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How Messaging Can Suck the Life Out of Your Agency's Brand

When I first started working for the government in 2003, I noticed that the employees around me had many different versions of "the truth." 

I noticed that many were bitter. That they frequently greeted new ideas with "we've done all this before, and then some."

Some of my colleagues were downright resigned. They just didn't care. They had "checked out," and virtually nothing was going to bring them back save some really good news about their TSP.

I remember that I was hired because of my brand expertise, but that the view of branding at that time was very much tied to pretty pictures.

Quickly I learned that the higher you went in the organization, the more forward-thinking the leaders, and also the more realistic they were about what could and could not be done.

Executives really did say all the things they should have been saying. Their minds were in the right place, and I can say this with confidence because I regularly had the good fortune to be in the presence of heads of agencies. Even, rarely, to interview them.

But where things began to break down was in the "how" of executive communication. Because you...

Study: There is a Downside For Organizations That Allow Working From Home

There’s plenty of research out there on the benefits of remote and flexible work. It’s been shown to lead to increased productivity, and has an undeniable benefit for work-life balance. But what does it do to everyone back at the office?

In a 2013 memo to workers explaining why the company was eliminating policies that allowed remote work, Yahoo HR head Jackie Reses argued that some of the “best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussion,” and that actual presence in the office encourages better collaboration and communication.

The reaction from many was furious: Some accused Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer of pushing a retrograde policy that could hurt less advantaged working mothers.

But a new study from researchers at George Mason and Boston College, published in Academy of Management Discoveries, supports the logic behind that decision. The researchers found that increased levels of offsite work can have a highly negative and contagious effect on the office environment.

The issue is that when fewer people work in the office, people who actually go in don’t get the social or productivity benefits they expect from being around friends, close colleagues, and managers. When no one’s around...

Federal Diversity Goals Are About High Performance, Not Compliance

The vision of equal employment was born out of the civil rights movement, and officially began with an executive order from President Kennedy requiring government to hire qualified people regardless of their race, color, national origin, or creed. Fast-forward half a century to Executive Order 13583, which calls for “establishing a coordinated governmentwide initiative to promote diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce,” and the implementation of more comprehensive, integrated, and strategic diversity and inclusion programs are critical components of agency human resources strategies. The vision behind the order is nicely summarized in this excerpt:

“We are at our best when we draw on the talents of all parts of our society, and our greatest accomplishments are achieved when diverse perspectives are brought to bear to overcome our greatest challenges.”

The two orders represent the evolution of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the United States -- preserving equal opportunity and removing inequity while maximizing the tremendous value of our identity differences.

A major impediment to this vision is that we’re bringing perspectives and tools to the D&I challenge that haven’t evolved in 40 years. We still think in terms of “black or white,” “male or female,” or...

Bridging the Millennial Soft Skills Gap

(This article was adapted from the book Bridging the Soft Skills Gap: How to Teach the Missing Basics to Today’s Young Talent.)

A group of Peace Corps executives reported that program administrators receive emails on a regular basis from parents making suggestions and requests about the living accommodations and work conditions of their children stationed on missions around the world. One of the Peace Corps executives told me, “I just got an email from a parent saying the meals being provided don’t meet his kid’s dietary needs. Could we get this young man on a nondairy diet?” The funny thing is that generals in the Army have told me similar stories about the parents of soldiers.

Meanwhile, senior leaders in many federal agencies have been grappling with the impact of steadily rising zero- to five-year employee turnover rates among young intelligence professionals. One U.S. intelligence official told me, “No matter how hard we try to develop a profile to help us select for retention -- to predict who will be longer-term employees -- it just doesn’t work. We used to be able to do it. But it doesn’t work anymore. Maybe there is no ‘type’ anymore...

Dear Men: Wake Up and Smell the Inequality

In corporate America, 88 percent of men think women have at least as many opportunities to advance as men.

This is the finding of a major new study — almost 30,000 employees across 118 companies — by and McKinsey & Company.

Just 12 percent of men felt that women had fewer opportunities to advance in their organizations.

Yet when you look at the actual data, women’s odds of advancement are 15 percent lower than men’s.

It’s not because women are less capable: the evidence is strong that although men tend to be more confident leaders, on average women are more competent leaders.

And it’s not just a glass ceiling: women face bottlenecks in the middle and sticky floors. At every level, women are less likely to advance.

Why don’t men see it?

Hypothesis 1: Men are stupid.

There are more men than women with low intelligence. And for the past 20 years, 318 Darwin Awards have recognized people who removed themselves from the gene pool through “idiotic behaviors” — like the terrorist who mailed a letter bomb without enough postage, and when it was returned to sender, opened it.

It turns out that more than 88...