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

The Many Practical Hurdles to Transforming Government

This is not was the first nor is it likely to be the last column prompted by the Trump administration’s plan to reorganize government. There appears to be broad based agreement that it’s needed, especially when it comes to upgrading technology. To repeat the title from a recent column, “Performance Specialists Like Trump’s Management Agenda.”

This is not the first time a president has tried to reinvent government. President Clinton’s 1993 Government Performance and Results Act had similar goals. Clinton issued Executive Order 12871 in October 1993 to call for civil service reforms and workforce cuts. In the end government, was not reinvented; GPRA was not implemented until 1999 and the people management changes were forgotten.

Coincidentally the question, “Can Government Be Run Like a Business?” was recently discussed on the Sirius radio show, Knowledge@Wharton, by the University of Maryland’s Philip Joyce and Wharton’s Peter Conti-Brown. Their conclusion, albeit simplified, is that success in one sector does not transfer easily to the other.

The Office of Personnel Management clearly anticipates one of the hurdles. Its new 119-page “Workforce Reshaping Operations Handbook” aims to “provide assistance to agencies that are considering and/or undergoing...

The Big Mistake Most People Make When They Receive Negative Feedback

  • By Kenneth Savitsky, Jeremy Cone, Jeffrey Rubel and Richard P. Eibach
  • March 29, 2017
  • Leave a comment

Nobody enjoys getting negative feedback. When we receive an unflattering performance review from our boss or get turned down by a date, it’s human nature to try to feel better by dismissing the judgment as unreasonable or biased. And so, last month, when a federal judge blocked US president Donald Trump’s executive action banning travel to the US from seven Muslim-majority nations, it was no surprise that the president took to Twitter to criticize the “so-called” judge and dismiss the ruling as “ridiculous.”

But what if the negative feedback comes from a unanimous group rather than from one individual? In that case, it’s trickier to dismiss. One would have to argue that all members of the group are unreasonable or biased in the same way. Because a group often brings diverse perspectives, a unanimous group opinion would seem to sit on a broader, more stable foundation, making it harder to topple. And yet Trump was equally quick to disparage the unanimous ruling of a politically diverse three-judge panel that subsequently concurred with the original judge’s ruling. He buckled down by reintroducing a substantially similar version of his proposed ban, which was in turn subjected to a...

Unless You’re a Superstar, It’s Better to Keep Your Mouth Shut in The Workplace (Even in the NFL)

Last year, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick drew headlines for his refusal to stand for the national anthem, a protest against racial injustice in the US.

The American football player is now a free agent after spending six years with the San Francisco 49ers, including one where Kaepernick led them to the Super Bowl.

Many observers are saying his continued unemployment is a direct result of his protest, which rankled many conservative football fans. In the video below, the blogger calls him “Colin Kaeper-dick” for not standing during Military Appreciation Night.

But Kaepernick’s performances have also declined in that time, and he’s struggled to hold on to his starting position as a quarterback. With Kaepernick’s skills eroding, it’s much easier for NFL owners and general managers to pass on signing him, particularly if his salary demands don’t reflect his value.

As Joe Thomas, a tackle of the Cleveland Browns, suggests, teams have little appetite for marginal players who call attention to themselves:

Kaepernick’s plight exposes...

Good Leaders Don't Surround Themselves With Yes Men

In a much-circulated New York Times article (paywall) about US president Donald Trump’s inability to let grievances go, the closing anecdote was noteworthy. In it, Gary Cohn, one of Trump’s economic advisors and the former president of Goldman Sachs, has the temerity to interrupt the president:

In a recent meeting in the Oval Office, Mr. Cohn was speaking when Mr. Trump interrupted him. “Let me finish,’’ Mr. Cohn interjected, according to a person with knowledge of the interaction. Mr. Trump, unaccustomed to ceding the floor, let him make his point.

The exchange was news, because it was so unusual.

Three months into his administration, it’s clear Trump has little appetite for hearing views that diverge from his own. Whether it’s blasting critical reporting as “fake news,” refusing to back down from inaccuracies, or granting interviews to fawning admirers, Trump has created an environment that bolsters an ego that seems to need constant sustenance.

That extends to an inner circle, made up of political operatives, ideologues and family members. Very few seem willing to tell Trump when he’s wrong.

Escaping this cocoon of good news is a leader’s “no. 1 challenge,” according to Walt Bettinger...

Most in the Workplace Are Secretly Threatened By Creativity

Creativity is highly prized in Western society—much touted by cultures that claim to value individualism and the entrepreneurial spirit. But scratch beneath the surface, and it turns out that a lot of schools and businesses aren’t actually all that excited about bold new ideas. By and large, we tend to be threatened by creativity—and eager to shut it down.

The problem begins with education. We know that teachers say creativity is important. But research shows that many teachers define creativity as a skill that’s mainly associated with the arts—thereby downplaying the essential role that creativity plays in everything from math and science to argumentative writing and sports. Furthermore, teachers routinely label creative students as “disruptive,” treating outside-the-box thinking not as a strength but as a problem to be dealt with. So it should be no surprise that independent studies with thousands of participants, in the US and elsewhere, have confirmed that millennials are less motivated to elaborate on creative ideas, and more anxious about embracing them, than prior generations. Recent data show that millennials are also less likely to start new businesses—a trend that has contributed to the lowest number of US startups since...

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