Action Planning for Telework Programs
Action planning is a systematic change-management process in which people meet to address specific shortcomings and develop actionable plans for improving the workplace. Put simply, action planning provides a flexible, systematic approach to producing an operational plan that sets, achieves, and evaluates your goals. For telework programs, this can be a versatile and flexible tool to drive program improvement, increase participation rates, and address challenges, such as manager resistance.
The Action Planning Process
The action planning process can be tailored to fit specific situations and needs, but generally speaking, the process includes a few key steps, which can be accomplished through the work of individual TMOs or as part of an action planning team.
- The first step is to engage stakeholders. Key stakeholders typically include people at each level of your organization – employees, managers, and senior leaders. To the extent that all key stakeholders are engaged, the resulting information and plan will be more comprehensive and likely to achieve greater buy-in for developing and implementing the action plan.
- Next, identify and prioritize outcomes that enable your organization to transition to a desired future state. What are the issues surrounding telework at your agency? Which of these issues are most important given your mission and resources?
- In order to properly assess and prioritize these issues, it is necessary to analyze the change environment for your agency. An analysis of people, technology, processes, and financial resources required to accomplish outcomes can inform the process of selecting focus areas. This information is also critical for the next step in the action planning process.
- Drawing on the analysis of your change environment, develop actions that result in clearly defined outcome goals. It is important to identify specific, measurable goals and to develop actions that are clearly aligned with those goals.
- Once actions have been identified, specify action steps. What needs to be done, when, by whom, and what resources or approvals are needed? This level of specificity ensures accountability and makes achievement of goals more likely.
- Finally, it is critical to evaluate progress regularly. Tracking progress over time is important for refining the plan. An action plan should be a living document you can revise based on changing conditions. Ongoing evaluation helps drive program improvement and provides data that can be presented to agency leaders in support of your programs.
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Action Planning Approaches
There are different ways to approach action planning depending on which stakeholders you engage.
- An employee-driven approach can be valuable because employees often offer some of the best insights into addressing issues and often value involvement in organizational change processes.
- A leadership-driven approach can be valuable because leaders may have access to high-level information or the ability to take action quickly and effectively on issues they deem to be important.
- In most settings, a combined approach is best. Incorporating diverse perspectives in the action planning process ensures you have the most comprehensive information for understanding and addressing the issues. It also can increase the buy-in needed to implement your plan.
There are many tools you can use in this process. As a practical matter, access to these tools will depend on the circumstances and resources available in each agency. To the extent possible, it is best to draw on multiple sources of information to inform action planning. For example, these sources may include:
- Focus groups
- Existing research
- Practices at other agencies
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Identifying and Prioritizing the Issues
It is impossible for any action plan to address every relevant issue. It is better to focus on a few issues and address them effectively rather than try to cast too wide a net and end up without adequate resources to implement your action plan or track progress.
In the process of identifying key issues, it is often helpful to begin by casting a wide net. Identify challenges related to telework or strengths that you may wish to build upon. Do this through brainstorming sessions, formal discussions, or by applying SWOT analysis (described below). Draw on as many sources of information as possible.
With this broad sense of what the agency faces, engage in critical discussion about issues with your action planning team or with colleagues who are knowledgeable. This is an opportunity to challenge your assumptions. It is best to engage participants who are open-minded and committed to organizational change. These discussions should inform efforts to narrow down the list of focus areas. One common approach is to group issues into clusters. Perhaps, for example, a number of identified issues are related to different facets of participation or are relevant to a particular subgroup at your agency.
Ultimately, you should select a few achievable areas of focus by prioritizing items on your list. Priorities will depend on the mission, circumstances, and resources available to you. However, there are a few essential considerations:
- Relevance: Is it related to program success in the agency?
- Feasibility: Can it actually be addressed given resources, timeframes, and available support?
- Control: Is it something that is susceptible to change?
- Potential Benefits and Risks: Will the change add value? What risks could incur if this issue is or is not addressed at this time?
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Using SWOT Analysis
As you assess your change environment and work to identify and prioritize issues, SWOT analysis is often a helpful tool. SWOT analysis facilitates an understanding of internal and external elements, both present and future, that can help or hinder change initiatives.
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats
- Strengths: Internal factors that help to achieve success in your telework program.
- Weaknesses: Internal factors that hinder or inhibit your telework program.
- Opportunities: External factors to exploit to get closer to the desired state of affairs.
- Threats: External factors to avoid that hinder or inhibit your telework program.
Identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats can contribute to a well-rounded understanding of an issue. It is best to draw on multiple sources of information to incorporate diverse perspectives.
