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

Resist the Urge to Shield Your Team From Bad News

In difficult situations, reality tinged with optimism and backed by encouragement serves as a more effective motivator than a saccharine-sweet message of false praise and manufactured positivity.

The fact is we’re not always fine. Strategies don’t always work. Mistakes happen. Competitors confound our best attempts and deals, delay or derail. Stuff happens, and your attempt to reinforce a false reality will confuse people who expect and need honesty and transparency from you.

I see this dissonant messaging in action when I’m called upon to work with struggling firms or teams. The leader, often the CEO, is concerned about demoralizing the group and instead of shooting straight, obfuscates the reality of the situation with an overdose of praise and ginned up optimism. Unfortunately, this approach generates confusion (people are adept at sensing reality) and fails to do the one thing most critical to navigating the problems — draw people into the good and hard work of finding the solutions.

The Positive Side of Shooting Straight

I observed a manufacturer navigate a complex quality problem by shooting straight with employees and customers as soon as the problem surfaced, and then making heroic efforts to remedy the problems. This was a...

Wonder What’s Hidden in Your Personnel File?

Did you know you can easily request a copy of your official personnel file? Or if you’re a security clearance holder, it’s possible to request a copy of your Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS) records or background investigation?

All of this information is available via a simple Freedom of Information Act or Privacy Act request.

Why would anyone want access to this information?

When it comes to JPAS records, it’s a good idea to request a copy if you’re ever issued a statement of reasons for denial or revocation of your security clearance. This may occur for current federal employees undergoing financial problems, or who are accused of a security violation. Believe it or not, sometimes requesting a copy of your JPAS record is the quickest and easiest way to see why your account was flagged.

If you aren’t in a cleared position and are unsure of your clearance status, a copy of your JPAS record will reveal any flags that may be in your account, and whether or not your security clearance is current or expired — that’s vital information if you’re applying for a new position and an employer asks about your...

So Long to the Cubit and Ad Hoc Performance Metrics

A “cubit” is an ancient measure of length – from your elbow to your middle fingertip. We no longer use it, because everyone’s is different, and we get different results. The federal government has a project underway to move from its version of cubits to a more standardized set of performance measures.

The cross-agency initiative Benchmark and Improve Mission-Support Operations has been underway since early 2013. Results are being used to inform discussions between the Office of Management and Budget and agencies in their first-ever “FedStat” meetings on how well they are managing their administrative functions and delivering on strategic objectives. The project manager, Steve Brockelman of the General Services Administration, says: “We now have a rich set of governmentwide, cross-functional benchmarks to support data-driven decision-making.”

For at least two decades, there have been ad hoc efforts to benchmark federal agency performance in areas as diverse as call center efficiency, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction. But more recently, there has been interest in benchmarking the cost and quality of services across key mission-support activities, such as human resources, real estate management, contracting and information technology. Supported by their respective cross-agency councils, such as the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, the...

You’re More Likely to Find a Better Job While You're Still In Your Old One

People who leave jobs without another one lined up may not realize what a disadvantaged position it puts them in, according to an analysis by the New York Federal Reserve posted on its Liberty Street Economics blog.

The Fed researchers looked at 426 people who participated in its Survey of Consumer Expectations in Oct. 2013. The 2013 survey had asked a range of questions about participants’ job status, expectations, and salary, across multiple industries. The researchers created categories based on whether those previously surveyed had moved from another job to their current position, or if they’d been unemployed for a spell first.

According to the findings, those who had switched from one job to another (roughly three-fourth of those surveyed) made substantially more money after their transition, even when comparing workers from similar demographics and industries. They started their current job at a better wage in the first place, and had received bigger raises during their time there. Here’s how salaries over their last two jobs compared for each type:

By contrast, those surveyed who took a new job after a period of unemployment generally saw little or no wage growth after switching. Those who switched from one...

No, Americans Probably Aren't Suffering From a Lack of Sleep

We’ve been told that the modern, connected life is taking a toll on our sleep. Compared to previous generations, studies report, we’ve been sleeping less and less every year. And that is making us “more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity.”

It sounds terrifying, but it’s probably not true. For a long time doctors and scientists had ignored sleep’s importance to health. We’ve only begun to see how much it matters in the last few decades. And thus, we have never systematically gathered data on how much people really sleep.

Now, researchers have started to put together what scant data we have to look at the bigger picture. And what they have found is that we aren’t sleeping any less today than before. Knowing precisely how much we sleep matters, because sleep plays a pivotal role in many aspects of our health—from staying mentally fit to fending infections.

Disappearing sleep

In the 1980s, researchers began to probe how sleep affects health. A 1989 study set off alarms when researchers showed that rats...