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

Leading Employees Who Struggle with Self-Doubt

The biggest barrier to remarkable achievements in our workplaces is not a lack of resources or a shortage of great ideas. Rather, it is a shortage of a very personal attribute: self-confidence.

Of all of the challenges of serving in a role responsible for others, guiding and developing individuals who lack confidence in their own abilities is perhaps the most difficult. It is easier to remove a poor performer or someone whose values conflict with those of the organization than it is to help build up someone who struggles internally with their own abilities. Sadly, those lacking in self-confidence often are inappropriately lumped into the poor performer category, not because they “can’t” but because they “don’t.”

Most managers lack any formal expertise in the realm of psychology. As such, we are left to our own designs to attempt to understand our team members and provide the right environment and push the right buttons to stimulate their interest and motivation. Mostly, we flail, and for many, we fail.

If you have worked to try and help an individual who struggles to recognize his or her own gifts and abilities, you can relate to how difficult this challenge truly is...

If Employees Aren't Engaged, Leaders Need to Take a Hard Look at Their Own Actions

The 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey is now history. I am working with a group associated with a federal organization that recently reported the results of a similar survey conducted by Gallup.  There are differences in the surveys, but both focus on employee engagement. 

A key difference (and I have no ties to Gallup) is that using the Gallup survey makes it possible to compare responses and identify weaknesses relative to practices in thousands of other organizations.  The organization in question learned its workforce is badly demoralized. When compared with other survey organizations, it’s one of the worst workplaces in the United States.

Another difference is the way the survey results are reported. Gallup categorizes respondents as “engaged”, “not engaged” or “actively disengaged.” The current breakdown nationally is roughly 33 percent engaged, 50 percent not engaged, and 16 percent actively disengaged.  The latter group are problem employees. They add to employer costs—higher absenteeism, higher grievances, lower productivity, lower customer satisfaction, higher waste, etc. Many are disruptive. They also experience higher levels of stress and related health problems.

Organizations with high levels of engaged employees perform significantly better. Their productivity holds down costs. Their employees also benefit from high...

What Does It Take for People to Do the Right Thing?

A recent report for the IBM Center by a team of Northeastern University researchers, Gilbert Nyaga, Gary Young, and Russ Moran, offers a case study of what it takes to help people do the right thing. In this case, they examine efforts to effectively manage medical supplies on the front line within the vast network of Veterans hospitals. Much of it boils down to the right mix of hands-on management, good training, standardized processes, and a dash of up-to-date technology.

Effectively managing inventory is a widespread challenge in the federal government, ranging from agencies such as the Defense Department to the Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, this challenge has landed several agencies on the Government Accountability Office’s High-Risk List of programs at risk for waste or inefficiency.

The research team found that “many government agencies have policies on inventory management that, if fully implemented, would likely result in significant performance improvements” and that these practices “are based on best practices from the private sector.”

So why the gap?  The research team explored the disconnect between policy and performance by conducting an in-depth, multi-year study of inventory management practices in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ New England region, covering eight...

Traumatized by Millennials, Employers are Already Trying to Make Generation Z Happy

Employers haven’t had it easy with millennials—a broad term for a global grouping of people who are fairly young at this particular moment in time (definitions vary, but it usually refers to people currently aged 18 to 35).

These young people have been asking more of their workplace than ever before, and it looks like employers could have an even harder job on the horizon. “Generation Z” is just turning 18, and they might want more, especially in one key area: work that is meaningful.

The research institute of ADP—a business administration group which produces data on work trends and economic health—surveyed 2,400 full-time and part-time employees in different age groups, including millennials, working at companies with over 250 people, to find out how the global workplace had changed. Their resulting study says that millennials have pushed companies to change in key areas, including giving employees more freedom (to work from wherever they want, for example) and autonomy (including to “self-manage,” rather than be managed).

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But the one big thing the ADP picked out was the search for a sense...

Why Most Managers Should Delegate More Responsibilities

How does a public manager get public employees to produce results? The traditional answer is: Tell them precisely what to do. Don’t give them any room for discretion. If you do, they’ll just exploit the opportunity for their own, personal advantage.

For over a century, democracies have sought to limit—or more accurately, to prevent—public managers from exercising discretion. Such constraints are not, however, designed to produce results. They are designed to prevent corruption.

Indeed, for Progressive Era reformers who wanted to improve government, the overriding performance problem was corruption. In their campaign to clean up government the poster child was William “Boss” Tweed, who, from 1858 to 1871, ran New York City’s Tammany Hall.

The “posters” were Thomas Nast’s cartoons, in Harper’s Weekly. The message was clear and simple: If public employees can exercise discretion, they can and will make choices that benefit themselves not citizens.

Particularly important was limiting a public manager’s ability to decide whom to hire (and fire) and with whom to contract for a product or service. For if public managers had these kinds of discretion, they could —and would—hire their cousins and give contracts to their...

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