This is a versatile analysis tool. You may choose to apply SWOT analysis early in your action planning process to understand the overall change environment surrounding telework at your agency. Also apply SWOT analysis as the action planning process progresses to better understand specific issues or focus areas.
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Setting Outcome Goals and Benchmarking
Once you have identified your areas of focus and analyzed the conditions surrounding that area, set a clear goal and identify actions that will lead to the goal. Setting a specific, measurable goal is important to tracking progress and defining success. The level of specificity will depend on your situation, but in general the more specific and narrowly tailored your goal, the better.
One of the best ways to approach setting specific outcome goals is to benchmark. For example, you may consider:
- Most successful components within your agency
- Other Federal Government agencies
- Other public organizations
- Private sector organizations
- NGO’s or non-profit organizations
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Building a Successful Action Plan
A successful action plan will identify specific goals, an outline of plans for evaluating them, and specific detailed actions that will lead to these goals.
The more information you are able to include in your plan, the more likely you are to succeed. You may not have all the information at once, which is why the action plan should be a living document that is revised and updated regularly. This is a flexible tool, but by applying a systematic approach to your program, it can help you achieve measurable successes that can both improve your programs and provide evidence in support of them.
The action plan should motivate change by presenting the value added to your agency. In addition, as the name implies, it should above all be actionable. This will be true to the extent that it:
- Aligns with organizational mission, strategy, and culture;
- Clearly outlines timeframes, responsibilities, and required resources; and
- Identifies specific metrics and methods for evaluating success.
As you adapt action planning to your own needs, keep these key points in mind:
- Prioritize and focus on a few achievable goals.
- Make sure each part of the action plan aligns with the others.
- Construct your action plan with enough information that anyone who picks it up can understand the value of what you are doing.
Action Planning Template
Click to download an action planning template.
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The Telework Enhancement Act requires agencies to set and assess participation goals. It also encourages agencies to set outcome goals for telework and lists several possibilities, including: emergency readiness, energy use, recruitment and retention, performance, productivity, and employee attitudes and opinions regarding telework. OPM’s annual reports to Congress demonstrate that telework does relate to a number of important outcomes, such as job satisfaction and retention of employees. Similar beneficial outcomes can be achieved by individual agencies. Such intended ends are achieved and demonstrated when goals are deliberately set and evaluated on an ongoing basis. Ultimately, setting and evaluating goals is critical for developing and maintaining effective programs.
Tips for Establishing a Goal
- Choose a goal that is relevant to your organization’s mission, feasible, controllable, and clearly benefits your agency.
- Articulate this goal clearly. State exactly what you plan to achieve and how you plan to achieve it.
- Present a clear timeline for achieving your goal. Consider articulating your timeline as a series of small milestones and associated deliverables.
- Identify the budget, resources, and approvals you will need for accomplishing each milestone.
- Locate appropriate data for measuring progress. Describe the data, metric/measurement, and method of analysis to be used.
Characteristics of an Appropriate Goal: Goals should be SMART
Specific: Set highly detailed and concrete objectives for your telework program. Determine:
- What exactly is your goal?
- What exactly do you intend to accomplish through this goal?
- How are you going to meet your goal? Lay out which actions need to be taken by which people and when.
Measurable: On what evidence will you determine that your goal has been met? Put a figure or value, such as a dollar amount or percentage, to the objective.
Attainable: Make sure to set goals within your reach. It is best to focus on a few attainable goals, especially if you are just starting to set goals for your telework program. Establishing successes by attaining a few "low-hanging fruit" objectives can be motivating, and reporting these successes to leadership can help gain necessary support. Initial successes will also help to identify and support longer-term, more ambitious goals.
Realistic: Consider available resources and set goals that can reasonably be achieved. Remember to assess the resources you will need to evaluate your goals, including access to data.
Time-specific and Timely: Set a deadline to keep things on track. Goals also need to meet the needs of decision-makers and reporting requirements, so keep any leadership priorities, deadlines, and reporting dates in mind as goal drivers.
In sum, choose goals that are relevant to the agency mission, add value, are feasible within resource constraints, and are within your control to change.
