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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

Government Needs to Invest in Human Resources

Skills shortages. Aging workforce. Disengaged employees. Compliance culture. Risk aversion. Lack of trust. Silos. Bureaucracy. Noncompetitive pay. Burnout.

Those are the terms that too often come to mind when we think about government. The workforce problems are serious and likely to get worse with budget shortfalls and tight labor markets. The complexity of the civil service system compounds the problems. Moreover, the Office of Personnel Management is not widely seen as a valued talent management partner. An opening statement in a recent report from the National Association of State Chief Administrators is relevant at all levels of government: “In the battle for talent, government is falling too far behind in preparing for the workforce of the future.”

Here in a nutshell is the problem: Until the work of government is automated, agency performance will depend on having a well-qualified, engaged and committed workforce. Research studies show effective managers and the work experience are the keys. In high performing organizations, HR specialists work as advisers and consultants to line managers to address workforce problems.

But that’s not reality in federal agencies. The problem, as stated in the National Academy of Public Administration report “No Time to Wait: Building a Public...

Trust Isn’t Simple When It Comes To Government

New research reveals three criteria we use to determine whether to trust the government.

For decades, political scientists have measured the public’s trust in the federal government consistently, using measures that largely haven’t changed since the 1960s—despite the momentous changes happening over the last five decades in the United States.

The new research, which appears in PLOS ONE, tested a vulnerability-centered definition of trust—meaning, defining trust as a willingness to be vulnerable to the actions of another. The results reveal three assessments that lead to one trusting in the government:

  • whether it has the ability to do its job,
  • the benevolence to care about its people,
  • and the integrity to generally do the right thing.

“We went beyond the question of, ‘do you trust government?’ to find out what the concept of trust really means. Our research presents new ideas for thinking about political trust and offers suggestions for how to refine it beyond what’s been done in the past,” says lead author Joe Hamm, assistant professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University.

“Using previous trust measures, people view ‘happiness with’ and ‘trust in’ government interchangeably—which is something we wanted to break apart...

How Passion For Your Job Can Backfire

If someone is passionate about what they do, we see it as more legitimate to exploit them, according to new research.

The findings show that people see it as more acceptable to make passionate employees do extra, unpaid, and more demeaning work than they did for employees without the same passion.

“It’s great to love your work,” says Aaron Kay, a professor from the Fuqua School of Business Duke University, “but there can be costs when we think of the workplace as somewhere workers get to pursue their passions.”

People consider it more legitimate to make passionate employees leave family to work on a weekend, work unpaid, and handle unrelated tasks that were not in the job description, the researchers found.

Exploiting Passion

The team found passion exploitation consistently across eight studies with more than 2,400 total participants. The studies varied in design, in the participants (students, managers, random online samples) and in the kinds of jobs they considered.

In one study, participants who read that an artist was strongly passionate about his job said it was more legitimate for the boss to exploit the artist than those who read the artist wasn’t as passionate. This finding...

Workplaces Function Better When They Make Room for Defiance

Mercurial bosses in dysfunctional offices sometimes give orders that their employees just ignore—even when that dysfunctional office is the highest in the country. According to Robert Mueller’s recent report, Donald Trump tried to get his staff to impede the special counsel’s investigation, but figures such as Don McGahn and Rod Rosenstein protected the president—and themselves—by quietly letting those orders slide.

In better-run offices, employees defy their superiors overtly. Back in the early 1980s, when Joanna Hoffman was in charge of marketing for Apple’s nascent Macintosh computer system, her boss, Steve Jobs, was a demanding, tantrum-throwing perfectionist. According to his biographer, Walter Isaacson, every year from 1981 on, the team developing the Mac gave an award to the person who could best stand up to Jobs. The first winner was Hoffman.

At one point, Isaacson wrote, she found out that Jobs had adjusted her marketing projections “in a way she found totally reality-distorting.” As she marched toward his office, she told his assistant, “I’m going to take a knife and stab it into his heart.” The company’s counsel overheard her and rushed out to stop her. “But,” she told Isaacson, “Steve heard me...

Listen: Should The Government Regulate Social Media?

Should governments regulate social media? What would that regulation look like?

In this episode of the Policy 360 podcast, Phil Napoli, professor of public policy at Duke University, breaks down how it might work.

Recently, a man opened fire in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand leaving 50 dead and dozens more injured. The shooter announced the massacre on the internet and streamed it live on Facebook. On Reddit, one of the most popular sites on the internet, people were narrating the video on a forum devoted to watching people die.

A YouTube executive told NPR that in the first few hours after the massacre, users were uploading a new copy of the shooting video to different accounts on the platform once every second.

Napoli’s research focuses on media regulation and policy. He has provided expert testimony to the US Senate, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission among other government entities.

“I think for me, the first question that occurred to me was, is this event going to produce any kind of different responses than the previous events did? Was the magnitude greater that it would provoke some kind of more aggressive response?” Napoli asks.