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2,500 Years Later, the Hottest New Management Guru is Confucius

When CEOs are looking for guidance, they might read Jack Welch, listen to Warren Buffett or study Steve Jobs. But there is another management guru who should get more attention inside corporate suites: Confucius

Sure, the Chinese philosopher espoused his doctrine 2,500 years ago—long before quarterly earnings reports, the S&P 500, labor unions, or even capitalism itself. Yet he spent much of his time deliberating on good leaders and how to become one. In fact, the Analects, the most famous text containing Confucius’s wisdom, is filled with advice for anyone aiming to win friends and influence people.

During his lifetime, Confucius’s target audience was China’s ruling elite—the kings, dukes and nobles who, by his reckoning, were doing a pretty lousy job of governing the country. His teachings, though, can be applied by anyone managing any sort of organization, the modern corporation included. Smart leaders, no matter how powerful, should also be open to dissent 

The ideal Confucian leader ought to be both strong and benevolent. Confucius believed that ultimate authority should be vested in one person, and that person should manage decisively. But Confucius did not favor autocrats. Leaders were not to abuse ...

The Lowdown on Agency Strategic Reviews

The director of the Office of Management and Budget, Shaun Donovan, put agencies on notice last week that the administration is doubling down on the implementation of its priorities and tracking progress more closely.

This memo indirectly adds some urgency to the relatively new annual strategic reviews which are underway in agencies across the government.

The 2010 amendments to the Government Performance and Results Act created a series of cycles for four-year strategic plans, annual plans, the designation of two-year agency priority goals and four-year cross-agency priority goals. The law also requires the Office of Management and Budget to annually assess agencies’ progress.

To do this, OMB created an annual strategic review process whereby agencies would self-examine their progress of programs in the context of the strategic objectives—the building blocks of their four-year strategic plans—and share those results with OMB. The first complete cycle of agency-level strategic reviews was conducted last spring and summer, and results were reported along with the president’s fiscal 2016 budget in February.

What’s Been the Result?

The president’s budget provided a high-level assessment of the agency strategic reviews. In addition, agency-by-agency results were made available on, but it ...

Video: Capuchin Monkeys Show How Keeping Up With Your Peers is an Early Need

You’re reading the Sunday paper, with the sun shining and a cup of coffee to hand. Life is good. And then you see it: a familiar name in the paper, perhaps an old schoolmate, winning an accolade, money, praise. Worse: they work in your field. They might as well have turned up at the breakfast table and punched you in the stomach.

We can revel in the achievements of strangers and close loved ones, but why does the success of people we know but with whom we are not intimate hurt so much? Kevin Starr, director of the Mulago Foundation, which funds philanthropic projects in the developing world, says that one of the fundamental components of human happiness is status. Starr, who gave a presentation on happiness at the Skoll World Forumon social entrepreneurship in Oxford, UK, said that striving for status is deep in our makeup as humans. This urge comes from the time when we lived as members of small bands wandering the African Savannah, which happens to account for 99% of human existence so far.

These bands worked according to a system of reciprocity and relationships based on status. To illustrate, Starr showed an extraordinary ...

Google’s Lessons for Federal Workforce Management

Google’s head of human resources, Laszlo Bock (senior vice president, people operations), has received a lot of media attention for his book, Work Rules!, to be released this month. Hopefully, it will grab the attention of federal managers as well.

It’s safe to say, Google is not like government. But people are people. Government employs more people in computer-related occupations—over 80,000—than Google’s total workforce. Plus there are at least another 500,000 employees in what could be categorized as knowledge occupations.

If federal agencies realized the same level of engagement and performance that has made Google a solidly successful company, the whole country would benefit. But for reasons that are almost unfathomable, government leaders too often make statements that deny employee value or initiate actions that hinder their career prospects.  

Federal leaders, elected as well as appointed, should consider the lessons spelled out in Bock’s book. It starts with the people philosophy behind their work management practices. In Bock’s words:

“You either believe people are fundamentally good or you don’t. If you do believe they’re good, then as an entrepreneur, a team member, a team leader, a manager, or a ...

Technology and Government’s Distributed Future

Technology innovations have long played a powerful role in how government operates and serves citizens. The advent of telephones, telegraphs and typewriters in the early 20th century was an important factor behind the creation of large, centralized bureaucracies to manage the expanding increase in communications and information coming into government

The success of mass production techniques inspired progressives like Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson to ask why similar approaches couldn’t be applied to government. Thus the government-as-machine metaphor was born. 

A few decades later came mainframe computers, enabling everything from space exploration to quicker tax processing to new ways of going to war.

With these historical examples in mind, we’ve been studying how technology will transform government over the remainder of this decade. One big change afoot: Whereas previous technological developments often led to greater government centralization, the next wave of transformative technologies are more likely to herald a shift to a more distributed model of governance.


Digital technologies form the foundation for a distributed government future. The accessibility and affordability of social, mobile and cloud technologies allow groups of ordinary citizens to chip away at tough societal problems by the hundreds, thousands or even millions ...