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New Ways to Think About Hiring, Managing and Leading

One of our greatest challenges at the Office of Personnel Management is to help agencies grow and develop our federal leaders of the future. That is why I convened a series of Thought Leader talks this fall, and I’m pleased to report that the three sessions provided us with new information, inspiration and vision to guide OPM in meeting that challenge.

The sessions brought together leaders from government, business, academia and global organizations to talk about the future of leadership and how we can address challenges and opportunities. We focused on millennials because we know that they are the future of the American workforce, as well as innovative new practices around leadership development, assessment and engagement. And while we have to think about the leaders of today and those who will come after them, we must also plan for tomorrow.

We also talked about how work may take many new forms in the coming years. In our first session, we discussed how email could be replaced by new forms of communication. We talked about working more virtually. If the current move toward telework continues, virtual work will increase, with some employees never stepping foot in a traditional office.

We ...

FYI, See Below

Email is the worst, but some emails are worse than others. The worst emails are forwards. And the worst forwards? Not the jokes your uncle sends you from his AOL account, but the ones your boss or your coworkers send along from some obscure corner of Administrivistan.

Most work emails are purely defensive missives. They seek to shift effort, hide omissions, or provide cover against future blame. Emails simulate work: Rather than getting something done, you create a futures market for excuses and rationales for not getting them done. Thanks to precarity, the modern workplace demands the construction of layers of protective virtual ramparts to shield the worker from possible future reproach.

Email has become the primary brick out of which such fortresses are fashioned. An email is a one-sided agreement made in secret. Once sent, it takes on the air of accord. This is why “Didn’t you get my email?” is a workplace trump card. “Hey, I did my part. It’s not my fault if you dropped the ball.”

Stop Failing and Start Learning: Are You Rapid Prototyping Your Ideas?

John Godfrey Saxe, an American poet, introduced the Indian parable “The Blind Men and the Elephant” to a Western audience. In this tale, six blind men touch the same elephant, but each perceives something different about the animal:

“And so these men of Indostan disputed loud and long. Each in his own opinion. Exceeding stiff and strong. Though each was partly in the right. And all were in the wrong!”

“The Blind Men and the Elephant” demonstrates that the human ability to ideate is constrained by judgment; we are only able to see what our world view teaches us to imagine. And that “idea” is only one perspective, one small part of reality.

How many times have you committed to an idea you thought would work, only to discover significant drawbacks too late in the game? There is a method to overcoming information limitations and validate our ideas. The answer is something called rapid prototyping.

Rapid prototyping is a method of testing new ideas that decreases development time and cost by prioritizing early stakeholder feedback. Popularized as an iterative approach to user design (think Google Glass and mobile applications), the process allows teams to quickly generate and test multiple ideas ...

4 Reasons Leaders Invest Too Much Time in the Wrong People

One of the recurring warnings in my writing for leaders is the very sobering encouragement to beware spending too much time with the wrong people. While the notion of giving up on someone sounds very unleader-like, this trap is one that I see well-intended professionals, from CEOs to front-line supervisors fall victim to with alarming regularity. The performance and environmental costs from this mistake are high to their teams and firms, and this message bears repeating.

We all know that getting the right people in the right seats is a prerequisite for success. The challenge comes when we find ourselves dealing with someone who isn’t quite right or isn’t quite ready and they’re occupying a critical seat.

Good leaders will do the right thing with those who aren’t quite ready. A combination of training, coaching and developmental assignments laced with ample feedback is often the right recipe to help someone gain experience and context for a bigger role. And when it works, it feels great for all parties involved.

The problem comes in assessing whether the individual is not ready or not right for the role. This happens frequently when a leader inherits a new team ...

Can Your Job Help Your Brain Age More Gracefully?

For the most part, I've never felt self-conscious about my memory skills until I heard of the world of memory championships. With intense training and special techniques, memory champions can memorize and write down hundreds of numbers or words in just 15 minutes.

For those of us who don't have the time nor will to train, it turns out our job choice might play a part in our ability to remember. A new study in Neurology looked at which professions, if any, best preserve memory and thinking abilities. The study looked at over 1,000 individuals and whether their work environments were associated with better cognitive outcomes later in life. The participants all took part in a standardized IQ test when they were 11 years old, and at age 70 they were assessed for their cognitive skills—from memory skills, to thinking speed, and general thinking abilities. The test included word analogies, arithmetic, spatial puzzles, and cypher decoding.

This test was analyzed against information collected about the participant's job. The researchers organized the jobs by the level of complexity. For example, jobs deemed "highly complex" in the study included architects, lawyers, surgeons, and musicians. Jobs that had ...