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VA’s first-ever employee journey map charting new course for talent management

An employee journey map, the first of its kind in the federal government, is helping the Department of the Veterans Affairs uncover insights from its workforce ...

For the Department of Veteran Affairs, collecting feedback has become part of the agency’s DNA in recent years.

The feedback usually comes from the veterans, caregivers and family members VA serves. But in this case the department is collecting feedback from another group of customers — its employees.

Similar to the journey map VA developed for service members and veterans, the department created a map for its workforce last year.

“The goal really was for us to create an artifact that any VA team member who picked up that map could follow their own journey through it,” Airis McCottry Gill, executive director of employee experience and organizational management for VA’s Veterans Experience Office.

To create the map, the Veterans Experience Office spoke with everyone from doctors and nurses to food service workers, attorneys and program analysts.

The department collected more than 11,000 data points from the VA workforce, which eventually informed an employee journey map with five phases, 23 stages and 30 different “moments that matter.”

Those “moments” start with the application and onboarding process and run all the way through retirement.

But to start, the department is focusing on a handful of moments — including onboarding, developing a career, learning new skills and receiving feedback on work — to prioritize.

“While we wish we had a magic wand and could change or fix everything overnight, we don’t,” Gill said. “But we can take incremental steps to make these things a little bit better, incrementally make progress, taking in feedback internally iteratively as we go.”

VA interviewed more employees to hear out their opinions of the professional development process inside the department. Gill said she learned some employees craved opportunities to develop their leadership skills, while others said they preferred different ways to take on challenging projects or learn new skills.

“Sometimes there’s this default that we go to where we think if people want to grow, if people want to do something different, then we need to put them in a leadership development program or we need to hand them supervisory responsibilities,” Gill said. “We heard an overwhelming response from people who say, ‘that’s all well and good,’ but that might not be the path for me. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be invested in it and also doesn’t mean that I’m stagnant. It really just means I want to be invested in where I am.”

The department is piloting an “ask me anything” program where employees can learn more about the steps senior leaders took to advance and grow within the department.

It will also host listening sessions with VA employees from underrepresented backgrounds, Gill said. Those conversations will help VA leadership identify whether employees from certain backgrounds are having less-than-favorable experiences with certain “moments” throughout their journey with VA — and potential ways to address those shortfalls.

“We also saw an opportunity as we were talking and listening to our team members that inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility play a huge role in all of this, not as a set aside piece that is discussed and insulated on its own, but it really is present throughout all of the work that we are doing,” she said. “It’s a critical lens through which to focus on these moments that matter, because we hear those themes as we talk to our team members. We wanted to elevate that piece of the conversation as well.”

VA will also launch a new survey initiative, modeled off its existing program to collect feedback from veterans, known as VSignals. New surveys will collect feedback from VA employees about the onboarding process, as well as other HR transactions, Gill said.

“We’re starting onboarding surveys,” she said. “VA has always had one, but we’ve broken it out into two: at the 30-day point and also at the 90-day point, to see not only did you get the information that you needed, but did you get your security badge? Did you get your laptop? Was it easy? How did you feel going through that process? We’re really trying to use a data driven approach in order to inform the steps that we’re taking, and the next steps that we pursue as a part of this as well.”

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