Robert D. Behn

Robert D. Behn, a lecturer at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, chairs the executive education program “Driving Government Performance: Leadership Strategies that Produce Results.” His book The PerformanceStat Potential will be published by Brookings in 2014.
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Why Most Managers Should Delegate More Responsibilities

June 17, 2016 How does a public manager get public employees to produce results? The traditional answer is: Tell them precisely what to do. Don’t give them any room for discretion. If you do, they’ll just exploit the opportunity for their own, personal advantage. For over a century, democracies have sought to limit—or...

The Question That Should Guide All Government Leaders

May 12, 2016 What keeps you up at night? If you are a public executive, there must be something—undoubtedly many things. Some of these sleep-depriving problems are minor annoyances, the daily irritations that can make life unpleasant. Executive insomnia, however, is a more debilitating disease. Its cause can be traced to something that...

Why Public Executives Need To Focus On Obliterating Worst Practices

April 7, 2016 Is your organization focused on implementing best practices? I’m sure it is. (If it was not, you certainly would not confess to this failure.) If, however, you need some help doing so, just Google the three magic words: “implementing best practices.” You’ll get nearly a quarter of a million hits....

The Best Leaders Know How to Pass the Torch

March 4, 2016 Scientific knowledge is explicit knowledge. It is precise, and thus can be explicated in mathematical formulas, textbooks, blueprints, procedures, and manuals. It can be converted into a system, stored, retrieved, and used again, exactly as it was used previously, whether that was yesterday, last year, or centuries ago. Explicit knowledge...

Real Lean Is Not Just About Cutting Costs

January 8, 2016 Lean is huge—and growing. In the U.S., it is impossible to get an accurate count of how many cities, counties, states, and U.S. government agencies are using Lean. Nevertheless, many report they are doing so. What, however, is “Lean”? Each jurisdiction and agency has its own variant on the concept....

Public Officials Need to Accept That There Is No Silver Bullet

December 21, 2015 No matter what purpose a human seeks to achieve, he or she would prefer a “silver bullet.” It would make everything much easier. Without it, unfortunately, we humans have to do the hard work of (1) developing a strategy for achieving this purpose, and (2) actually motivating other humans to...

Why Failure Has to Be an Option

December 4, 2015 Even though you remember it, he never said it. Even if you never saw the film, you still remember it. But that doesn’t mean he said it. Oh yes, Gene Kranz said it in the film Apollo 13. Actually, it was the actor playing Gene Kranz who said it. Yet,...

Public Officials, Just Remember the Airlines Are Always Worse

October 9, 2015 “The machine did it,” said the woman at the airline’s boarding desk. In response, I noted that “a human programmed the machine.” This obviously factual statement had no impact. The machine had done it. No human was responsible for causing the problem. Consequently no human was responsible for fixing the...

Planning Is Valuable; The Plan Much Less So

September 16, 2015 In The Art of War, the great Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu observed: “The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.” Over a millennia later, the Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth...

Rule #1: Policy Design Starts With Operational Capacity

June 11, 2015 Sir Jonathan Ive, the head of design for Apple, obviously thinks seriously and analytically about design. In February, in a long profile of Ive in The New Yorker, Ian Parker observed that Ive thought “bad industrial design often starts in ignorance of what a material can and cannot do.” Clearly...

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