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

The Alchemy of Great Leadership

Alchemy, according to Malouin in the Encyclopedia of Diderot, is the chemistry of the subtlest kind which allows one to observe extraordinary chemical operations at a more rapid pace — ones that require a long time for nature to produce.

Newsflash, there are no shortcuts to great leadership. Much like the failure to change nature’s principles in search of longevity or turning lead into gold, one’s ability lead develops slowly over time and with much strain.

10 Lessons Learned in Search of Success as a Leader:

 1. You’re always an apprentice. If you think you’ve mastered this, you’re failing. Approach each day eager to learn another lesson, and you will. Approach each day assuming you’ve got this role licked, and you’ll get clobbered when you least expect it.

2. Great leaders require great missions. It’s the humdrum of the mundane of the status quo that squashes the spirits of leaders and the people around them. If you’re not on a mission, create one. If you’re leading others, know that your job is to define the mission. Not the mission statement, the mission.

 3. The only job harder than leading is likely...

Public Officials, Just Remember the Airlines Are Always Worse

“The machine did it,” said the woman at the airline’s boarding desk.

In response, I noted that “a human programmed the machine.”

This obviously factual statement had no impact. The machine had done it. No human was responsible for causing the problem. Consequently no human was responsible for fixing the problem — for even trying to fix the problem.

If I had a problem, I needed to take it up with the machine.

Judy and I were about to embark on the third leg of a four-flight trip. The flight from Boston to Frankfort had been uneventful. But in Frankfort, when we got on the plane for Milan, we were not in adjacent seats. Indeed, we were in different rows on different sides of the plane.

This seemed a little weird. After all, we had booked our trip together, and our reservations clearly had us seated next to each other on all four legs. Being more or less normal humans, we therefore expected to be seated next to each other.

I did, however, figure out why we were not in our original seats. This flight was not fully booked and thus the airline had changed equipment. Our original seats did...

Why Hiring Millennials Is So Critical

The federal workforce is aging. Among federal civilian employees, close to half are over the age of 50. Roughly one-third, or 600,000, will be eligible to retire by September 2017. A number of recent articles have discussed the federal government’s inability to bring in and retain young people. While agencies should certainly take steps to improve retention rates and influence their hiring processes, systemic obstacles — especially budget austerity — are likely to continue to make it difficult to attract, hire and retain young workers.

This is a dangerous trend.

Given that roughly half of the current federal workforce will be over 60 in the next decade, many agencies are already preparing for a significant loss of experience and talent as longtime employees retire. For example, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is taking several steps to transfer knowledge between long-tenured staff and more recent hires. Nonetheless, without talented younger employees in the pipeline, the capacity to serve the public could be dramatically affected.

“We know hiring millennials is really critical to the future of the government,” said Katherine Archuleta, former director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Austerity will likely continue to wear on the federal workforce.

Roughly a quarter...

Embracing Negative Feedback

The immediate access to citizen feedback rendered possible by our digital world presents new and faster means for government organizations to improve their services. While the government recognizes the importance of obtaining public feedback and is beginning to encourage more feedback on their everyday services, the potential for criticism can be a barrier to adopting those feedback tools. Still, organizations like the State Department, Transportation Security Administration and the state of Georgia are overcoming those barriers in order to reap the benefits of feedback.

The ability to convert feedback into action is dependent on the integrity of it. When an organization opens itself to feedback, it has to accept that receiving solely favorable feedback is not only unlikely, but unhelpful. Change isn’t driven by praising the status quo, but by recognizing areas for improvement. Organizations should not only expect, but should encourage constructive critique. As the Social Security Administration reported, customer feedback “helps us know where to best focus our limited resources so we can make improvements in those areas that will have the greatest impact on increasing overall customer satisfaction.”

It is also important to acknowledge that negative feedback will and is happening with or without an organization...

How Quickly Will Your Email Get A Response?

In 2013, 183 billion emails were sent every day, according to the technology-research firm Radicati. The firm predicts that by 2017, it will be nearly 207 billion. This is a gold mine of information for communications research, but an overwhelmingly daunting one. Attempting to analyze all of it would be like Scrooge McDuck diving into an ocean of gold, and then drowning in it.

But as an email becomes an increasingly integral part of the puzzle of human communication, understanding how people use it becomes more important as well. And a new study, the largest study of email yet, manages to bottle and measure a pretty big portion of that gold ocean. 

Researchers from Yahoo Labs and the University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute analyzed 187 million emails sent between 2 million unique users to see how long it took people to reply, how long their replies were, and how that changed depending on factors like time of day and who was doing the emailing. (Caveat: They were all sent using Yahoo Mail.)

The researchers only included messages sent from one person to one other, no group emails. And to eliminate the possibility of including bots or spam, they...