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Your Work Matters; Make Sure Others Know Why

For employees across government, the anticipation of a new administration creates considerable uncertainty. Career civil servants—who often have dedicated years of their professional lives to the development of regulations, research, and projects affecting countless Americans—confront the possibility that their work may be halted or reversed by a new administration. The prerogative of a new administration to alter the regulatory and administrative direction of federal agencies can negate the value of years of effort. 

Most governmental performance requires active collaboration between federal employees and the American public. The interaction forms the narrative of trust between career civil servants and citizens. This trust materializes in the development of some of the most creative advancements for addressing social, economic, and structural challenges.

But these achievements must be adequately communicated in a manner that sustains the public’s commitment and a new administration’s recognition of the need for continued improvement. 

A recent Washington Post article titled “The solutions to all our problems may be buried in PDFs that nobody reads” demonstrates the need to improve the way we communicate information about research and projects that address problems of global magnitude. World Bank officials recently conducted a study concerning the public’s...

Predicting the Future May Be Easier Than You Think

Getting predictions wrong can be costly. It’s not just weather or loan defaults that get predicted. The intelligence community in 2002 officially concluded that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that was part of the rationale for why we went to war. They were wrong. How can similar misjudgments be avoided in the future?  

A recent article in Harvard Business Review, by Paul Schoemaker and Philip Tetlock, describes how organizations—and you—can become better at judging the likelihood of uncertain events. While they write about commercial companies’ use of prediction tools, their insights apply to government as well.

The Challenge

In the wake of the Iraq intelligence failure, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity set out in 2011 to determine if it was possible to improve predictions of uncertain events. It selected five academic research teams to compete in a multi-year prediction tournament. The initiative ran from 2011-2015 and “recruited more than 25,000 forecasters who make well over a million predictions.” Forecasters were challenged to respond to such questions as: Would Greece exit the Eurozone? What’s the likelihood of a financial panic in China?

Some teams used computer algorithms. Others focused on the use of...

This Book Upends Everything We Thought We Knew About Where Grit Comes From and How to Get It

For years, researchers have shown that raw IQ or academic prowess aren’t everything. Paul Tough’s 2013 book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power if Character showed how grit—defined as perseverance and passion for achieving challenging long-term goals(pdf)—and other character qualities, were critical to children’s success in school and later on in life.

Teaching grit and other character qualities in schools took off: grit guides were developed in Pearland, Texas schools; teachers across the country built grit lesson plans. This fall, a handful of California school districts will test students on the skills, to meet new national education standards.

But teaching grit is tricky. “There’s no evidence that any particular curriculum or textbook or app can effectively teach kids grit or self-control or curiosity,” says Tough.

“It’s not an inherent trait, you can’t give students a test and know if they have it,” Tough said. “It’s a series of behaviors or habits.”

When Tough examined how to actually impart these qualities for his follow-up book author of Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why, research into neurobiology and motivation led him to conclude that teaching grit was not...

10 Ways to Foster Relationships in 10 Minutes or Less

I often hear from leaders that they have higher priorities on their plate than making connections with others. The truth is that things don’t get done if you don’t connect to the people who are contributing to those deadlines and bottom-lines. Why would others care about you and the organizational initiatives you’re responsible for if you don’t show that you appreciate and value their contributions?

There are many things you can do to foster amazing, supportive relationships in a small amount of time.

Consider the following that could be done in 10 minutes or less:

Tell them what they’re doing well. Your stakeholders are weary of critical feedback. Try watching for what others are doing well and tell them what you notice.

Write a thank-you note. Handwritten is best but even an email thanking someone for their support, kindness, or an extra effort will go a long way to build a relationship.

Encourage them when they’re down. Everyone needs a little extra “I know you can do it!” from time to time. Watch for opportunities to encourage others.

Coach them when they’re stuck. Ask, “What would you do if you weren’t stuck...

Slow Down: You're Probably Screwing Up

I did this crazy thing the other day. It was so out of character. I went to the library.

They had a shelf called "great reads." I went over to it and ran my hand along the modest beat-up walnut. One book stood out. It was old, but I'd always wanted to read it.

New notifications said my cellphone, and then it started beeping. Texts. Annoyed, I put it away.

As a kid, time seemed to crawl. Now, many years later, I realize the value of slowing down.

This month's Harvard Business Review has a cover story called "Managing the High-Intensity Workplace." It's about the strategies people use to deal with an unreasonably demanding environment, which is to say most workplaces these days.

Briefly, most people:

  • Go along and lose their personal lives;
  • Pretend to go along and burn out along the way, ultimately burning out from the stress; or
  • Admit that they're not automatons and get punished. 

Boy, have things changed in just a few decades. And there isn't even a reward for it.

Why exactly are we in school day and night, chasing degrees that yield debt but not a job?

Why are...

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