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

CHCOs Can Vastly Improve Their Agencies’ Curb Appeal

With the start of a New Year, federal chief human capital officers should take time to reflect on their goals and resolutions. A number of insightful questions speak to their legacy: Have I made my agency better than it was before I arrived? Am I distinguishing myself as a key contributor of strategic leadership? What will I be remembered for?

In a sense, legacy you build at an agency is much like the value you bring to your home: If there are two owners in the same neighborhood getting ready to sell, for example, you may see two widely divergent approaches to stewardship of the houses. Let’s say both properties are equivalent in terms of square footage, acreage, number of bedrooms/bathrooms, location, etc. However, one owner is content to live for years without ever addressing drafty windows, leaky faucets and outdated appliances, shrugging his shoulders in resignation and saying, “Well, that’s simply the way this house is.” But the second owner not only resolves every issue—he tackles it proactively, before it becomes a problem. He knows ahead of time when appliances, water heaters, the roof, etc. need replacing, and he plans accordingly.

The first owner is ...

What’s It Going to Be This Year? Doing or Being?

One of the unexpected pleasures of completing a yoga teacher training course a couple of years ago, was that I had to learn a little bit of Sanskrit – the language of the people who first came up with yoga thousands of years ago. And when I say I learned a little bit of Sanskrit, I mean like a thimbleful. Most of my very limited repertoire is focused on the names of different poses and a few words that represent some of the key concepts from the tradition. The fun part has been making a connection between some of the ancient words I’ve learned and very modern day situations.

For instance, one of my favorite Sanskrit words is vritti. There are a lot of different ways to define that word. The one I like best is mental chatter. Another way to describe it is monkey mind. In some weird way, I find it comforting that even though they didn’t have smart phones to distract them, ancient sages recognized the challenge of monkey mind so much that they came up with a name for it.

This month, I’ve learned a new Sanskrit word that I think is a perfect ...

How to Kick-start Your Career

Many talented people feel that they do not have anything new to learn in their chosen field. They believe what got them there is enough.

Those who are determined and who work hard often spend a lot of time and effort to learn new skills and maintain their existing ones. They display the most current knowledge of new technology and ideas. Having employees who will improve themselves over and above the management-sponsored training is critical to an organization wanting to innovate and improve.

Eleven years ago, Ben got a job working in the mail room at a local business during the summer before starting college. The company had been in existence for over 60 years and was currently being led by Jack—a longtime employee and company legend who started in the mail room. Three weeks into the job, on his way from the basement to the top floor, the elevator stopped and who should enter the elevator but Jack. He smiled at Ben, introduced himself, and mentioned that he started out in the mail room. Ben was a little star struck, but as they both exited the elevator, Ben asked if Jack had any advice for him.

“Never stop ...

The Value of Remembering Ordinary Moments

At Christmastime, my brother, my father, and our chocolate Labrador pile into the car to drive across the state of Washington to see my grandparents. We’ve been doing it since I was born. The three of us—before my brother and I put our headphones in to tune everything out—try to have meaningful conversations. Soon I’ll go back to school in England, my brother will go back to school in California, and Dad will go back to work in Washington, a transatlantic triangle keeping us apart. The three of us are together twice a year, at best, but on our car trip there’s rarely anything new exchanged. We recount memories of Mom; we discuss job prospects, baseball teams, and books (if we’re lucky); and usually we end up having a brief argument about religion or politics to round it all out. Nothing to write down. Nothing to remember.

Quotidian life seems too banal to document. Why write down routine conversations, ones we’ve had a million times and will have a million times more? Isn’t it more important to remember extraordinary moments: first steps, graduations, jobs, awards, marriage, retirement, vacations? Yet people seldom realize ...

Lessons About Government Performance From Latin America

Harvard’s Bob Behn has written about the spread of the “PerformanceStat” movement across the U.S during the past two decades. Now the creation of “Delivery Units,” which is another name for this phenomenon, has spread across the world ­– even to Latin America.

Behn’s recent book on PerformanceStat says this data-driven management approach is more of a leadership strategy than a process or a program to deliver better performance and results. However, a new study by the Inter-American Development Bank shows that having the right processes and structures matter as well. The study examines the increased attention in Latin American and Caribbean countries on defining and delivering results. They found that using tools and techniques, such as Delivery Units that report to the heads of government, are an effective way to strengthen the coordination and implementation of cross-agency initiatives.

The authors of the IDB study highlight the importance of “an integrated, whole-of-government approach (i.e., one that emphasizes a common strategy for the entire government, rather than letting each department implement its own agenda)." They recommend a range of routines, processes and technologies that help make this approach work for public executives. The study’s recommendations reach beyond ...