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

Creating a Culture of Accountability

The Commerce Department is facing a major challenge developing a culture of accountability, according to a recent inspector general report. This clearly is a problem throughout government at every level, and also in many parts of the private sector.

Simply put, accountability means that everyone is responsible for his or her actions – both good and bad. In an organization that has true accountability, there are reliable and consistent consequences for every level of performance and behavior. Outstanding performers can expect to receive high ratings, bonuses and promotions. Average employees can expect to keep their jobs, receive a fully successful rating and get their regularly scheduled within-grade increase. Poor employees can expect action will be taken to help them improve, and if that fails, further action up to and including removal.

In an organization with true accountability, employees should be able to see such actions coming. If not, they may think the organization isn’t serious about accountability and actions are less driven by what you do than by who you know. Moreover, they will share this perception with their co-workers, and before you know it the organization will become a breeding ground for cynicism.

You develop a culture of accountability...

The Productivity Obsession

In a hotel room on a recent business trip, nestled next to the telephone on the work desk, a little cardboard sign beckoned: “Help us make your stay more productive.” Not “restful” or “comfortable” but “productive.”

In the hotel room as in the office, productivity increasingly stands as the default measure of accomplishment. Rest and relaxation are optional affordances against the expectation that workers make profitable use of their time. A century ago, Max Weber identified the Protestant ethic driving the spirit of capitalism, and the belief that the “waste of time is the first and in principle the deadliest of sins.” This spirit is alive and well, as any quick perusals of Fast Company’s profiles­ of the most productive people would reveal. But what is the belief system underpinning these exertions in a secular, multicultural society?

One place to look for an answer: Apple’s App store, which, like Google Play, has an entire category of productivity tools. These software services include note-taking apps, brainstorming tools, and calendar assistants. With names like “Self Control,” “Omnifocus,” “Rescue Time,” even “Freedom,” productivity solutions offer liberation from as much as consolation for everyday demands. In providing mastery over incidental matters (what...

On Gender Equality, There Are the Nordic Countries and There’s Everybody Else (Including the U.S.)

Is a wife’s primary role to look after her husband? Would you prefer a man or a woman as a boss?

A YouGov survey of 24 countries asked a wide range of questions on attitudes to gender. They found that the Nordic nations were the most positive on gender equality when answers were collated and averaged. They also noted that countries like Finland, Sweden and Denmark had the least discrepancy between the attitudes of male and female respondents.

The US, meanwhile, lagged behind all the other eight Western nations surveyed.

In Asian countries including China, Hong Kong, and Singapore the researchers found a 20-point difference between the answers of male and female respondents, indicating that more women than men in those countries believe in equality between genders. Countries in the Middle East scored lowest. (Though YouGov noted that sample sizes were smaller and therefore data for genders wasn’t available).

Women earn 33% less than men globally, the report noted, and fill only 19% of company board seats globally. Women are also less well-educated. Two-thirds of the 774 million illiterate adults worldwide are female.

(Image via satephoto/

How to Learn the Two Crucial Qualities Leaders Need to Build Trust

It seems obvious that leaders should be nice and know what they are doing. But people still study these things, and their research confirms(pdf) that warmth and competence are the two most important qualities of trustworthy leaders. But building trust is easier said than done. How can you be nice without seeming insincere? How do you show competence without showing off, or looking like a jerk?

Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer, authors of Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both, have developed a collection of “nano-tools”—simple actions that leaders can learn and use in less than 15 minutes. The duo, professors at the Columbia Business School and Wharton, argue that contrary to popular belief, trust does not take ages to build. At the same time, there’s no such thing as an inherently trustworthy leader—executives have to earn it.

Here’s how:

Show concern for others

Know about about your employees’ lives. Ask about spouses, kids, health issues, and aging parents. (John Gottman, the famous marriage guru, refers to this as love maps: humans like to be known and appreciated. Apparently this also applies to bosses and employees as much...

Crack Open the Black Box to Fix Hiring

Many human capital officials are worried these days about how to ensure that government continues to attract, train and retain the superior workforce it needs to fulfill all aspects of its mission. Younger workers are a particular concern as agencies strive to remain employers of choice for the millennial generation (born between 1980 and 1995).

Pervasive anecdotes about how long it takes agencies to hire cybersecurity workers or about government IT staff jumping ship to the private sector convince us that there is an issue with young skilled workers in government. But understanding what is at the root of that issue can be more difficult.

It goes without saying that government won’t be able to solve its workforce issues unless it understands them clearly. Hence any solution needs to begin from accurate data on the government workforce -- how it’s changing, and what’s driving those changes.

Some open workforce data is already being published, which helps. The Office of Personnel Management’s FedScope is a valuable resource at the federal level, and the Census Bureau’s Quarterly Workforce Indicators program sheds valuable light on state and local government labor forces. Some states -- Minnesota is a good example -- have...