Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.
ARCHIVES

Rethinking Federal Grants Management: From Oversight to Insight

Grants are among the most important tools the federal government uses to accomplish its objectives. At $600 billion, they comprise over 15 percent of annual outlays, forty percent higher than federal contract spending.

Sadly, the way federal grants are managed gets woefully little attention. To achieve higher returns on the taxpayer’s dollar, that needs to change. Both the mindset and the skill sets of federal grant managers need to evolve from primarily thinking about “conducting oversight” to figuring out instead how to generate insights that help grantees and others learn from experience and find new ways to improve performance along multiple dimensions, including outcomes, cost-effectiveness, customer experience (or, for regulated parties, interaction and transaction quality), fairness and unwanted side effects. That is not to suggest that persistently weak grantee performance is acceptable, but rather that attention to improvement should be the priority.

Last month, the Volcker Alliance joined with three other organizations – an evidence-based policy advocate, a policy area expert, and a grantees’ network – to urge changes in the way one federal grant program, Head Start, collects, analyzes, reports, shares, and uses performance and other data grantees submit. These recommendations, grounded in lessons from both the public and private...

How To Become Compulsively Successful

Project management sucks. Anyone who's spent five minutes in a large organization knows this. But there are people who manage to get it done: on time, on budget, high quality. And it's not only because of the conventional wisdom about what we can rely on to make a project great:

It's not about automation tools. They don't tout Trello, brag about Basecamp, or insist that "Sharepoint really works, if you take the time to learn it."

It's not about PM certification. I've seen highly trained PMs mouth off and melt down, just like there are those who get done without ever having cracked a textbook. Regular, agile, waterfall, windmill...none of it makes a difference.

It's not about communication, or emotional intelligence. That helps, of course, but I've seen virtual robots in human form power-saw through projects without so much as saying "good morning."

Here is what the best project managers have: An intensely powerful compulsion to fashion order out of chaos. You might think that such people would go for peaceful careers, like . . . I don't know, marine biologist? But it's just the opposite. They unconsciously gravitate toward fixing disarray...

Why the Next President Must Make Government More Collaborative

When the next president moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a host of big challenges will be waiting: ensuring good jobs, public safety, quality education, good health care, a clean environment, and a basic infrastructure that supports economic growth and a high quality of life. A quick look at the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, provides just one inescapable signal about how important these challenges are.

At the bottom of all of these issues are three big realities. First, on anything that really matters to Americans, no level of government can escape responsibility. Second, the government has no “infrastructure” of its own to lead, manage, and support the collaboration we need. Third, the new president cannot hope to escape the political realities of failing to act or the administrative necessity of responding well. In the difficult days following Hurricane Katrina’s assault on the Gulf Coast, President George W. Bush learned these lessons all too painfully. His administration never recovered from the sense that government was too slow and too clumsy to respond.

One senior official in the Office of Management and Budget once said, “Everyone says how important collaboration is.” He added, “Critics ask, ‘Why don’t you just do...

The Epicenter of Macho Culture Has Some Lessons on How to Get More Women Into Management

Europe and the US and Canada lead the world in female representation within large companies, but Latin America is on pace to overtake all of them a decade from now.

By 2025, women are expected to hold 49% of management, executive, and other professional roles—basically any corporate job above that of support staff—in Latin America, according to a new report from the consulting firm Mercer. In Europe and the US and Canada, meanwhile, the numbers are expected to barely budge over the next 10 years.

The global survey underpinning Mercer’s forecast did not delve into the root causes of why companies in Latin America are being more successful at achieving gender parity. But it did identify several corporate trends that are helping.

Unlike companies in Europe, Canada, and the US, where the focus has been on recruiting women for top positions, firms in Latin America are adding more female workers across the board, from support staff to executives. In fact, they are hiring women at a higher rate than men at every career level, except at the manager level.

“You have to be developing your pipeline,” Pam Jeffords, a partner at Mercer, tells Quartz.

Having women at...

Is Imposter Syndrome a Sign of Greatness?

Some of the most successful people in history have suffered from secret fear that they’re terrible at their jobs. “I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people,” John Steinbeck wrote in his diary in 1938. “I always feel like something of an impostor. I don’t know what I’m doing,” echoed actress Jodie Foster, speaking at a 2007 Women in Entertainment Power 100 event where she was the guest of honor. But is this anxiety-inducing insecurity actually an asset?

It’s estimated that 70% of people have imposter syndrome—the feeling that they don’t deserve to be where they are in life. But when I took an imposter syndrome test, my results were fairly low: A score of 80 or higher shows an intense feeling of imposter syndrome, 61 to 80 shows frequent experience, and 41 to 60 shows moderate experience. I scored 46, barely making it into the moderate category.

It’s not that I’m constantly confident. I have plenty of insecurities and worries—skills I know I need to improve and areas where I struggle—but I don’t think I’m a complete imposter at work, either.

True...