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

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

What could possibly go wrong? Do self-confident, optimistic leaders ask this question often enough, at the right time?

Risk experts Doug Webster and Tom Stanton think not. In a new report for the IBM Center for the Business of Government, they observe: “The front pages of national newspapers constantly report on actions by private companies, federal leaders, or agencies that do not appear to have considered the risks associated with various decisions and actions. There appears to be a common thread running through these events: a failure to adequately consider risk up front and address it as part of an organiza­tion’s overall management.” Their report describes how enterprise risk management, or ERM, is a promising approach to assessing and addressing organizational, mission and reputational risks.

Webster and Stanton interviewed federal executives to find out why agencies typically do not strategically manage their risks effectively and use this knowledge to improve their routine decision-making processes. They identified six challenges:

Challenge 1: Getting sustained support from top leaders. Interviewees stressed this is key, and the biggest challenge is when there is a transition in leadership. Career staff have a responsibility to frame risk management as an element of due diligence ...

In One of the Happiest Places on the Earth, More People Work Part-time

By most accounts, The Netherlands is one of the best places in the world to live. People are relatively wealthy, there are ample government social benefits, and it consistently ranks as one of the happiest countries on earth.

The Dutch also keep a pointedly less time-intensive work schedule than other Western nations. In fact, The Economist reports, more than half of all Dutch workers are employed part-time—26.8% of men and 76.6% of women work less than 36 hours per week. In the rest of the EU, around 20% of workers are part-time, with 8.7% of men and 32.2% of women working short schedules. In the-US, 18.9% of workers are part-time: 12.6% of men, and 25.8% of women.

The Netherlands reached this point through a convergence of modern and traditional values. For the most part, women did not enter the workforce until the 1980s, and when they did, they often worked part-time.

In 2000, a law was passed guaranteeing both men and women the right to request that a job have relaxed hours. Since then, the so-called “daddy day” (one day a week to tend to home responsibilities) has become more prevalent. And ...

Three Lies About Meaningful Work

In the 1980s, when Steve Jobs was trying to lure John Sculley away from Pepsi to join Apple, he clinched the deal with a single question: “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

Back then, the organization to which people belonged was the dominant driver of whether they found their work meaningful. A sense of purpose came from belonging to a company with a mission that mattered. Selling sugar water was worthless; reinventing computers was worthwhile. But now, where you work is no longer the major source of meaning. And in the next decade, employers will fade even further into the background.

Today, there are some jobs where almost everyone reports a strong sense of meaning:

  • Clergy and religious directors: 97%
  • Surgeons: 94%
  • Elementary and secondary education administrators: 93%
  • Chiropractors: 93%

These jobs have three big things in common, and they debunk three lies about what makes work meaningful.

Lie #1: Meaning comes from where we belong. You don’t need to work for a company like Apple to find meaning. All of the meaningful jobs above are completely untethered to specific ...

The Mechanics of Preventing Procrastination

Procrastination is, in essence, stealing from yourself. The reason goals are so hard to reach, many psychologists think, is because each person believes they are really two people: Present Me and Future Me. And to most people, Future Me ismuch less important than Present Me. Present Me is the CEO of Me Corp, while Future Me is a lowly clerk.

“Instead of delaying gratification,” people “act as if they prefer their current self’s needs and desires to those of their future self,” write psychologists Neil Lewis of the University of Michigan and Daphna Oyserman of the University of Southern California in a new study in Psychological Science. Why put that money in your 401(k) when you want those shoes now? Why not eat that cupcake today when swimsuit season is still a good six weeks away?

So Oyserman and Lewis asked themselves: What if people could be made to think of their future selves as more connected to their current selves? What if Present Me was forced to imagine exactly how Future Me will feel the night before the big paper is due, and Present Me had never bothered to start?

Through a series of experiments, Oyserman ...

The Painful Management Lessons From Five Presidencies

No one runs for president to run the government. But presidential legacies are in no small part formed by how an administration manages the federal enterprise and improves its collective capacity to address the public’s high expectations for their government. Failing to see that the laws and agencies are “faithfully executed” can lead to big trouble.

Good management doesn’t win elections, but bad management can ruin presidencies. To paraphrase Mario Cuomo, presidents may campaign in poetry, but they have to govern in prose.

President Obama, like his predecessors, has fallen victim to management problems, and overcoming those issues is necessary to salvaging the policy agenda. The painful lessons of Obama and his predecessors give a clear warning: Voters don’t reward good performance, but they fiercely punish bad management. For George Bush, the point at which his negatives exceeded his positives and never recovered was Hurricane Katrina in September 2005. Likewise, Obama suffered with the launch of the Obamacare website in October 2013, which similarly struck in the fifth year of the administration.

The Bush’s and Obama’s problems were basically managerial. The managerial failures created a negative narrative into which other problems played and opponents relentlessly ...