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

Your Guide to a Presidential Appointment in the Next Administration

  • By Mark A. Abramson, G. Edward DeSeve, Paul R. Lawrence and Daniel Griffith
  • June 28, 2016
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In a recent article (“Thousands of Federal Jobs Are About to Come Open, but You’re Probably Not Going to Get One”), we pointed out that the number of political appointees can be misleading. You often hear 3,000, 6,000, and even 8,000 positions on occasion. For those seeking a presidential appointment, numbers can indeed be deceiving. Many of the jobs listed in the “Plum Book” (officially known as United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions) go to career senior executives in government and thus are “off the table” for political appointees.

In this article, we focus on the PAS positions (Presidential Appointment with Senate Confirmation) and delve deeply into the 1,217 positions listed in the 2012 Prune Book. Since then, over 100 jobs have been reclassified to PA positions (Presidential Appointment without Senate Confirmation) bringing the total down to over 1,100. Other positions have been reorganized or eliminated, making it difficult to have a precise current number until the 2016 Plum Book is published later this year. Based on research conducted by the National Academy of Public Administration and the EY Initiative on Leadership, we can now dig deeper into the 1,100 PAS positions...

The Millennials Balancing Their Parents' Job Searches With Their Own

It’s a worn narrative that Millennials are a jobless generation content to live with, and off, their parents. But that’s only one side of it: Today, there are a number of employed and financially independent Millennials who are instead helping their parents find a job.

This represents a generational role reversal, prodded perhaps by labor-market forces that favor younger workers over older ones. Although the jobless rate dropped below 5 percent last month, figures specific to older workers tell a different story. A recent study found that 55 percent of Americans over 50 plan to work past the age of 65, primarily because they cannot afford to retire sooner. And, as of December 2014, job-seekers over the age of 55 had been unemployed for an average of 54.3 weeks, nearly twice as long as their younger counterparts.

To me, all of these statistics are a bit personal: Over the past year, I’ve been trying to help my mom figure out the next step in her career. At 60 years old, she is learning what it means to find a job in 2016, attempting to master the ever-elusive task of converting a PDF into a Word document...

Why Women (Sometimes) Don't Help Other Women

There are two dominant cultural ideas about the role women play in helping other women advance at work, and they are seemingly at odds: the Righteous Woman and the Queen Bee.

The Righteous Woman is an ideal, a belief that women have a distinct moral obligation to have one another’s backs. This kind of sentiment is best typified byMadeleine Albright’s now famous quote, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” The basic idea is that since all women experience sexism, they should be more attuned to the gendered barriers that other women face. In turn, this heightened awareness should lead women to foster alliances and actively support one another. If women don’t help each other, this is an even worse form of betrayal than those committed by men. And hence, the special place in hell reserved for those women.

The Queen Bee belief, on the other hand, argues that in reality women just can’t get along. As Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant point out in their essay in The New York Times on the myth of the catty woman, this belief rests on the erroneous idea that...

Leading Employees Who Struggle with Self-Doubt

The biggest barrier to remarkable achievements in our workplaces is not a lack of resources or a shortage of great ideas. Rather, it is a shortage of a very personal attribute: self-confidence.

Of all of the challenges of serving in a role responsible for others, guiding and developing individuals who lack confidence in their own abilities is perhaps the most difficult. It is easier to remove a poor performer or someone whose values conflict with those of the organization than it is to help build up someone who struggles internally with their own abilities. Sadly, those lacking in self-confidence often are inappropriately lumped into the poor performer category, not because they “can’t” but because they “don’t.”

Most managers lack any formal expertise in the realm of psychology. As such, we are left to our own designs to attempt to understand our team members and provide the right environment and push the right buttons to stimulate their interest and motivation. Mostly, we flail, and for many, we fail.

If you have worked to try and help an individual who struggles to recognize his or her own gifts and abilities, you can relate to how difficult this challenge truly is...

If Employees Aren't Engaged, Leaders Need to Take a Hard Look at Their Own Actions

The 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey is now history. I am working with a group associated with a federal organization that recently reported the results of a similar survey conducted by Gallup.  There are differences in the surveys, but both focus on employee engagement. 

A key difference (and I have no ties to Gallup) is that using the Gallup survey makes it possible to compare responses and identify weaknesses relative to practices in thousands of other organizations.  The organization in question learned its workforce is badly demoralized. When compared with other survey organizations, it’s one of the worst workplaces in the United States.

Another difference is the way the survey results are reported. Gallup categorizes respondents as “engaged”, “not engaged” or “actively disengaged.” The current breakdown nationally is roughly 33 percent engaged, 50 percent not engaged, and 16 percent actively disengaged.  The latter group are problem employees. They add to employer costs—higher absenteeism, higher grievances, lower productivity, lower customer satisfaction, higher waste, etc. Many are disruptive. They also experience higher levels of stress and related health problems.

Organizations with high levels of engaged employees perform significantly better. Their productivity holds down costs. Their employees also benefit from high...

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