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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...

It’s Time to Rethink the Way Work Is Managed

In a column last week on government’s need for improved performance management practices, the Office of Personnel Management’s deputy associate director noted the challenges are becoming “exponentially more complex” and “global in nature.” Steve Shih is correct that “the answer lies in maintaining an engaged and valued workforce.”

He’s also correct that agencies need better performance practices. But, to use an old idiom, that is putting the cart before the horse. The needed changes are central to the organization and management of work.

Performance systems have been a problem because they’ve never been accepted by managers as valuable tools. Surveys have repeatedly confirmed that performance management is human resources’ most hated policy. That’s true in the private sector as well.

In hindsight, early systems were never intended to improve performance. Originally, the purpose was to confirm employee performance was acceptable and also, it’s often forgotten, to reduce the autocratic and sometimes arbitrary practices of managers. There was only superficial interest in improved performance or employee development until a decade or so ago. The systems were not discarded simply because there has been nothing better.

General Electric is one of several firms moving in a...

Travel Cuts? Boost Training and Collaboration Online

Hosting employee training can be an expensive proposition. Funding for travel and accommodations is often a significant part of the training budget. But we tend to approve the allocation of those travel-related funds because providing learners with the ability to collaborate during learning is such a key component of ensuring that learning sticks.

Online training is an attractive — and realistic — option because the need to travel (and spend money on that travel) is removed or reduced. Learners can engage in online training anytime, anywhere and on the device of choice. And with the features of the modern learning management system and the wide range of affordable and accessible technologies available, there is absolutely no reason that social, collaborative learning cannot be an integral part of the online training experience, too.

Weave Collaborative Learning Into Online Training

So, how do you incorporate that collaboration, communication and conversation that is so critical to the learning experience into online training programs? Be creative and weave in human-to-human touch points into online training — before, during and after the training program itself.

Consider the following ideas for creating those collaborative human-to-human touch points in online training.

1. Surveys and quizzes. Send pre-course surveys or quizzes...