What we want to say is that it's important to know about best practices, but you have to understand that just because it worked for agency A doesn't necessarily mean it's a great fit for you. So not only presenting the best practices, but we get senior accountable officers together around engagement and we've discussed them. So agency A can say, ‘This has been working really well for us, but these are some of the struggles we had and how we implemented and how it fits with our culture. Then, agency B can look at that and say, ‘I think I can take maybe you know this part of it, because that will fit with my culture as well.’ So those are those are the big things that we're working on for the next go around.