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

Research Confirms It: Good Managers Make a Difference

A brief column in mid-April on Harvard Business Review’s The Daily Alert website, “Proof That Good Managers Really Do Make a Difference,” triggered widespread attention. The subject of the column is research confirming that organizations in very different sectors and countries all perform better when they have effective managers. By the end of the month, a search on the column’s title triggered over 6 million hits. 

The author, an HBR editor, discussed the research of a team of UK academics led by Nick Bloom, who is now at Stanford. Their studies over a decade show that proven performance management practices (e.g. stretch goals, regular progress reviews, rewarding high performers, and so on) generate better organization performance. Their conclusions are based on information collected by over 100 researchers in eight countries from over 10,000 organizations in four distinctly different sectors: manufacturing, retail, hospitals and public schools. The same core practices, less a couple specific to each sector, were shown across the many organizations to contribute to better performance. 

One of the earliest reports on the research was a 2005 Newsweek column. I used the research in developing a report in 2007 for the IBM Center for the...

Federal Employees Deserve the Nation’s Gratitude

Here’s a quick quiz:

  • Who protects investors from insider trading?
  • Who blocks contraband, drugs and terrorists from entering this country?
  • Who collects 93 percent of all federal revenue and nabs identity thieves and tax cheats?
  • Who cares for America’s great wilderness and cultural treasures?
  • Who makes sure the medicines you take are safe and work as advertised?

Federal employees do all of those things, of course.

During Public Service Recognition Week, let’s recognize and appreciate all that federal employees do for this country and the value they add to our lives every day. Let’s thank these dedicated public servants instead of casting aspersions on them. Let’s appreciate the work done by these men and women, who are all too often targeted by some in Congress who belittle their contributions and sacrifices and zealously attempt to slash the budgets of the federal agencies that protect and serve us.

We rarely hear about how federal employees continue to serve the public during austere times and emergencies, how they are dedicated public servants with essential skills and talents.

From all the misguided rhetoric, you’d think all federal employees are bureaucrats or paper pushers. But the truth is...

To Deal With Poor Performers, You Need Will and Skill

In my last article, I discussed the merits of VA’s plan to restrict the employee protections of its senior executives. While I don’t support an approach that 1) treats one group of senior executives in government differently from others based on a few cases, and 2) may serve as a disincentive for the best and brightest employees to enter the department’s SES cadre, I also recognize there are legitimate reasons why VA’s leadership wants to make the changes they are proposing.

Their frustration mirrors that of leaders and managers throughout government who have tried to hold employees accountable. Simply put, they feel the system is rigged against them because they believe it takes too long and is too difficult to remove a poor employee. Moreover even if they succeed in removing the employee, the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board or an arbitrator may overturn the action.

I have often argued that the problem lies less with the law and more with the people trying to administer it. All you need is the will and the skill to deal with a poor employee but far too often government officials lack one or the other, if not...

When a Shortcut Means Shortchanging Yourself

There in the corner of my childhood kitchen in New Jersey sat a small, nondescript plywood shelf virtually stuffed with oddly shaped purple boxes. The boxes contained a magical potion called the Cookie Diet, and when I was growing up in New Jersey we sold a ton of them.

Do you remember this? A "delicious chocolate-chip cookie for breakfast, one for lunch and a healthy dinner," or something like that. People went insane. I can have my cookies and lose weight too? Unbelievable!

But we always struggled with our weight in the family, because food = love. Nevertheless we tried.

In its purest form ("induction") the Atkins plan will also make you lose weight. But it is absolutely disgusting. You're supposed to be able to eat "whatever you want" from a menu of delicious food. The problem is, your body wasn't made to live on a dozen eggs a day plus oil, cheese and cream, platefuls of steak and chicken and liver spread. Sure, you lose weight. But the last time I tried it, my cholesterol shot up to 450, because all I wanted to eat was hard salami.

If there is a shortcut to be found, be sure...

Do You Have What It Takes To Be a Political Appointee?

The start of a new Administration is still months away, but planning for 2017 has already begun. The New York Times recently presented an in-depth article on the forthcoming transition, highlighting a recent transition planning meeting held in New York.  Vetting for the first personnel decision is already underway—both the Washington Post and the New York Times report that the presidential candidates have begun reviewing potential vice presidents.

So it is only natural that political donors and campaign workers outside Washington might start to exhibit symptoms of Potomac Fever as they dream about the possibility of a presidential appointment. Inside the beltway, veteran “in and outers” naturally begin thinking about one more rotation “in.”

A recent article focused on the relatively small number of presidential appointments that are actually available to a new administration. If you think you can beat the odds and are interested in an appointment, this article aims to assist in your deliberations. There are many reasons why an individual should be attracted to public service. There are, however, reasons why public service may not be suited to everyone, and there are some real downsides to public service. Anyone thinking about an impressive Washington title and...