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

Priority Goal Leaders: Is the Concept Working?

I’ve been getting calls from reporters asking whether President Obama is interested in government management. The answer is yes. A management innovation he introduced in the early days of his administration is finally taking off. Sometimes it takes a few years to find out if a management innovation works.

Early in the Obama administration, the Office of Management and Budget announced an initiative to create a select few High Priority Performance Goals for agencies, as a replacement for the Bush administration’s Program Assessment Review Tool. The Bush effort attempted to assess the effectiveness of more than 1,000 government programs. The idea behind the new Obama initiative was that there were too many things being tracked and that there should be a much smaller set of priorities defined by each agency that would get meaningful attention from their leadership.

The Obama administration set out to identify agency goals, designate leaders for each goal, hold quarterly progress reviews and post their status on a public website. While still in a pilot stage, Congress embedded the initiative into the 2010 GPRA Modernization Act.

Did this innovation work?

A close observer of federal management initiatives, Donald Moynihan at the University of ...

Actually, Some Material Goods Can Make You Happy

It's been the refrain of behavioral economists and, in my case at least, my wise husband for years: Spend your money on experiences, not things. A vacation or a meal with friends will enrich your life; new shoes will quickly lose their charm.

That's true, but it's not the whole story, argue psychologists Darwin A. Guevarra and Ryan T. Howell in a new paper in the Journal of Consumer PsychologyNot all goods, they say, should be lumped together.

Here's the problem, as Guevarra and Howell see it: In many studies, participants are asked to think about material items as purchases made "in order to have," in contrast with experiences—purchases made "in order to do." This, they say, neglects a category of goods: those made in order to have experiences,  such as electronics, musical instruments, and sports and outdoors gear. Do such "experiential goods," as Guevarra and Howell call them, leave our well-being unimproved, as is the case with most goods, or do they contribute positively to our happiness?

In a series of experiments, Guevarra and Howell find that the latter is the case: experiential goods made people happier, just like the experiences themselves.

This ...

Facebook Alert: You’re Not My Friend

Recently, someone I’ve never met introduced me in an email as “my good friend Adam.” A few days later, a virtual stranger who has emailed me a few times posted an article by “my friend Adam.” Then a student listed me as a job reference, and when asked to describe our relationship, wrote “professor and friend.” After I endorsed a book, a reporter referred to the author as “a friend of Adam’s,” when our interactions have consisted of a series of work emails and one phone call.

I like all of these people, but I wouldn’t describe any of them as my friends—I think that misrepresents how well we know each other and the kind of the bond between us. In the Facebook era, the boundaries on friendship have expanded dramatically. Someone recently called my brother-in-law a “dear friend” but didn’t bother to attend his wedding. Judging from recent friend requests, my friends apparently include a person who ignored me in grad school, a second cousin’s high school classmate, a colleague’s mentee, a peewee soccer teammate I vaguely remember, and some guy who sat at a table near me at a restaurant once ...

No Matter What Anyone Tells You, Guys: Sweatpants Are Not The New Jeans

This fall will bring new temptations for male enthusiasts of “soft dressing“—as designers try to convince men to embrace the increasingly common practice of wearing athletic clothing in everyday life, and even to the office. (Also see: “athleisure.”)

In recent years, women wearing form-fitting leggings and yoga pants beyond the gym showed retailers the wild potential for the category. Thanks to stretchy fabric with lots of give, fits are less tricky. The same technical fabrications can be utilized season-after-season. And perhaps most importantly, customers have shattered the price ceiling for workout wear and proved that a triple-digit price tag for workout gear—and sometimes well past it—is no longer unthinkable.

Now, companies such as Gap, J. Crew, Net-a-Porter, and Lululemon would like men to get in on the fun. Enter the sweatpant. Yeah, that’s right: sweatpants. Any man who has dreamt of wearing his sweats to work will have even more compelling reasons to believe it’s okay to do that this fall.

We’re here to tell you: It’s not.

But designers showed them at Fashion Week!

That’s true. Even mainstream fashion designers such as Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren included sweatpants in their ...

How I Lead: Building Trust and Communication Between Teams

Ken Sosne is director of regional grant operations at the Health and Human Services Department’s Administration for Children and Families. He has more than 20 years of service as a budget analyst, grants officer, administrative officer and resource manager at agencies including the Federal Public Defender’s Office and Immigration and Border Protection.

What is the best leadership lesson you've learned?  

One needs to be patient and watch how others command a room.

How did you get to where you are today?

I always was willing to work hard and forget about the hours I was putting in, and I dealt fairly with others.

What leadership lessons do you try to convey to your team?   

Fairness, keep your eye on the mission and always remember your oath of public service.

What do you look for in potential employees when making hiring decisions?

I look for a strong educational background, a well-rounded portfolio and an individual with a sense of both self and leadership.

What do you do after work for fun or to relax?

I enjoy spending time with my wife, cooking and going out to our beach home that someday will be our retirement venue.

What is ...