How the Space and Missile Defense command made itself the best place to work in the Army

Armed Services and Defense Department organizations range all over the place when it comes to the best places to work rankings.

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Armed Services and Defense Department organizations range all over the place when it comes to the best places to work rankings. The Army, for example, had a middling index of about 63 in the latest list, slightly below the government-wide average. But the Army Space and Missile Defense Command had an index of 77.5, on par with some of the best-rated agencies. And it became the best place to work in the Army. For how the command went about working on its employee satisfaction issues, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with its Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey lead Dana Henslee. She is a member of the command’s civilian workforce development office.  The Army Space and Missile Defense Command is all about missiles and directed energy and things that fly and shoot but ultimately is composed of people.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: And you have been able to raise the organization’s standings in the best places to work in the federal government. Tell us what happened. And then we’ll get into how you did it?

Dana Henslee: Well, we’re very excited about that. So how we did it, I took over as the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey point of contact in probably 2019. And so we really started kind of hitting those results hard. Really looking at them, seeing where we can make improvements. So when we analyze those results, we always identify the lowest scoring questions, and break those results all the way down from top leadership from our commanding general, to our deputy to the commander, and all the way down to all of the supervisors. So we looked at those areas, and we said, how can we do better? So one of the first things we did, we started holding monthly brainstorming sessions. Some people refer to them as syncing sessions, but each month with focus on a different set of questions.

Tom Temin: Give us an example of a question that you didn’t do well on or that you want to do improve. And then we’ll get into the details of how you actually do something about that question. Can you can you name one?

Dana Henslee: So one of the questions that we didn’t do so well on had to do with, the question was, I believe that the results of this survey will be used to make my organization better.

Tom Temin: That is kind of a government-wide problem in general.

Dana Henslee: It is. So what we did is, in the brainstorming session, we allowed individuals, supervisors, non-supervisors, to share their thoughts, ideas, recommendations, anything that they wanted to share related to that specific question or other questions. And so one of the things; we thought we were doing a good job communicating all of the improvements, we were making all of the actions we were taking. But we found out that our communication plan was not very good. So we have put together a communication plan. And a PAO is going to support us and trying to get the word out about some of the actions that we’re taking to make, you know, to address some of the areas where we had opportunities for improvement. And we’re also using our internal command net, to post those action items that we’re working on.

Tom Temin: And what are some of the action items? What have you changed materially such that people when they fill out the survey in subsequent years, your scores went up?

Dana Henslee: Some of the other areas that were identified where we needed to make improvements dealt with, like recognition and communication. So some of the things that we have done for recognition, we found out through the brainstorming sessions that, you know, teammates were individuals were not comfortable with how to put their appraisal package together, when they wrote their contribution statements. And we had a lot of folks just were not real happy with the appraisals that we’re getting. So we developed an appraisal writing class. And we went to all of the people managers. The pay pool is the team that reviews the appraisal package. I went to all of the people managers, and I said, if there’s something that you could say to the employees, that would help make their package better, what would you say to them? And then I asked them the same questions for supervisors and we integrated that input into that training. So, after the first year of presenting that training to personnel, we received feedback from the people managers, that the packages were better, you know, the packages had improved. And I was talking to someone today and they were telling me, someone in my office in the personnel office, and they were talking about how we used to have a large number of grievances after the appraisal period, and that over time that the number of grievances have greatly decreased,

Tom Temin: So you improve the process without making it like Lake Wobegon where everybody’s above average. I mean, that wasn’t the issue.

Dana Henslee: No, the issue, people just honestly, and I can say this personally for myself, too. We did not know how to write a good contribution statements. We did not, you know,  have a format to follow. And we really did not understand what the folks sitting around the table reviewing our appraisal package, we really did not know what they were looking for, what the expectation was, or the or really how to communicate our contributions. Well, so that training focused specifically on that. And I think if nothing else, it gave employees a little more, just made them feel better.  Gave them a little encouragement that they could do this. And then I think the results, you know, the people, managers came back and said, hey, the package was were better. We saw improvements, this training helped.

Tom Temin: All right. And so it wasn’t a matter of people didn’t want ice cream socials and Fridays off that kind of thing. It was really serious concerns they had about issues germane to their jobs and how their jobs were seen by their supervisors.

Dana Henslee: Yes. They were really concerned. They felt like they were doing a really good job, and that they were communicating their contributions well. But in reality, we were not doing a good job.

Tom Temin: Sure. Anything else besides the packages, because you did go up several places. And this organization score was way above average, you were almost as good as industry, and way above the government average, way above the Army average.

Dana Henslee: So we’ve done a numerous other things. Another example of something that we did to address some of the concerns, we had supervisors that requested that we provide training on how to deal with poor performers, one of the lowest scoring questions, not just here at Space and Missile Defense Command, but across the entire Army, is how you deal with poor performers.

Tom Temin: So which upsets the good performers, most of all.

Dana Henslee: Exactly. Because, you know, we think everybody should perform well or either be dealt with. And  a lot of times, it will impact the morale of all of those folks having to work with them. So we had a supervisor that said, you know, could you provide us training on how to deal with poor performers? So we did at our last supervisor, all hands, which is chaired by our deputy to the commander, he hosts the meeting. And all supervisors across the entire command are invited. And so we had someone to come in, like a subject matter expert to come in, and provide that training to the supervisors on how to deal with poor performers. We’ve also provided information about like retirement training, just a number of other issues, anything that is brought up in those brainstorming sessions that we can make into an actionable item, we do and we address it. And so right now we’re working about I think we have about 12 action items that we’re working on. One other one that comes to mind, we have quarterly newcomers orientation, and that had kind of fallen by the wayside for various reasons. And so we had several new employees in the brainstorming sessions, and they were like, We never got our orientation. So we went to the organization responsible for that. We got it started back up, got it back on the quarterly rotation. So there’s just a number of actions that we’ve taken. And then I think also, something else that probably has contributed to our increase in our ranking and our scores, is that our leadership is very people-focused. Our number one objective is about people first. And our commanding general will always tell you that people is the greatest asset. So we have a very people-focused you know, our senior leaders are very people-focused and have a real desire for the Space and Missile Defense Command to be a great place to work.

Tom Temin: Dana Henslee is a member of the civilian workforce development office and the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey lead at the Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Alabama.


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