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

On Gaining Acceptance for Performance Pay in Government

In stating its concern with the proposed 1.9 percent salary increase, the Office of Management and Budget recently argued that “Across-the-board pay increases have long-term fixed costs, yet fail to address existing pay disparities, or target mission critical recruitment and retention goals.” Equally important, general increases do not contribute to agency performance.

OMB reiterated its request for a $1 billion interagency workforce fund to pay for performance pilot programs. This is not to argue for or against salary increases but no other employer would agree to increase operating costs based on the unfathomable gap analysis produced by the Federal Salary Council.  

To borrow from a comment President Obama once made, some jobs are underpaid, some are overpaid—but government does not know the facts.  As I argued recently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys were not planned to report competitive pay levels.

One of the stated goals in the president’s management agenda is to “Increase the link between pay and performance, and regularly reward high performers.”  That followed from President Trump’s January state of the union address, in which he called on Congress “to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to...

Why Proactive Leadership Is Important

Imagine you’re speeding along on a highway. Suddenly, the traffic ahead of you slows, forcing you to hit the breaks. Eventually you arrive at the source of the bottleneck: a mattress lying in the right lane. One by one, your fellow motorists simply crept around it. No one stopped to move it off the road to relieve the congestion.

Why would so many people fail to take action and (easily) fix the problem that slowed traffic to a crawl?

People – whether motorists, business leaders or lawmakers – are simply not very proactive. By that we mean humans have a tendency to keep doing what they’ve been doing, maintaining the status quo rather than breaking the flow and creating a better future. In the mattress example, it means driving around the obstruction rather than removing it, allowing the problem to continue indefinitely.

As researchers of organization behavior and leadership, we have long studied the nature of proactive behavior and how it helps people perform better at their jobs. Failing to behave proactively can be consequential as well, often negatively.

A perfect example is the U.S. Congress and its unwillingness to rein in President Donald Trump over Russia. By failing...

Why ‘Fake News’ Matters to Feds

President Trump views the news media as “the real enemy of the people.” This sustained campaign has deepened the wedges between those in the president’s base and those who are not. But it also matters to feds. A lot.

When wading into the debate over just how many people attended the 2017 inauguration, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway famously pointed to “alternative facts” to support the administration’s claims of big crowds. Her formulation drew fierce attacks at the time, but there’s an important point at the bottom of the battle. People are deeply mistrustful of those who develop, publicize, and use information. There’s a suspicion that they tend to spin it, to reinforce their own prejudices and values. That made it easy for Conway to attack the National Park Service’s crowd estimates. The president’s supporters were easily convinced that the crowd estimates had been spun by the president’s opponents—and that an alternative, more favorable picture was just as valid.

It works like this: It’s possible to spin almost any fact, many people believe. If it is possible for experts to spin facts, then it’s certain that they do. If they do...

The Decision-Making Style That Helps Leaders Survive Can Also Thwart Their Legacy

When it comes to negotiating, world leaders often fall into two camps. On one side are those open about their decision-making and on the other are leaders who hold their playbook closely to their chest.

British prime minister Theresa May sits firmly in the latter camp.

May rarely promotes inclusive decision-making. She’s told members of her party to trust her (paywall) and let her get on with delivering Brexit. She works with a small, dedicated team; publicly, she only hints at policy ideas through vague slogans and speeches. She’s fought a court case that would allow British parliament to vote on whether the UK can start the process of leaving the European Union (EU) and resisted an amendment that would have given parliament the power to stop Britain leaving the EU without a deal. More recently, May barred mobile phones and special advisers from the cabinet away day at Chequers, where a plan for Brexit was being hammered out.

There are obvious advantages to May’s model. Political leaders who are closed off don’t have to compromise as much on their vision and can force policies through quickly. But while this form of decision-making has helped May...

There Are Two Types Of Respect. Lack One, And You’ll Hate Your Job

Feeling invisible, or like a cog in the machine, is a surefire way to make you hate your job. That’s because as human beings, we need to be seen by our peers, and our superiors. We need to feel we matter, or we lose our sense of self, and slip into the existential void.

This isn’t just a millennial, “special snowflake” phenomenon: Research repeatedly proves that feeling individually valued has a big influence on employee satisfaction, motivation, and productivity across industries and age groups. In a survey of 20,000 employees around the world, conducted in 2013 by Georgetown University’s Christine Porath with Tony Schwartz and Harvard Business Review, respondents indicated that the best way for leaders to communicate that sense of value is through respect. Being treated with respect, Porath noted, “was more important to employees than recognition and appreciation, communicating an inspiring vision, providing useful feedback—even opportunities for learning, growth, and development.”

Not all respect is the same, though. And when you’re missing one type, it’s nearly impossible to feel valued at work, according to Kristie Rogers, a management professor at Marquette University. Writing in HBR’s July-August 2018 issue, she explains...