California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) conducted its first in-house “engagement survey” earlier this year. The survey was anonymous to encourage its staff to participate and be candid in responses to statements about their jobs and DFW management.
In a nutshell the survey pointed out that DFW staff love their jobs but they are frustrated with the direction the agency is taking under the current leadership.
Nearly 60 percent of those taking the survey either disagree or strongly disagree with the following statement: “I am confident that CDFW’s top leadership is taking us in the right direction.”
The survey consisted of 34 statements and the staff was asked to say whether they strongly agreed, agreed, disagreed, or strongly disagreed with the statement. Those statements were given a numerical rank from 4, for strongly agreeing, to 1, for strongly disagreeing. Overall average for all questions and all those who participated in the survey was 2.87. In surveys of this type a score of less than three (when related to satisfaction) is considered poor.
The survey was not intended for public consumption, but several staff members anonymously leaked copies of the information in hopes it could help improve the chronic problems.
The lowest response scores were all related to management, recognition of their work, and ability to accomplish their assigned tasks.
Here are the lowest scoring statements, all related to management:
— “At CDFW recognition is based on performance.” This statement had an overall score of 2.30, the lowest score of any statement on the survey, with just under 60 percent of respondents disagreeing.
“Frequently poor performance is the criteria for recognition and advancement. The honchos don’t want anyone to make waves or question decisions from above, even when they violate policy or law,” said one DFW employee after agreeing to talk about the survey anonymously.
— “Overall, in my Branch/Region/District, people seem to trust management.” This was the second-lowest scoring response, again with just under 60 percent disagreeing and a 2.36 overall score.
— “I am confident that CDFW’s top leadership is taking us in the right direction.” This statement had a 2.41 overall score with approaching 60 percent of the respondents disagreeing, and of those over 20 percent strongly disagreed.
— “Overall, I trust CDFW’s top leadership.” Again, more than 55 percent disagreed with this statement and its overall score was 2.44, the fourth lowest in all the responses.
Forty percent of the staff also said it was concerned about getting the resources and information to do their jobs. About 40 percent of the employees said other staff was not accountable for their work, about the same percent who didn’t believe the DFW is “accomplishing its mission.”
“This is a signal to leadership [within the CDFW],” said Chuck Bonham, the director of the CDFW. “We need to break this data into the good and the bad and make sure we don’t lose the good and fix the bad. “I’m excited about [this survey]. I think it is long overdue.”
Since the survey was not specific about where staff thought management was failing except in the broadest of terms, Bonham said, “it was about time we figured it out.”
While vowing to work to fix staff’s low regard for management, Bonham said he was heartened by the parts of the survey that related to the employee’s feelings about their jobs.
More than 90 percent of the respondents said they were proud to work for the CDFW; they put in extra effort when it was important for the work and believed their work was meaningful and important.
“Try to find that with any other government agency” said another CDFW who spoke about the survey anonymously. “I think we all love our jobs.”
Bonham agreed that sentiment was the bright spot in the data, and he agreed personally. “It’s been a great honor being director. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”
Bonham said now comes the hard part where the management must try to define how it can do a better job and win the confidence of employees.