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Reflections on 9/11 and Excellence in Government

As we paused last week to remember the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, I am reminded of how that event changed so much of our history—including impacting how government moved forward to manage technology and people who care deeply about serving the American people, and working with our international partners to do the same. We learned important lessons on that day, which have carried forward since and will long into the future.

First, a reflection of events from Sep 11, 2001: I was the career deputy adviser on information technology and e-government issues at the Office of Management and Budget. On that day, our office was working closely with the Council for Excellence in Government to host a meeting of international IT leaders—one of the early meetings of chief information officers and equivalent executives from multiple countries, done in partnership with the council. CEG for many years led government, industry, academia, nonprofit and citizen groups generally on technology and management excellence initiatives.

After the plane hit the Pentagon, OMB quickly evacuated its building, as did much of downtown Washington. I recall with great clarity the thousands of people walking in the street, unsure about where to go ...

The Way HR Works Needs to Change

It seems nowadays it is rare to open up an issue of an HR magazine, visit a blog site, or attend an HR show without reading or hearing about big data.

Let’s put this in the context of HR and submit a use case where a high-tech company were to open a new HQ location. HR would be tasked to help drive the decision of picking a new city. In this case, combining census data, salary ranges, educational institution rankings, corporate tax rate, construction costs, traffic data and so on using an algorithm could generate a ranking of the cities based on talent pool data.

But the reality is that most of HR is not ready for this yet. In fact, the vast majority of HR departments are barely ready for “little data”—applying analytics to HR processes captured at the transactional level. Here is why.

1. HR is still focused on business process improvement and automation

According to recent research by Sierra-Cedar (formerly CedarCrestone) as part of the 2013-2014 HR Systems study of over 1200 companies, the top priorities for HR are business process improvements (62%), automation of talent processes (44%), and service delivery improvements (40%).

Business intelligence ...

Guess Where the Government Ranks in Customer Satisfaction?

Most Americans agree that the level of customer service they receive from cable companies and the airline industry is less than stellar. Yet, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, citizens gave even lower marks to the federal government. Only Internet service providers received lower ratings than government.

The federal government’s 2013 ACSI score was 66, two points lower than in 2012. The drop, according to ACSI, was driven by deteriorating satisfaction with agency websites broadly across government.

Perhaps this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Government websites are notoriously difficult to navigate, largely because they assume a level of familiarity with agency structures and programs that most Americans understand. In the private sector, however, online commerce is exploding and companies are getting increasingly savvy at making online purchases as easy as one touch of a button, even predicting things you might like and sending you featured items based on your viewing history.

This ease of doing business contrasts starkly with the online visitor’s experience to government websites, where you may be asked to submit the same information several times, if you can submit it all.

To be fair, this is a tough challenge for agencies ...

​Without Users, Performance Measurement Is Useless

Let’s be honest.  A whole lot of people in and around government think performance measurement is an annoyance that needs to get done because it is legally required. Consequently, they measure as minimally as possible to comply.

Others think of measurement as a means to motivate by promising reward or threatening punishment for meeting or missing targets. As we recently saw with the Veterans Health Administration’s medical appointment wait-time targets, ill-structured incentives unfortunately tend to encourage measurement manipulation, not performance improvement. 

Happily, these erroneous attitudes are beginning to change. Governments, their suppliers, and their delivery partners are beginning to understand the enormous value of using performance data to find ways to improve, inform priorities, and enlist expertise and assistance. Asking and answering a few key questions is crucial to realizing the full value of performance measurement. Who needs performance information to make better decisions? When and where do they need the information? Is the information getting to target users in a way they understand and when they need it? 

Harvard Kennedy School Professor Steven Kelman (full disclosure, my husband) recently described promising developments in Massachusetts’ delivery of data to schools and teachers to help them support student learning ...

The Ultimate Office Perk: Not Having an Office

Tech behemoths and startups alike spend a fortune on creating plush offices with lots of perks. But arguably the biggest perk is allowing employees to work wherever they want, whenever they want.

This is something Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg understood a decade ago when he launched the online publishing platform WordPress. Today his global workforce of 260 still doesn’t operate with a central location (its San Francisco headquarters are nearly always close to empty.) Instead of investing money into office perks, Automattic invests that money into meet-ups for its employees.

Last year at a Lean Startup conference, Mullenweg said the following about the traditional workplace: “We have this factory model, and we think someone’s working if they show up in the morning and they’re not drunk, they don’t sleep at their desks, they leave at the right time. But that has so little to do with what you create. And we all know people who create a lot without fitting into those norms.”

Research indicates employees greatly value autonomy. This is part of what’s driving millennials to leave traditional offices and go out on their own. “It’s a cultural phenomenon,” says Alex Abelin, co-founder ...