AUTHOR ARCHIVES

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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​Designing a Test Worth Teaching To

October 3, 2014 Today, across the globe, school children are tested—often annually, sometimes more frequently. And one problem with this approach to learning what the children are learning is that the teachers teach to the test: How can we know how well the teachers are really teaching, how can we know how much ...

Why Every Executive Needs to Be Both a Hedgehog and a Fox

September 12, 2014 In his essay on Leo Tolstoy’s view of history, Isaiah Berlin begins with a quote from the Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” The same distinction could be used to categorize public executives. Some know lots of little things. Others know—or, ...

What’s Really Happening On Your Watch?

August 11, 2014 The soap was stylish—perfectly round, the size of a golf ball, but without the little dimples that help it fly straight. This was a very stylish hotel, so you would expect that everything—bathroom included—would be stylish. The sink, for example, was shaped like a wok. Thus, when the soap landed ...

Why Public Executives Need Both Talent and the Elusive Team Chemistry

May 30, 2014 On Aug. 25, 2011, the Boston Red Sox had won 80 games and lost only 50. If the team could maintain that winning percentage of .615, it would finish the season with 100 wins and make the playoffs. Instead the Red Sox collapsed, losing 22 of its last 32 games. ...

Got Big Data? First Define Your Big Question

April 1, 2014 Big Data is big. Really BIG. Indeed, the definition from the McKinsey Global Institute, which coined the phrase “big data,” is “data sets whose size is beyond the ability of typical database software tools to capture, manage and analyze.” Big Data is so big that your organization (almost by definition) ...

Which Comes First, Resources or Results?

March 28, 2014 Which came first: the chicken or the egg? This age-old philosophical conundrum troubled even Aristotle. After all, the chicken could never have existed without the egg. Yet, the egg could never have existed without the chicken. Which came first, indeed? Of course, this not just a problem for biological species. ...

Resisting the Sirens of Micromanagement

March 21, 2014 In Britain, it’s labeled as the Sandhurst Test. In the United States, it has been called the second-lieutenant promotion test. This test is based on one specific problem: You are a second lieutenant. Your platoon consists of a sergeant and a dozen privates. You have three 12-foot poles, 300 feet ...

What Executives Can Learn From CDC's 'Winnable Battles' Strategy

February 21, 2014 Everyone wants to jump to the top of the performance mountain. Citizens expect nothing less from their government. And every self-respecting public executive wants to improve performance not in incremental steps but by quantum leaps. In reality, of course, no organization can jump to the top of the performance mountain. ...

Which Comes First, Resources or Results?

January 28, 2014 Which came first: the chicken or the egg? This age-old philosophical conundrum troubled even Aristotle. After all, the chicken could never have existed without the egg. Yet, the egg could never have existed without the chicken. Which came first, indeed? Of course, this not just a problem for biological species. ...