Example of a Goal and Goal Explanation:
Reduce our transit subsidy spending by 5% by Fiscal Year 2015. [Clearly articulated, specific, includes a timeframe, and is measurable] This aligns with our mission of serving the American public in that we will be able to control costs, spending as few tax dollars as possible. [Aligned with mission]
We will achieve this goal by encouraging more frequent telework by more employees. [Clear extension of goal, introduces process by which goal will be achieved]
We plan to hold briefings during mandatory, all-manager meetings to encourage them to suggest and grant employee requests to telework on a more frequent basis. [Clearly articulates actionable steps and what you plan to do exactly]
We will also post signs around our main building and send emails to let employees know about this effort, showcase the benefits for the agency and the environment, and encourage them to request more frequent telework. [Clearly includes assessment of resources and showcases a low-cost approach and a short-term goal that can be accomplished and measured prior to the next data call and is clearly realistic, attainable, and within your control – low-hanging fruit].
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Choosing a Timeframe
Consider your telework program’s stage of development. Outcome goals are typically not realized until programs are fully implemented. Consider both short- and long-term goals. Some goals are achievable in a year, whereas others may take several years to achieve. Long-term goals may be best expressed as a series of short-term goals.
We plan to reduce our office space needs by 10% by Fiscal Year 2017. [Clearly articulates goal, is specific, and includes a timeframe] This aligns with our mission of efficiently serving the American public by effectively using resources and strategies to limit business costs.
During Year 1 we plan to establish a 6-month pilot of a hoteling program by February 1, 2014, among our HR department employees. [Sets a milestone goal clearly, specifically, and with a timeframe]
We will experiment with a shared office design in their office suite and move employees to a 3-4 day a week telework schedule. [Clearly articulates specific actions]
We will evaluate the result using a survey of employees and managers in Year 2, with results distributed by March 1, 2015. [Describes metric (survey) and how it will be used]
If the pilot is successful, we will move towards an agency-wide effort in Year 3, with roll-out of an agency-wide hoteling program by the end of Fiscal Year 2016, and we will evaluate again in Year 4 to demonstrate our goal satisfaction of a 10% reduction in office space. [Sets another milestone goal, clearly states how you will achieve it, and explains evaluation, with source of data (amount of office space)]
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We assess telework goals to be able to demonstrate that telework caused an anticipated benefit to occur. Systematic assessment of goals is important for building and developing your program, as well as for establishing the business case for telework.
Choosing an Evaluation Method
How can we prove that telework was the driving force behind the benefits we see? Depending on your constraints, you may or may not be able to show that telework caused the benefits you found, but you can find evidence that supports a connection between telework and your goal. If your costs for the transit benefit went down at the same time telework participation went up, for instance, that’s a connection.
The following describe some sample approaches you can take to evaluate your own agency’s telework program goals. The described methods are not exhaustive, and you should consider what is feasible or appropriate for your particular circumstances.
- Compare Before-and-After: compare measures of benefits before you implemented telework and after. Some agencies have collected HR data for years and you may have data showing absence rates or employee satisfaction, for example, before and after you met the requirements for the Telework Enhancement Act.
- Compare With-and-Without: compare teleworkers and similar employees who do not telework on measures of your goal. For example, if you want to show that telework does influence employee retention in your agency, compare quit rates among employees who telework versus those who do not.
- Time-Series Assessment: examine the changes produced by the policy, tracked over a long time period. For example, if you have data on employee performance over several years, you could conduct a with-and-without comparison over time rather than only at a single point in time. Examine your data (e.g., average monthly absence, job satisfaction scores on the FEVS) and analyze it for any changes over time. Think about the context and try to rule out alternate explanations that may also have influenced your goal achievement (e.g., if your scores on job satisfaction decreased among employees over time, it may be that they are reflecting a downward trend for all agencies).
We will use a time-series approach for assessing and demonstrating the impact of our program on job satisfaction. We will use FEVS data on telework participation and job satisfaction over the next five years. Each year we will examine how teleworkers and non-teleworkers compare in terms of job satisfaction and observe whether this difference grows over time as our telework program expands. We will also examine the overall scores on job satisfaction for the Federal Government during this same time period to see if there are any remarkable trends that could influence the results we see for our agency’s teleworkers. Our examination of publicly available FEVS data show that Governmentwide job satisfaction scores have decreased over the past three years.
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Selecting a Metric/Measure
Metrics or measures capture some characteristic of your telework program (such as size, capacity, quality, quantity, duration, or frequency) and associated outcomes (such as employee attitudes, absences, performance, retention, or costs) in a standard way so you can make comparisons or statements about your goals.
- Amount of spending on transit subsidies or utility bills.
- Number of participants in the telework program.
- Percentage of employees expressing satisfaction with their job.
- Square footage of space required for offices.
- Rate of employee retention.
Finding Sources of Data for Evaluating Goals
For More Information on Evaluation
See the Government Accountability Office’s 2012 “Designing Evaluations” Guide.
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