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

Millennials, Stop Working From Home All the Time

The crown jewel of contemporary work-life balance is the ability to do your work from home, but are we doing it right?

At this very moment, I am pacing around my kitchen island, sipping coffee brewed in my own coffeepot. Thousands of Americans are likely doing the same, even as they check in with colleagues and start important calls: While still more the exception than the rule, telecommuting is unmistakably on the rise. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, 37% of US workers say they’ve worked from home at some point—a huge jump from the 9% who said the same thing in 1995.

In addition to working in pajamas, flexible hours offer clear benefits: Companies that encourage remote arrangements have seen increases in productivity and decreases in office overhead costs, to say nothing of the numerous benefits it presents for working parents. In ten years, companies may no longer want to shell out big bucks for brick-and-mortar offices when we have Slack, email, Cisco, and Google Hangouts.  With so many quantifiable upsides, it’s no surprise that working from home has already been heralded by some as the “future of work.”

But there is a big difference between...

The Correct Criticism of Obama’s Vacation Habits is That He Should Take More, Not Less

What’s more befitting of the American president—being a chronic workaholic, or taking a couple weeks off to hit the links with Larry David and read The Girl on the Train?

That’s the contrast Donald Trump drew when criticizing president Barack Obama for declining to disrupt his vacation to visit flood-ravaged Louisiana. Trump’s attack came as he was touring the disaster areas. He and critical media outlets declined to note that Louisiana’s governor asked Obama to stay away in order to not to divert law enforcement resources. Trump ultimately prevailed; Obama is visiting Baton Rouge today.

We should all be glad he waited until his vacation was over, though.

Abstaining from vacation is a pretty excellent way to be a worse president. Research shows that working too much feeds stress and fatigue, which takes a toll on physical health. Mental health is even more of a concern, though. We have a finite amount of cognitive bandwidth. Overtaxing it makes us think less clearly—which is why taking lengthy vacation is crucial to boosting job performance. Those who refuse taking time off from work are more prone to making mistakes and find it harder to keep their...

Are You Putting Your Agency’s Reputation on the Line?

Risk is unavoidable in carrying out an organization’s objectives. Whether we’re talking about a government agency or a private sector hospital, providing services to people is surrounded by uncertainty. While organizations cannot respond to all risks, one of the most salient lessons from high-profile crises and scandals is that both public and private sector organizations should strengthen their risk management practices to address integrity issues.

Federal agencies would be well-advised to identify, evaluate, and manage challenges related to mission delivery and minimize risk to a tolerable level. In fact, the Office of Management and Budget recently updated Circular A-123 to ensure managers are addressing risks as they monitor day-to-day operations and develop strategic objectives for their agencies.

In the IBM Center for the Business of Government report Ten Recommendations for Managing Organizational Integrity Risks, Kent State University’s Tony Molina offers tools to help managers uphold their agencies’ reputation and meet the requirements of Circular A-123. Integrity risks should be a central concern for managers at all levels of government because the lack of trust in public institutions is eroding their effectiveness.

Identifying the Problem

There are two types of integrity issues that organizations must monitor:

  • Integrity violations...

What Do Women Leaders Have in Common?

On the surface, one would be hard-pressed to find many similarities between German chancellor Angela Merkel, Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina, and Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—except for the fact that they are all female leaders of nations. Merkel, for example, spent more than a decade as a chemist before going into politics, while Hasina, the daughter of Bangladesh’s first president, attended college at the same time that she served as her father’s political liaison, and Johnson Sirleaf was Liberia’s minister of finance and worked at multiple financial institutions outside her country before running for vice president in 1985.

But despite the vastly different cultural and political contexts that these women arose in—and the roughly 20 other female heads-of-state around the world—is there something deeper that they share?  Answering that question could reveal not the fundamental, essential nature of female leadership, but how women in leadership are perceived around the world, and perhaps more importantly, the obstacles women continue to face in their quest for equal representation.

The researcher Susan R. Madsen of Utah Valley University says that while many studies have been done on leadership in different cultures, very few have focused on...

The Presidential Transition Should Include Civil Service Reform

This is the first column in a two-part series.

Maybe, just maybe, the time has come for civil service reform. The idea keeps surfacing: Hillary Clinton promised “VA reform will be a top priority.” The Defense Department has begun implementing its new civilian personnel system, New Beginnings, while Congress considers a proposal to reform hiring—the Workforce Flexibility Act of 2016. Overhauling the Senior Executive Service has been discussed since 2012. The Republican platform calls for cutting federal pay and benefits. And numerous reports calling for reform have been published.

The recognition that reform is needed is widely shared. Something is needed because the civil service system is no longer serving the needs of government at a time when public support has declined.

The last time the public’s trust in government was this low was at the start of Bill Clinton’s presidency.  Two months after his inauguration, he authorized the National Performance Review with the goal of “creating a government that works better and costs less.” In October 1993, a month after the initial NPR report was released, Clinton issued Executive Order 12871, creating the National Partnership Council with union and management members, and charged it with planning...

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