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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

Your Hotshot Coworker Would Be a Terrible Boss, And Research Proves It

In the classic 1969 business book parody The Peter Principle, the Canadian educator Laurence J. Peter took aim at an “ever-present, pestiferous nuisance” found in industries of all sorts: managerial incompetence. The explanation for it, Peter wrote, was his titular principle—that any employee in a hierarchy will rise to the level of his or her own incompetence. (“This Means You!” the book noted cheerily in a subhead.)

Organizations, Peter and his co-author Raymond Hull argued, tend to reward good performance at the rank-and-file level with promotion to management, even when the roles demand utterly different skills. Great teachers don’t necessarily make great principals. Star athletes often flop as team executives. A person good at selling widgets may be hopeless at managing a team of widget salespersons.

The observation about sales organizations is the basis for a new research paper (not yet peer reviewed) from the US National Bureau of Economic Research. Researchers Alan Benson from the Carlson School of Management, Danielle Li of MIT Sloan, and Kelly Shue from the Yale School of Management looked at the career paths of more than 53,000 salespeople at 214 US companies between 2005 and 2011.

They found that the best...

A Single Question Can Cut Useless Meetings From Your Schedule Forever

Meetings are a serious drain on an organization’s time and resources, consuming up to 17% of the workweek and an estimated $37 billion per year.

Some confabs are inarguably essential to business operations, and others . . . aren’t. Vague or nonexistent agendas, rooms full of people who aren’t sure why they’re there, and participant grandstanding can all consume precious time and energy without delivering much value.

Ron Carucci, a founder of the organizational consulting firm Navalent, recently shared the key question he asks clients who need to cull their meetings calendar. “In my experience, meetings being ineffective is often an indicator that they shouldn’t be occurring,” Carucci wrote in the Harvard Business Review (paywall). “To test this, I ask groups, ‘If you stopped meeting, who besides you would care?’ If they struggle to respond, I have my answer.”

Think about it: Do you need to hold that meeting? Does everyone involved in the project already know what needs to be done, and now actually needs to go do it? Can you wrap up points over email? If the project is still in the idea stage, will a group talk move you forward, or is that time better...

Trump’s Proposed Military Parade Already Needs an Audit

President Trump has proposed organizing a special military parade to honor members of the armed forces. It would be the first such parade since the 1991 National Victory Celebration marking the end of the Gulf War. With the deficit ballooning, the idea has raised concerns about it costs. The 1991 parade had a reported price tag of $12 million, equal to $22 million in 2018 dollars. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told a congressional panel that the costs would be between $20 million and 30 million. While that range is in line with an extrapolation of the 1991 event, current defense costs and security requirements could push the price tag much higher. 

Decades have passed since the last parade, and it’s difficult to find a detailed breakdown of the costs that went into that $12 million figure. According the Washington Post at the time: “Most of the public money will be spent flying the troops here from military bases around the country and Europe and housing them in college dormitories, military barracks and hotels. Tanks, missiles, a 50-bed military hospital and other pieces of heavy equipment used in the war also are being shipped by rail...

Pay for Performance is Needed

The switch to pay for performance is inevitable. The General Schedule salary system is approaching 100 years old. Automatic step increases are contrary to the goals of improving government performance and holding employees accountable. Further, there is no rationale that justifies paying federal employees better than their counterparts working in non-federal organizations. That includes the value of benefits.  

It also needs to be acknowledged that the General Schedule and classification system prevent effective talent management.

The theory of pay for performance is unquestioned. The practice is universal in the private sector and important to the growth of the U.S. economy. Rewarding good performance has gained acceptance in all aspects of life. It’s now a global practice.

Government is different from the private sector in three key respects though. Two of those differences—the fact that performance ratings and pay increases are not confidential, and that changes to the system inevitably involve politics—are likely to prompt resistance to program changes.

A third difference is that in the private sector, pay for performance triggers continuous attention to performance metrics. For many organizations, the incentives that motivate are the prospect of year-end bonuses and gains from stock ownership. Both reinforce...

Do Women Bosses Have an Extra Responsibility to Look Out For Women?

Shortly after news broke that Hillary Clinton had allowed an advisor on her 2008 presidential campaign to keep his job after he was accused of sexual harassment, the former US secretary of State wrote an explanation on her Facebook page. “The short answer is this,” she wrote. “If I had it to do again, I wouldn’t.” She noted:

“I recognize that the situation on my 2008 campaign was unusual in that a woman complained to a woman who brought the issue to a woman who was the ultimate decision maker. There was no man in the chain of command. The boss was a woman. Does a woman have a responsibility to come down even harder on the perpetrator? I don’t know. But I do believe that a woman boss has an extra responsibility to look out for the women who work for her, and to better understand how issues like these can affect them.”

Clinton brings up an interesting question that has implications beyond her own decision. Do women managers have a responsibility to come down even harder on perpetrators of sexual harassment? An extra responsibility to look out for women who work for them?

Quartz at Work...