Many leaders might be tempted to address efficiency and efficacy issues by asking for a larger workforce. This conclusion does not have a complete lack of logic – More employees should be able to handle a larger workload, and if each employee’s workload decreases at the same time, the end products should be higher quality, right? Unfortunately, hiring more to handle an increased volume is rarely a feasible option because of budget constraints.
Rather than focusing on quantity, security leaders can improve their clearance processes by focusing on employee effectiveness and changing organizational culture.
Realistically, workforce quality improvement addresses both efficiency and efficacy. Qualified employees are not only well-trained and capable in their specific job functions; they are also avid problem solvers who notice low-level process inefficiencies and seek solutions.Leaders can improve the quality of their workforces by empowering employees to seek solutions and drive change.
For example: An investigator regularly receives incomplete request forms and realizes she’s been spending a lot of time lately sending forms back to be fixed. She goes beyond an initial feeling of frustration and annoyance to identify this as a problem that is not just inherent to the job – it’s something that can be solved. She considers various options for addressing the problem and suggests to her boss that they try using a form with error-proof inputs, preventing incomplete forms from being submitted.
Regardless of whether the solution is successful or not, the investigator’s proactive efforts to identify and solve problems that come across her desk illustrates the attitude and behavior of a quality workforce.
When the same employee who notices a problem is encouraged to actively address it, the resulting solution is more likely to address the root cause than a solution that is devised by someone in a leadership position and further removed from the everyday operations.
Leaders who make a point to actively empower their employees are rewarded with teams that have a sense of ownership and engagement with the process and result that top-down mandates cannot achieve. Engaged employees typically operate at a higher level of performance and remain in their jobs longer – both attributes of a high-quality workforce.
To create an environment of engaged employees, leaders must:
- Clearly define office goals and expectations. Ex: Does the agency want to just meet or beat IRPTA guidelines?
- Clarify the lines of authority that should not be crossed. What can employees influence, and which specific actions are within their power?
- Wherever possible, outline employee roles and responsibilities to provide problem solving flexibility. Which job function aspects are allowed to change, and which are not?
- After creating a set decision making process, give employees the right decision making tools. Each decision-making tool provides a solid “fall back” point for employee decisions. Key stakeholders and employees have already agreed on the criteria for decision making processes. Everyone involved has the power to understand why a decision was made.
- Involve employees in process mapping. Involving every relevant staff member in the process mapping exercise empowers employees in a way they may have never felt before. It’s a uniquely human characteristic: People experience improved camaraderie when physically present.
Establishing these factors is the first step in creating a culture of employee engagement and continuous problem solving. When the individuals who work intimately with key sections of a larger process are driven to improve their methods, the entire process benefits.