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

Why Top Executives Keep Employees in The Dark

Have you ever noticed that most organizations don't spend a lot of time telling you how they get things done?

Typically, very little information is available explicitly:

  • Our management guru of choice: Is it Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Tom Peters, Peter Drucker, or someone else? What books do we read, what discipline do we follow?
  • The history, mission and current challenges facing the organization: When did it get started? What were the meaningful moments? Who do we revere here? What difference did they make? What do we need to do now, and why?
  • The little things: When people go to lunch. How to address superiors (first name only or more formally?), send emails (short or long, or maybe we usually talk in person), and so on?
  • The brass tacks: What are our standard operating procedures? How do we define each job? Your job? When we sit down together at the end of the year and talk about a bonus, will you have known all this time what you could have done to earn it?

No matter how sophisticated your operation, only human beings can get the work done. Only people can make the decisions, pull the levers, and leverage...

We Should All Emulate the Leadership Skills of This 10-Year-Old Boss on 'Game of Thrones'

Sunday on Game of Thrones, we found out who should truly win the Iron Throne, and it’s not Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, Sansa Stark, Tyrion Lannister, or any of the other major characters on the HBO show.

Rather, it’s a 10-year-old girl named Lyanna Mormont, who displayed more toughness and intellect in one short scene than most of the show’s adult characters have shown across six seasons.

In last night’s episode, a recently resurrected Jon Snow travels alongside his half-sister Sansa Stark to ask other northern houses that were once loyal to the Stark banner to join their army for the upcoming war against the Boltons (and, at some point, to present a united front of alive-people against the White Walkers). They visit Bear Island, the home to House Mormont, which is under the leadership of the young Lyanna.

If none of that means anything to you—no matter. What’s important is that Lyanna is a wunderkind and a badass who exudes leadership. She’s the boss we all want to work for.

Lyanna understands and appreciates the history of her house, while also trying to determine what’s best for her kin in the...

Plan to Improve Government Performance Would Actually Undercut Progress

Because they lack a profit-based bottom line, we often assume that federal agencies also lack a natural spur to innovate. But that misses one key source of change, which is that Congress and presidents tend to hold strong beliefs about the need to reform government. A permanent sense of dissatisfaction with government has resulted in the perpetual search for new performance systems: PPBS, MBO, ZBB, CSRA, GPRA, and PART. If you don’t know these acronyms, don’t worry; all you need to know is that they took a lot of time and effort and failed to achieve their goals, justifying a replacement that in turn proved to be no more successful. A new bill, the Taxpayer Right to Know, would not only continue this cycle of failure, but might also undercut existing practices that are actually doing some good. This bill has passed the House and is awaiting consideration on the Senate floor, having been passed out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee.

The current performance system in place is the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010. The Modernization Act addresses some of the weak points in the original 1993 Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). Research...

The Five Factors That Drive Employee Satisfaction

In late April, government workers once again provided valuable insights into how they feel about their jobs, supervisors and senior leadership through the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. The Office of Personnel Management will provide results on a rolling basis starting in August. 

OPM considers the survey a critical tool in assessing engagement in the workforce through the “consistent, reliable and actionable information it provides the federal government, each agency, and lower level offices within each organization,” according to Beth Cobert, OPM’s acting director, in a March memo announcing the survey.

Given the survey’s mixed results, OPM’s commitment is admirable. Last year, overall employee engagement rose a mere 1 percentage point, to 64 percent. Any increase in this year’s engagement score will need to triple that pace to reach the stated goal of 67 percent. That would be a tall order, especially when an agency like the Department of Homeland Security has seen engagement decline from 60 percent in 2011 to 53 percent last year.

To arrive at more definitive conclusions about this year’s findings, OPM significantly reduced the number of questions with an emphasis on “stronger, relevant and unambiguous questions.” Questions included: “How satisfied...

Your Subordinates Know More About You Than You Know

I know you only by the way you treat me, nothing else.

I'm not listening to most of what you say.

You asked me to find the core values brochure. It's in the closet, buried under pens and colored folders and paper clips.

Here's how I know what you care about (yes you, a representative of leadership): How. You. Act.

You don't know what I mean? You think you never see me?

I know you by:

  • The things other people say about you. Your reputation.
  • The way you choose to greet people in the hallway.
  • The way you talk about other people. 
  • The way you listen—or don't.
  • What you do in response to problems.
  • The way you show empathy to those in pain.
  • Your attitude to new ideas that are not yours.
  • The way you enforce the rules.
  • Whether you study a matter carefully, or are impulsive and just act out.
  • Who you give the microphone to, and where you shine your spotlight.

Yes, I know you. Every single day, I watch your values unfold.

And I am learning.

Copyright 2016 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. The opinions expressed are her own, and the content...

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