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

Pay for Performance is Needed

The switch to pay for performance is inevitable. The General Schedule salary system is approaching 100 years old. Automatic step increases are contrary to the goals of improving government performance and holding employees accountable. Further, there is no rationale that justifies paying federal employees better than their counterparts working in non-federal organizations. That includes the value of benefits.  

It also needs to be acknowledged that the General Schedule and classification system prevent effective talent management.

The theory of pay for performance is unquestioned. The practice is universal in the private sector and important to the growth of the U.S. economy. Rewarding good performance has gained acceptance in all aspects of life. It’s now a global practice.

Government is different from the private sector in three key respects though. Two of those differences—the fact that performance ratings and pay increases are not confidential, and that changes to the system inevitably involve politics—are likely to prompt resistance to program changes.

A third difference is that in the private sector, pay for performance triggers continuous attention to performance metrics. For many organizations, the incentives that motivate are the prospect of year-end bonuses and gains from stock ownership. Both reinforce...

Do Women Bosses Have an Extra Responsibility to Look Out For Women?

Shortly after news broke that Hillary Clinton had allowed an advisor on her 2008 presidential campaign to keep his job after he was accused of sexual harassment, the former US secretary of State wrote an explanation on her Facebook page. “The short answer is this,” she wrote. “If I had it to do again, I wouldn’t.” She noted:

“I recognize that the situation on my 2008 campaign was unusual in that a woman complained to a woman who brought the issue to a woman who was the ultimate decision maker. There was no man in the chain of command. The boss was a woman. Does a woman have a responsibility to come down even harder on the perpetrator? I don’t know. But I do believe that a woman boss has an extra responsibility to look out for the women who work for her, and to better understand how issues like these can affect them.”

Clinton brings up an interesting question that has implications beyond her own decision. Do women managers have a responsibility to come down even harder on perpetrators of sexual harassment? An extra responsibility to look out for women who work for them?

Quartz at Work...

Everyone Claims They Are Following 'Agile Methods' But Few Actually Do

When we talk with managers who are undertaking ambitious digital projects, we ask them if they are using agile methods. Many of them will say “yes, we’ve adopted agile already.” You’d think that would be an encouraging sign: when practiced well, agile methods can create exceptionally valuable and productive teams. But we’ve learned it most often reveals something quite different: that they aren’t using agile at all.

Agile development is not new. Highly evolved product development teams have been using it for upwards of two decades. Its project management framework owes much to lean manufacturing philosophies: it emphasizes customer pull versus management push and empowers self-organizing teams to improve how they work together.

It’s an elegantly simple method—and one that has begun spreading rapidly from engineering departments and into marketing, sales, finance, and even HR teams. But much can and does go wrong at every level of the organization, from the individual team member all the way up to the CEO. Which is why most companies, despite their intentions to adopt agile methods, often end up working in a way that doesn’t look much like true agile at all.

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What Inclusivity Really Means, From The Woman Who Held The Highest Tech Job In America

Tech and science are notoriously male-dominated fields, which means girls and women interested in STEM lack powerful female role models. This predicament took a major step forward in 2014, when Barack Obama named Megan Smith the third US chief technology officer. This made her the first US CTO with technical experience (really), and also marked the first time that a woman was placed in the highest technology role in the nation.

As CTO, Smith guided the Obama administration’s information-technology policies and initiatives and continued her life-long obsession with green innovation. (She modeled her first solar house in the 1970s as a child.) She also used her platform to be an advocate for women and LGBTQ people interested in science and technology.

Prior to the White House, Smith spent over a decade as a vice president at Google, where she led the new business development team, acquiring platforms like Google Maps and Google Earth. She then co-led Google’s advanced-products team, creating SolveForX, a forum encouraging tech-based moonshot thinking and collaboration, and WomenTechmakers, a tech-diversity initiative, where she piloted unconscious bias training across Google and beyond.

“We need to know that women have always done these [technical] jobs at all...

Threats to Government Data Are Threats to Democracy

The federal government bears few responsibilities as weighty as its obligation to be a good steward of data and information. From shaping our congressional districts, to understanding students’ academic progress; from informing budget priorities and their impact on future generations, to simply knowing how many people live in the country; the quality of our policies and policymaking are contingent upon the data they’re based upon.

As an organization that relies on data, researchers at the Brookings Institution are paying close attention to the Trump administration’s management of data. Here are a few of the data sources our scholars will be watching in 2018 and beyond:

Census Bureau

If data is the lifeblood of policy, then the Census Bureau is the heart that pumps it. Not only is Census the federal government’s largest statistical agency, the data collected touches all other departments within the federal government, primarily through its official count of residents in the country.

Brookings expert Randall Akee says that in addition to the decennial Census, “Other Census Bureau products like the annual American Community Survey and the Economic Census, which provides comprehensive data on output and businesses in the U.S. every five years, should...