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

The Best Bosses Let Their Top Talent Leave

With an intense battle for talent going on throughout the business world, most leaders will likely find this difficult to accept: The best bosses don’t sweat it when their best performers want to move on. They expect it, may encourage it, and in some cases, profit by it.

Sydney Finkelstein, a business professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck school, told Quartz that was his most surprising finding as he researched the traits of exceptional managers for his new book, “Superbosses.”

The best leaders seek out the most talented performers, invest themselves heavily in their development, and don’t fight to retain them, knowing their success in grooming stars will attract others. Bill Walsh, the legendary coach of the San Francisco 49ers, would call other NFL teams to tell them when his assistants were ready to lead their own teams, adding an incredible coaching tree to his legacy. Lorne Michaels, the producer of Saturday Night Live, famously backs the movies of his best performers (and even those of his lesser lights) and now has a stake in the success of late night TV hosts Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers. In a more traditional business, Tom Frist, co-founder of hospital chain HCA...

How to Write the Perfect Email

Okay, here’s a little test. See if you can decide which email is most likely to elicit a response:

1. Hey, I was thinking about you earlier. Do you want to get pizza?
2. Hey, I’d definitely like to get together next week. Do you want to get pizza?
3. Hey, it would be really great to see you and catch up. Do you want to get pizza?
4. Hey! It would be absolutely wonderful to see you! Do you want to get pizza? I’m so excited!

The correct answer is—drumroll—the second one. It’s in the Goldilocks zone of email tonality: not too positive, not too negative, not flat-out neutral. Just right. That’s according to a new analysis by the email-efficiency service Boomerang. The company anonymized and aggregated data from more than 5.3 million messages, and figured out which qualities made an email most likely to prompt a response.

Back to all those pizza emails: The first one was too neutral. The third one was better than the first one but not as good as the second one. And the fourth one? Not bad, but not the best. Too enthusiastic is about...

The Never-Ending War on Federal Whistleblowers

Federal employees are often the only people in the position to identify illegal conduct, waste of funds, gross mismanagement or other misconduct at federal agencies. Even though laws have theoretically protected whistleblowers for four decades since the enactment of the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, Congress and the executive branch have waged a never-ending war in an attempt to punish whistleblowers instead of addressing the underlying misconduct. Congress should avoid enacting legislation that could resurrect the spoils system. After all, it was the spoils system that led to the creation of a merit-based civil service in 1883. Basic due process protections for civil service employees may seem burdensome, but a politicized federal workforce would be a disaster.

Initially, it was the executive branch that eviscerated protections for whistleblowers, because no administration likes to see its faults pointed out. The government successfully argued to the Merit Systems Protection Board–which is presidentially appointed– that an agency was free to fire a whistleblower, as long as the agency could claim that it made the decision for some unrelated reason, even though the supervisor was openly hostile to the whistleblower’s disclosures of government misconduct.

Congress responded with the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act...

What’s Really Behind Why Women Earn Less Than Men?

Though headway has been made in bringing women’s wages more in line with men’s in the past several decades, that convergence seems to have stalled in more recent years. To help determine why,  Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn, the authors of a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research parse data on wages and occupations from 1980 to 2010. They find that as more women attended and graduated college and headed into the working world, education and professional experience levels stopped playing a significant role in the the difference between men and women’s wages. Whatever remains of the discrepancy can’t be explained by women not having basic skills and credentials. So what does explain it?

The largest factor in the persistent wage gap is the dearth of women in specific jobs and industries, the researchers found. That means that narrowing the wage gap further requires making high-paying, male-dominated industries like STEM fields and tech companies more enticing and welcoming to women. And even before that, encouraging women and girls to take advantage of opportunities to explore and learn about fields like coding and science that remain male-dominated at both the professional and...

Effective Leaders Know How to Focus on the Future

The demand for measurable outcomes has historically posed an enduring challenge for strategic foresight projects both within and beyond government. As Robert Shea observes in his recent post, Advancing the Evidence Agenda in the Next Administration, the U.S. Government has long sought better nuance in measuring outcomes and to more readily show whether programs are actually effective. However, in the case of strategic foresight, common notions of outcomes and effectiveness may not apply. This difficulty is no reason to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Rather, it is an opportunity to sharpen the governmentwide understanding of what strategic foresight does and does not do, and to continue refining our measurement and evaluation toolkit. 

Understanding Foresight 

Strategic foresight is a set of techniques and processes designed to help managers orient policies and actions toward the future, in part by stressing that policies and actions in the present help to shape the future. In everyday parlance, foresight and the work of futurists are often conflated with our simplest notions of prediction, the idea that someone might see into the future and know what, when and where an event will happen. This is wrong. Those who work in strategic foresight...