Feds say innovation is seldom encouraged or rewarded

Private sector workers say the opposite.

Technology and other innovations -- such as cloud computing and telework -- have dramatically changed the way federal employees perform their jobs. But when it comes to finding new and innovative ways of doing business in government, most federal employees lack the appropriate incentives and support, according to survey results released last week.

The Office of Personnel Management’s 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey of more than 687,000 federal employees found that just 38.5 percent of respondents believe that creativity and innovation are rewarded at their agency. That’s down slightly from roughly 41 percent in the past three surveys conducted since 2008, OPM found.

In addition, 91 percent of federal employees said they are constantly looking for ways to do their jobs better, yet only 57.8 percent said they feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things, down from 59.4 percent last year. Those figures are in stark contrast to the private sector, where 71 percent of workers say they feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things, the FEVS found.

To be fair, the slight decline in the number of feds feeling creativity and innovation are rewarded may be in large part because of budget cuts and pay freezes over the past couple of years. At the same time, however, agencies should look to spur innovation among employees in hopes of finding better -- and often cheaper -- ways of doing business.

In fact, I wrote an article in the November issue of Government Executive that highlights OPM’s efforts to encourage innovation among employees and across government through the construction of an innovation lab in its basement, where employees can meet to solve problems using a human-centered design approach. OPM learned several lessons from top Silicon Valley companies like Facebook and IDEO in designing its innovation space.

What are your thoughts on the government’s low innovation score? What is needed to spark a more innovative spirit at your agency, and would an innovation lab similar to OPM’s do the trick?