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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.
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Federal Leaders Are Highly Educated, And That Can Be a Problem

Federal managers and executives are among the best-educated professionals in the nation. But that education and experience can be a problem if leaders lose sight of the people they are there to serve—people who often lack the experience or knowledge government officials may take for granted. Consider that two-thirds of American adults don't have a bachelor's degree, and less than 4 percent have a graduate degree, Census Bureau data show, whereas the Office of Personnel Management reports that 51 percent of federal employees have a bachelor's degree or higher.  

What’s more, as recently reported by the Federal Communicators Network, 52 percent of adults don't read at a "proficient" level (here's an example of something written at that level). That was a finding of the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, a large-scale study developed under the auspices of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The data, also used by the Education Department, show this isn't limited to older, foreign-born, or rural adults. Even 25 percent of bachelor's degree holders and 39 percent of associate's degree holders suffer from illiteracy. To think of this in different terms, 30...

These Are The Skills To Learn For The Future Of Work, According To The World Economic Forum

When we talk about the future of work, we often talk about job titles as a proxy for where the economy is heading. Machinists and truck drivers are out, robotics programmers and project managers are in.

But as job titles get more and more nebulous (what is it that project managers do anyway?) a new report from the World Economic Forum suggests that we ought to also look at skills.

Skills are actionable. They can guide workers toward understanding their unique value, where they are deficient, and what they want to learn. Especially as more of the workforce shifts toward freelancers, it will be skills—not job titles—that will help workers differentiate themselves.

Many of the skills for which the WEF predicts demand will grow, like “active learning” and “technology design,” make sense for a world where the rate of technological change is set to accelerate. Meanwhile, when we think of the skills most likely to be automated, routine and repetitive tasks like adding a widget on an assembly line or filling in an accounting form come to mind. However, some of the skills needs expected to be on the decline in the next five years might come as...

Michelle Obama’s Career Advice: It’s OK To Change Your Mind

Michelle Obama is a high-flier. She is best known now for being the U.S.’s first African American first lady, the work she did in that position, and the style with which she did it. But before meeting Barack Obama, and long before his run for president, she had an extraordinary record of achievement: Princeton University, followed by Harvard Law School, followed by jobs in corporate law and public service. She sounds like the most single-minded woman in the world. And for a while, she was.

Speaking about her forthcoming book, Becomingwith Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama said that for a long time she was laser-focused on achieving her goals. But one of the most valuable lessons she learned through her career and marriage was that sticking to your guns no matter what, keeping your eyes on the prize—or any of the other military-style metaphors we tend to use to denote someone seeking success—aren’t the best way to make great achievements.

In the interview, Winfrey sums up the message: “It says to every person reading the book: You have the right to change your mind.”

Obama concurs. “In the book, I take you on the journey...

From Patchwork to Network: Serving the Whole Veteran

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I. Over 4.7 million Americans served in the military during that war, with about 2.8 million serving overseas. Today, the U.S. has been at war for 17 years in the wake of 9/11 terrorist attacks, with 3.5 million Americans having served in post-9/11 conflicts.

Over the past century, a patchwork of organizations and services have evolved to support returning veterans and their families. The Veterans Affairs Department is of course largest and most well-known, but other federal agencies also provide services, including the departments of Defense, Labor, Education, Health and Human Services and the Small Business Administration. States and many localities, along with more than 40,000 veteran-serving nonprofits and other charitable institutions also provide a wide range of services and care.

Given this bewildering array, how can a veteran sort out what’s helpful? And how can public and private entities best prioritize their resources to be effective? A new report for the IBM Center by researchers at Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families offers a set of building blocks to transform this patchwork into a network.

An Enterprise...

One More Time: Are Federal Employees Underpaid or Overpaid?

The Federal Salary Council is scheduled to meet tomorrow to “review the results of pay comparisons and formulate its recommendations on pay comparison methods.” This follows comments in the 2017 report from the president’s Pay Agent about “major methodological concerns.”

In the spring, the council reported the pay gap was 32 percent. Somehow despite announced increases averaging only 2.1 percent for 2017 and 1.9 percent for 2018, the gap closed from 34 percent in 2016.

Actually, it's surprising the gap is still that large. When the announced increases are combined with step increases, promotion increases and Quality Step Increases, the totals have been fully competitive. The average step increase, based on the number of employees at each step, adds roughly 1.4 percent to salaries every year. When the annual combined percentage increases are compounded over the past decade, federal salaries, by my calculation, have increased 46 percent. During the same 10-year period, the Employment Cost Index increased 28 percent.  

It would be helpful if the Council explained how to interpret the 32 percent gap. With employees spread across 15 pay grades and a growing number of locality schedules, it cannot be that all salaries are...