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Why Government Needs More Enterprise Leaders

At a recent conference an old friend asked me a question: “What is the key difference between leading in government and private enterprise?”

The question is difficult to answer. Government and private enterprise differ in so many dimensions: purpose, human capital, finance and funding, operations, incentives, procurement and purchasing, organizational structure, measurements of success, the role of Congress versus a board of directors.

But it all boils down to one key, yet obscure, difference: adjustment costs. What are adjustment costs, why do they matter, why are they different in government compared with private enterprise, and how do these differences affect leadership in the government?

The 1945 article “The Use of Knowledge in Society” by Austrian-born economist Friedrich Hayek offers a unique perspective on the costs and benefits of different institutions. In comparing the capitalist and communist economies, Hayek said society’s economic problem isn’t the efficient allocation of resources, but rather “one of rapid adaption to changes in the particular circumstances of time and place.”

Our world experiences all sorts of changes—what I refer to as shocks—that call for rapid adaptation of the economic system. Advancing scientific knowledge, radical as well as incremental innovations, changing weather patterns ...

What Drill and Rote Learning Have to Do With Confidence

The British Chancellor George Osborne recently refused to answer a simple times table question posed to him by seven-year-old school boy Samuel Reddings. Osborne was asked the question 7×8, but declined, stating that he had “made it a rule in life not to answer.” As Osborne studied mathematics up to A-level, it seems his reluctance was more about confidence than competence.

Unfortunately, it is socially acceptable for well-educated adults to comment openly that they have no self-confidence in their own mathematical abilities. Conversely, it is socially unacceptable for well-educated adults to say openly that they cannot spell. One wonders how the chancellor would have responded to a simple spelling question.

Teachers have a range of strategies at their disposal to boost their pupils’ confidence in times tables. The use of songs, memorable chants and tricks are increasingly popular in the classroom. Many young people are taught a trick with their fingers for the 9 times tables or to recite chants like “I ate and I ate, so I was sick on the floor” to remember that 8×8=64.

In the same interview, Osborne admitted to being a fan of US musician Pharrell Williams. But if only he had ...

Don't Go Down That Rabbit Hole, Define Your Outcomes First

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to go,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where,” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat.

—Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

As the Cheshire Cat tells us, if you don’t know where you are going, any path will get you there. This suggests that if you are not clear about what you, your agency and your team are to “produce”—what the clear outcomes of your work are to be—then it is OK for staff to spend their time on whatever their current practices or preferences of work might be. This leads to the perspective that work—any work— is good, whether it is making a needed difference or not. What we need in our government is a focus on outcomes—the value delivered to the American people by a high-performing federal workforce.

If we consider the importance of outcomes, our search engine steers us quickly toward the field of health care. Myriad results discuss global health, clinical trials, infections, epidemics and emergency services. In medical parlance ...

The Complete Guide to Working Out Before Work

Life inevitably gets in the way of your gym date. That’s why people who exercise in the morning are more likely to stick with it, Barbara Brehm, a professor of exercise and sport studies at Smith College in Massachusetts and author of the recently released textbook, Psychology of Health and Fitness, told Quartz. “It’s because they get it out of the way first thing. They haven’t been exposed to a whole day of draining activity and stress, which can leave you feeling pretty depleted by the end of the day.”

Some studies even suggest that working out before breakfast can have some fat-blasting, muscle-building, and disease-preventing benefits. Yet for most, the idea of working out before work sounds like advice from Satan. But it is possible to make a new habit that doesn’t feel like a date with the devil. Here are some tips for rising early and lacing up:

Prepare for success

Start by scheduling your morning workouts just like you would a doctor’s appointment or office meeting. You’re much more likely to complete your early morning exercise if you write it down, Alice Burron, a Wyoming-based personal trainer and spokeswoman for the ...

How to Avoid Having to Fire Your Best Employees

In his recent New York Times musings about the struggles of small business ownership, suburban Philadelphia furniture manufacturer Paul Downs described his firing of an employee who had been with him for 20 years.That provoked a great deal of criticism from readers and fellow business owners, to which Downs responded in a new column (paywall)His staffing troubles are a reminder that, even in the smallest of businesses, new managers need to be well managed themselves.

Downs spent years running a tight ship with a only a handful of employees, but when he more than doubled his staff recently, he turned to “The Veteran” —a skilled, efficient and “utterly reliable” longtime employee—to help manage the growth spurt. But as it turned out, the Veteran wasn’t a natural manager. He was a craftsman who turned out to be an ineffective hirer, communicator ,and ideas generator. And when he failed in his new role, he bristled at returning to his old one and ultimately had to be let go. So where did Downs go wrong?

The move may have been justified, but was nonetheless poorly executed, as commenters have pointed out. By better defining his employee’s role, and ...