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A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

Have You Stopped Bringing Your ‘A Game’ to Work?

When was the last time you remember bringing your absolute “A Game” to your work, decisions and relationships? It’s likely that your memories are either too distant or too infrequent to feel satisfying. Given the rapidly changing environments within which we live and work, “overwhelmed” and “stretched too thin” are common sentiments. The irony is that during a time when most are desperately in pursuit of creativity, innovation and emotionally intelligent leadership there is a simultaneous pushing of ourselves and our employees to exhaustion—depletion of the very resources most needed.

There is a new way of approaching work and time that allows for more efficient allocation of resources and strategic outcomes: focus management. Focus management begins with investment in self first to rejuvenate the body and mind. Strategic leaders are typically more attuned to themselves holistically. They care about wellness, take longer or more regular vacations, find ways to unwind doing something that is joyful, and have diverse interests and relationships. Even though a holistic approach seems like common sense, many professionals report feeling that investing in downtime seems luxurious. On the contrary, research clearly shows that rejuvenated leaders are more attentive to the subtle cues in the ...

So, What Will It Take to Improve Morale?

It seems everywhere managers are trying to find ways to improve morale within their organizations, and the federal government is no exception. While the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey indicates there are plenty of opportunities for improvement, it’s troubling that morale appears to be waning.               

So, what can be done to improve morale? Essentially, there are two options: Better manage within the existing work design, or change the design.

Managers should focus on two key areas: Connecting employees to the organization’s mission and examining the way managers treat employees.

Connecting Employees to the Mission

The best incentive the government has is its noble mission. Responses to the FEVS make it clear that employees take great pride in their respective missions because they want to be part of something special. Unfortunately, workload pressures, poor management systems and politics cause feds to feel that they are only there to “produce numbers.” Subsequently, they become disconnected from the mission. From their perspective, merely “producing numbers” is not what they signed up for.

Some effective ways to connect employees to the mission include:

  • Visual management. By designing your workspace to reflect and reinforce the mission, the organization’s history, objectives, and successes are ...

Is It Possible to Lay People Off Nicely?

Anyone who’s ever had a job has intuited that a happier workplace makes for more productive workers. As a growing body of research lends scientific authority to this concept, more and more companies are doing what they can to cheer up their employees. Google, with its office scooters and free gourmet meals, may be the most famous example, but it’s no longer an anomaly. Airbnb provides each employee with an annual $2,000 travel stipend. Netflix and Best Buy offer unlimited vacation days.

And then there’s HopeLab. This California tech company is trying to brighten even the darkest of work experiences: firing people. Chris Murchison, the company’s vice president of staff development and culture, recently spoke about the counterintuitive philosophy behind this effort. “I think layoffs are a fascinating opportunity to think about how to enliven people," he said.

Getting laid off or fired is never easy. Even so, it’s often harder than it has to be. A cold and tactless job dismissal can sting, and just watching a recently sacked employee leave is dispiriting. HopeLab, a company that builds educational apps and games aimed at improving people's health, has gone to unusual lengths ...

Why Great Leadership Skills Can’t Always be Transferred From Business to Politics

Imagine your new boss arrives, and his first words to the assembled employees are: “Great to be here. I don’t know much about what this organisation actually does because I’ve never worked in this industry. But I’m sure we’ll be fine and I just know I’m the best leader for you all.”

Skeptical? Well this is not imaginary. It happens in workplaces every day. As well as individuals often being parachuted into senior positions at organisations who have never previously been involved in the sector, politicians similarly rotate from office to office.

The fact that British prime minister David Cameron mostly chose to re-appoint ministers to departments they were working in before the election is actually unusual. Between 2005 and 2009 the average length of service for a minister in the British government was just over a year.

Then there’s the phenomenon of leaders switching between business and politics. In the UK there is a high level of disdain for so-called career politicians who lack “real world” experience. In the US, where they are gearing up for elections, we see another attempt to transfer supposedly generic leadership skills from one context to another. Carly ...

OPM Lab Takes the Lead on Innovation

Our federal workforce is talented, passionate, and creative. To harness this spirit of ingenuity, the Office of Personnel Management created the Lab@OPM to help agencies translate the creativity of their employees into innovative action. A recent project with Food and Nutrition Services at the Agriculture Department shows how the Lab@OPM can bring fresh ideas to life.

One of the many vital services that the federal government provides is the National School Lunch Program. Run by USDA, it gives healthy and low-cost or free meals to more than 30 million children each school day. USDA came to the lab with an important, but complex, question: “How can we make it easier for families to provide accurate information about eligibility for the free and reduced lunch program?”

The Lab@OPM was created in 2012 to assist federal agencies in developing innovative solutions to just such complicated problems. These partnerships lead to new ideas about how the federal government can better deliver services and programs. At the heart of the lab’s work is human-centered design, a process that looks at solving problems from the point of view of people who will be using a particular product or service.

To help ...