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

The Most Important Productivity App Is The One That Stitches Them All Together

There are two main approaches people take when they want to increase their productivity, and they’re both ineffective. One is to squeeze water out of a stone, using shortcuts, finding hacks, and reducing keystrokes. The other demands that you tap into Herculean stores of willpower, perhaps by waking up earlier or working in long, uninterrupted stretches.

Both of those options are seemingly based on the idea of maximizing efficiency. But there’s another way to improve your workflow, with the creativity of a designer and the pragmatism of an engineer. And in doing so, you’ll catch a glimpse into some new skills to thrive in our digital economy.

Welcome to the world of Recipes and Zaps.

These supercharged versions of your favorite apps recognize that improved productivity requires more than a good to-do list. You’ll still want that to-do list, of course, but the workflow we need to organize usually also lives in our communication tools (email, Slack), note-taking apps (Evernote, Google Docs), and file storage (Dropbox). Sometimes it even spans multiple device types beyond the smartphone (think wearables or the connected home). Sooner or later, you’re going to need something that ties all of these...

Snarky Coworkers Can Ruin Morale, Even When The Boss Is Supportive

At their most harmless, snarky coworkers are merely annoying. At worst, they bully or harass, producing a toxic environment.

As employers have focused on formal management structures and the kind of workplace they result in — friendly and productive vs. unkind and dysfunctional — less attention has been paid to the impact of lone coworkers with malignant personalities. A working paper finds that even well-run organizations, with appropriate policies and practices of respecting workers, can see those efforts undone by a sour coworker.

The effects, of course, can include lost customers, diminished morale, increased turnover and bad publicity.

UCLA Anderson’s Corinne Bendersky and Columbia University’s Joel Brockner conducted experiments in which participants were on the receiving end of an unfavorable decision from bosses (assigned an undesirable task or denied a promotion, say). As part of the experiments, the bosses apologized to some participants to whom they had relayed bad news. Other participants received no apology.

Then the participants interacted with a “peer” who had observed the unfavorable decision. The peer was either respectful (“That sucks. You totally deserve to be assigned the desirable job”) or snarky (“I’m glad it was you that got screwed, not me”).

The researchers found...

Joe Biden’s New Memoir Shows a Person Coping With Work Under Extreme Emotional Stress

“Uncle Joe” Biden is no joke. In a poignant new memoir, the much-memed former US vice president is a man bursting with grief as he tries to help run the country.

Promise Me, Dad is out this week (Nov. 14) from Flatiron Books, an imprint of Macmillan. In it, Biden recounts the trying months in which his son Beau battled brain cancer and ultimately lost, dying at 46 in 2015. Biden was a popular figure of goofy chillness during Barack Obama’s presidency, and he’s also a rumored contender for the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020. But here he’s a devastated father going to work under extreme emotional duress.

In New Hampshire, Sept. 7, 2012. President Obama sits on a white folding chair next to Vice President Biden joking with the Vice President Joe Biden before a campaign rally in Portsmouth. The two look at each other smiling.

Pete Souza/White House file photo 

The memoir begins in November 2014 with an already weakened Beau Biden, and ends after he dies in May 2015. It wasn’t the first major loss for Biden. In 1972, his then wife, Neilia Hunter, and one-year-old daughter, Naomi, died in a car crash. In his new memoir Biden comes across as a resilient family man who is spurred deeper into his political life and civic responsibility as a result of his grief, not in spite of it.

What’s remarkable about...

What Evidence-Based Policymaking Doesn’t Do

When it comes to improving citizen satisfaction with the delivery of government services, evidence-based approaches have been elevated to the status of motherhood and apple pie. If the government would institute these methods, we are told, the outlook for remarkable improvement is a near certainty. Look no further than the title of the recently-released report of the Congressionally-mandated commission on this issue: “The Promise of Evidence-Based Policy Making.” The allure of the purported benefits of an evidence-based methodology has even inspired a bipartisan effort to codify the commission’s recommendations.  

It sounds reasonable enough. Who would be against strengthening the government’s capacity to have actionable evidentiary data to understand program effectiveness and improve policies and outcomes? One can imagine the use of the evidence-based methodology in almost any federal agency. An obvious application would focus on customer satisfaction with government service providers. Data about customer satisfaction might include:

  • Time and number of contacts to set up an appointment
  • Wait time on the phone
  • Distance traveled to meet a service agent
  • Wait time before engagement with a service agent upon arrival at the office
  • Courtesy and expertise of the service agent
  • Number of agents needed to resolve the issue
  • Time...

Celebrating the Legacy of a Public Service Legend

It was a treat to step away from the “you can’t make it up” headlines last week to attend the Nov. 9 symposium celebrating former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker’s contributions to public service and his 90th birthday. The entire event was inspiring (it can be viewed online) but three big takeaways have stuck with me.

The first is that among Paul Volcker’s many contributions to the county, he wants public service to be his lasting legacy. It’s hard to think of any person in public life who’s had a bigger, broader, or longer impact on policy, from his monumental decisions that broke the back of crippling inflation in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s to his leadership of a global strategy to return savings stolen from Holocaust survivors.

He was the force behind the “Volcker Rule,” designed to limit speculation by bankers as part of a strategy to prevent a recurrence of the 1998 banking collapse. Is there anyone else in American politics whose name would so naturally lead to the notion of a rule?

But among all his contributions, Volcker has focused most squarely on creating a fresh vision...