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Fact Sheet: Changing the Culture at DHS

Release Date: September 19, 2016

Secretary Johnson and Deputy Secretary Mayorkas have made employee engagement and morale one of their highest priorities and have taken action to create an engagement-supportive culture across DHS.

  • Active involvement of a strong Employee Engagement Steering Committee (EESC), which meets monthly, chaired by the Under Secretary for Management.  The EESC is an excellent example of Unity of Effort at work: Components working together on common DHS-wide programs, as well as implementing customized initiatives reflecting their particular needs and cultures.
    • EESC members are leaders from the operational components who are selected as representatives by their organizations. 
    • Through open, candid discussion they advise DHS leadership on their perspectives for department-wide approaches; sharing best practices and brainstorming ideas; as well as reporting on what is working and what needs to be improved.
    • Using this information, EESC members have also built customized action plans tailored to their component’s culture, structure, and mission; these have been signed by Component leadership to ensure buy-in and visibility at the highest levels. 
    • Some of the success stories resulting from these action plans include:
      • The Secret Service’s “Spark!,” an innovative and interactive web-based crowdsourcing communication platform that facilitates two-way dialogue between employees and leadership.
      • U.S. Customs and Border Protection has created an “Employee Engagement Center of Excellence” to support and advise CBP offices and to monitor engagement efforts to ensure results.
      • Immigration and Customs Enforcement expanded their Peer Support Program to over 250 members; they are able to deploy and provide support to employees and offices in need.
  • Recognizing and rewarding excellence in pursuit of mission
    • The annual Secretary’s Awards were re-established and expanded to acknowledge outstanding individual and team achievements from across the Department.
    • Components also re-established or instituted their own awards, and peer-to-peer recognition programs have been broadly adopted as well.
    • Use of various communications channels (DHS Connect, emails, Connected, etc. - see “enhancing communication” below) to highlight individual and organizational accomplishments.
    • Personal notes and messages directly to employees who have gone above and beyond to accomplish the mission.
  • Enhancing communication so that all employees feel connected to one another’s work, and to the Department as a whole. 
    • For the 2016 FEVS there was a coordinated effort by the EESC and component leadership at the component level, and the S1, S2, and USM at the agency level to encourage employees to participate in the survey and provide their feedback.  There was a strong focus on “you said, we heard, we did…” messaging, and components exchanged materials and best practices to encourage creativity and resource-sharing.  As a result, response rates rose DHS-wide from 47.1 % in 2015 to 50.1% in 2016.  DHS’s response rates in 2016 were higher than the government-wide average of 45.8%. Some notable increases at the component and sub-component level:  USSS had a participation rate of 41.8% in 2015 and 59.0% in 2016; ICE increased from 52.2% to 58.1%, and USM increased from 60.6% to 69.8%.
    • Communications from DHS leadership and on the DHSConnect intranet page are affirmatively employee-centric; and new mechanisms like an agency-wide e-newsletter and targeted “Leader Alert” distribution lists enable us to better reach out to relevant audiences. 
    • Several components have followed TSA’s lead in establishing ideation platforms similar to IdeaFactory, providing employees another – very lively and technology-enabled - mechanism for providing feedback and input. 
    • For the first time, the Department has an agency-wide new employee orientation framework, with a “Welcome to DHS” video message that builds a sense of connection to the Department.  Another more in-depth video is in the production process that will focus on the DHS mission and unity of effort, so that all employees are acculturated to DHS from the outset.
    • The Secretary reached out directly to employees to help craft a new mission statement reflecting their commitment to the Department –  “With honor and integrity, we will safeguard the American people, our homeland, and our values.”
  • Increasing leadership accountability, awareness, and empowerment related to employee engagement.  The Secretary and Deputy Secretary have been very clear in their expectations that employee engagement and morale are issues that all leaders at DHS must own.  This has been communicated to their leadership team, including component heads, on a regular basis. 
    • The Secretary and Deputy Secretary modeled their expectations of direct engagement with employees to listen, learn, and recognize accomplishments:
      • Between late February and early May, Secretary Johnson participated in 27 employee engagement events in 16 different cities.
      • Between February 26 and May 9, Deputy Secretary Mayorkas participated in 20 employee engagement events in 9 different cities.
      • In all locations, the Secretary and Deputy Secretary met with local leadership and employees to emphasize the importance of engagement and to thank employees for their service.
      • As a result of the feedback employees’ gave the S1 and S2 in these Town Hall Meetings, the S1 added a question to the 2016 FEVS: 

        As the Deputy Secretary and I have traveled to meet with you, several areas of concern were frequently raised—hiring, both the time it takes to hire and our ability to retain those we have hired; pay, in particular those in law enforcement and cyber; and quality of life—with shift work and other challenging schedules.  Of these three issues, which is the most important to you?  You have our commitment that we will work on all three, but knowing your priorities will help us know how best to resource our efforts.

        The results of this question – 47% chose pay; 35% work/life balance; 18% hiring – will be used by the EESC in formulating recommendations for the DHS-wide employee engagement action plan.
    • Component leadership also conducted town hall meetings throughout their organizations.
    • The first-ever all Senior Executive meeting - including field personnel - was held in Washington, DC in May.  The Secretary, Deputy Secretary, and Under Secretary for Management all addressed employee engagement and emphasized how critical it is for mission success.  A panel discussion featuring best practices from executives in field offices helped highlight the ways in which leadership was relating with employees.
    • For the first time, DHS is integrating an element in SES performance appraisals that specifically addresses how well they are creating a culture of employee engagement.
    • Toolkits were created and pushed out to SES, managers, and supervisors; toolkits included a guide for conducting great town hall meetings, an innovation toolkit, and a guide for conducting stay interviews. 
    • Hiring managers were provided with a behavioral interview guide that included questions to ascertain whether an SES applicant has a leadership style that fosters engagement.  
    • A Leadership Resource Center (LRC) was created on DHSConnect as a repository for in-depth exploration of leadership concepts and tools.  The toolkits and behavioral interview guide, Leadership Library, and Books 24/7 resources are also available on LRC.  Regular “Leader Alert” communications to SES and to managers point to the site. 
  • Increasing transparency and fairness in the hiring and promotion process. We have taken steps to ensure employees receive basic information about hiring and promotion opportunities, are informed of the eligibility criteria and the procedures that will be followed in the selection process, including the applicable timelines.  This information is communicated more widely and is more accessible throughout the Department.
Last Updated: 09/20/2018
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