How the U.S. Small Business Administration Transformed Their Work Culture and the Employee Experience

Every year, Federal government employees are invited to complete the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, a U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM)-administered survey that measures employee perceptions and experiences within their roles and relevant offices. Results inform decision making and provide managers guidance on where improvements are needed.

Operating under the Office of Personnel Management, the Small Business Administration (SBA), is ranked through the survey each year, with employees having a direct way to share their feedback and experiences. Given the SBA’s mission to ignite change and spark action to help small businesses grow, expand, or recover, its ability to demonstrate strong leadership and commitment to organizational health and wellbeing is particularly important. 


However, in 2016, the SBA ranked 26th of 27 mid-sized agencies, signaling a clear need for change. The SBA brought on Elias Hernandez as its new Chief Human Capital Officer.

Hernandez set out to transform the SBA’s human capital program, recognizing the importance of employee engagement and the quality of engagement mechanisms.

“The first thing we did was listen to our employees. They provided feedback, so we took that feedback and put strategies in place to improve organizationally. We also built trust between management and employees, improved communications both laterally and horizontally, and improved programs to keep employees engaged,” shared Hernandez.

Under Hernandez’s leadership, the SBA team began to examine ways to elevate customer service to and for employees, which cascaded into training, reward opportunities, and ways to establish additional employee responsibilities and career pathing.

“We started by taking it back to basics. How could we care for employees and demonstrate to them that, when we said we’d do something, we’d come through? We then looked at ways to provide opportunities for everyone to contribute to the Agency in a collective way,” said Hernandez.

The SBA created competency modeling to strategically develop its bench strength and give employees a clear visualization of how and where in the agency they could grow. Hernandez’s team also safeguarded dedicated funding specifically for training and development while making it easier for supervisors to access resources to better support and develop their teams.

Simultaneously, the team took a strategic approach to improving performance management.

“Before, we had employees who weren’t performing, but nobody was taking action to bring them up to speed. So, we took a concerted look at the employee relations aspect of performance management and set an accountability structure to bring out the best in each employee and in the organization to deliver on the mission of the agency,” said Hernandez.

In-line with best practices, the SBA has an ongoing performance management cycle, rather than a sole annual review.

“Every quarter we have an opportunity for employees to send us their accomplishments and for us to provide feedback. But we do this throughout the year as well. It’s really strengthened the flow of information between employees and supervisors,” shared Hernandez.

“In addition, we’ve built the idea of coaching into our culture and curriculum. We give supervisors coaching skills so they’re engaging their team members from a coaching perspective, rather than an authoritative perspective. It helps to pull employees to the forefront and teach them how to resolve issues,” shared SBA Chief Learning Officer, Chief of Organizational Effectiveness, Joellen Jarrett.

The results of the SBA’s efforts are evidenced by employee feedback received both directly and through the annual Viewpoint Survey. The SBA was recently recognized as one of the top 10 “Most Improved” among mid-sized federal agencies based on Viewpoint survey results. Since 2016, its Employee Engagement score has risen 16 percent, and its Global Satisfaction Index has risen by 17 percent.

“One of the secrets to SBA's ongoing success is its Action Planning Committee, a grassroots, employee-driven group dedicated to fostering engagement by partnering with SBA’s leadership,” said Hernandez.

However, the SBA’s success as a valued employer goes far beyond the scores themselves: It also shows through the company culture.

“We are a customer-centric culture with an emphasis on continuous improvement. We are a learning organization, an organization looking to innovate every process we have, and a customer-centric organization. We’re creating a culture that’s inclusive and that involves everyone,” said Hernandez. “We will continue to strive to be number one in the survey rankings, but it’s not only about the ranking. It’s about building the organization we want for the future and helping to move the organization in that direction.”

“No organization runs without people. Our people are critical, and by taking better care of our people, we’re able to better take care of the people we impact,” shared Jarrett.

To learn more about the SBA or to explore career opportunities, visit

Sponsored SBA article written by Kimberly Hubbard

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