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

Reinventing Management, Again

In 1994, Peter Drucker gave a lecture to government employees called “Reinventing Government: The Next Phase.” (The Drucker Lectures, 2010

In it, he commented on the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, earlier known as the National Performance Review and commonly known as NPR. This was a governmentwide management reform initiative spearheaded by Al Gore, which led to the founding of the Federal Communicators Network 20 years ago. (I previously served as Chair of the FCN from 2011-2012.)

Drucker praises NPR’s success, crediting the fact that it was “focused on performance.” However, he shares his concern that an “individual, isolated” change effort is “just good intentions unless it becomes permanent, organized, self-generated habit.”

Ultimately NPR had a significant impact, including $137 billion in savings. But Drucker’s concerns were well-placed, as the work of the NPR influenced future administrations, but was not duplicated by them in the same way.

At its height NPR made a tangible positive difference in the way government functioned, not only because it was an interagency entity but also because it was well-funded and well-staffed, with 250 federal employees paid by their home agencies all working together. 

Warned Drucker:

“We need ‘reinventing government.’ If we do...

It’s Time to Invest in Government’s Infrastructure -- Its People

For several years, the recession provided an excuse to ignore the country’s deteriorating infrastructure. Buildings have aged, the cracks grown wider and the potholes bigger -- and the costs for maintenance have increased. Delaying the inevitable expenditure makes the problems worse. 

That same argument can be made for the infrastructure of government – the people who make government work. The pressure to reduce spending has the same impact as deferring investments to maintain bridges and roads. Talent leaves, morale declines, performance deteriorates, and the public’s frustration grows.

Leaders in successful organizations would never allow that to happen. Talent management has become a C-suite priority. They manage the workforce as an asset, not a cost, and adopt strategies to gain everyone’s commitment to maintaining their success. Multiple research studies confirm very clearly that effective workforce management practices generate significantly better performance.

Government’s performance problems could be reduced with more effective work management practices. The way that pay has been managed is at the heart of those problems. The “cost” of performance problems, especially those that make the headlines, should be considered whenever pay is debated.

Excuse the rant, but the contentious debate over federal pay hurts government.  A series...

Are You Ready for the Next Organizational Crisis?

Whether it is retrieving astronauts from space or clarifying a tactless comment that created a firestorm for someone in the communications office, all organizations face challenges that force employees to think and act differently in response.

At a time when many agencies just want to fly under the radar and focus on mission work in anticipation of the next administration, there are a few that can’t seem to avoid critical attention for their handling (or mishandling) of organizational issues. The VA continues to struggle with ridding the agency of underperformers. Homeland Security faces questions about executives’ use of private email. And the National Park Service faces accusations of employing “scum” by one especially vocal Congressman.

As the public gets a glimpse into the leadership’s handling of public crises, one has to wonder what’s going on beneath the surface with the career staff. How does a pounding in the press affect morale and engagement?

We intuitively know that an engaged workforce—one that shows dedication and effort in their work—is crucial to high-performing organizations. In fact, one study  in the Harvard Business Review shows that employee engagement is key to reaching organizational goals, reducing turnover, improving work...

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...

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