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

Getting Credit for What You Know

College wasn’t right for Daniel Gamez when he first tried it as a recent high school graduate nearly two decades ago. The Texas economy was booming; he was in a hurry to start working. He couldn’t see how the things he was learning in college would help him get a job, and he dropped out before the end of his first semester.

It’s an all too common story. The overwhelming majority of American high school students say they expect to go to college, and about 70 percent of graduates end up in a college classroom within two years. But for many, higher education is the equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle—they never come out, at least not with diplomas. Many students give up in the first year: about a quarter of those attending four-year schools and half of those who start community college. And the attrition continues until graduation day. The end result: Just 32 percent of Americans 25 and older have four-year diplomas, and just 10 percent have associate’s degrees. Meanwhile, nearly a fourth of the country’s workforce—more than 36 million adults—fall into the category "some college, no degree."

Now in his ...

Why Bad Bosses Sabotage Their Teams

Bosses who crave power but fear they might lose it can undermine their teams’ productivity.

The dreaded bad boss comes in many varieties. There are the incompetent ones, the lazy or defensive ones, the ones who claim your work as their own, or those who prefer to rule through intimidation.

Jon Maner, a professor of management and organizations at Kellogg School of Management, has studied a specific breed of bad boss—those who intentionally sabotage their teams’ cohesion in order to protect their own status as leader.

Maner’s research shows that leaders will intentionally sideline high-performing team members, limit communication and social bonding among team members, or compile ill-matched teams if they think it will help ensure their own place at the top.

The danger of this type of bad boss is significant.

“It can cause the group to fall apart at a basic level,” Maner says. “If you have people who don’t like each other and aren’t allowed to communicate effectively with one another, then really, you don’t have a group at all anymore.”

Maner and collaborator Charleen Case, a doctoral student at the Kellogg School, found that leaders who were driven by a desire ...

When the Executive Core Qualifications Aren’t Enough

What skills do Senior Executive Service aspirants need to succeed in federal sector management positions? Are they developed to elicit employee engagement? Do the executive core qualifications defined by the Officer of Personnel Management create a hurdle high enough to ensure success as an SES leader?

The short answer seems to be no. Meeting the ECQs does not guarantee that a leader will be successful.

The most objective measure of SES capacity can be found in four questions in OPM’s Federal Employee Viewpoint survey, according to the Partnership for Public Service. They are the most critical to creating employee engagement and increasing agency productivity.

From 2011 to 2014, positive answers to the following questions have been trending down:

  • Q 53: “In my organization, senior leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce.”  (down 15 percent, from 45 to 38 points)
  • Q 54: “My organization’s senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity.” (down 12 percent)
  • Q 61: “I have a high level of respect for my organization’s senior leaders.” (down 12 percent)
  • Q 64: “How satisfied are you with the information you receive from management on what’s going on in your organization ...

Process Improvement: Making the Complicated Simple

A Google search for “methodology” yields these definitions: “the systematic, theoretical analysis of the methods applied to a field of study” and “a body of methods, rules, and postulates employed by a discipline.” Most of us don’t use the word “postulates” in our everyday work lives, but we all use methodologies, whether we are aware of them or not.

As consultants, we frequently rely on methodologies, whether we are developing them for our federal clients or using them ourselves to bring in new business. Even so, the word “methodology” conjures up images of complicated flow charts, process graphics and hundred-page process documents. Well-thought out processes can certainly provide sustainability and stability to an organization. However, too much emphasis on process can stamp out innovation and discourage creativity, which can be lethal for both government agencies and small businesses.

So, how do you develop a sustainable but innovative methodology that will help your agency fulfill its mission?

Get the right input. This tip might seem self-explanatory, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Be sure to leave enough time to solicit any input you need at the beginning and along the way from the people who will actually ...

The Incredibly Simple Trick to Effective Work Email

Let’s face it. In-person workplace communication is fading with the growth of chat programs and remote work environments. That means more and more of our efforts to influence our co-workers and bosses is done virtually.

Here’s a simple, quick way to do it a little bit better that was spotlighted in a recent University of North Carolina qualitative study (paywall) on how people influence others in online work environments. The authors of the study interviewed 23 members of virtual teams about previous attempts to influence other members of their virtual teams. One technique? A well-crafted email consisting solely of a subject line. (Such emails are sometimes known as “zen mail.”) And, they found, the word “urgent” helped.

“Zen Mail with the word Urgent and the entire message in the subject line provides a quick jolt of pressure to get a target to realize the importance of a particular task,” the authors wrote.

An example:

Urgent: Final project approval needed before 6pm

That’s the whole email, but it’s all that’s needed. The key, of course, is the time-dependent quality of the “urgent,” which implies something must be dealt with forthwith. A MailChimp study from 2013 of ...