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

Four Models for a Modern Leader

Taylorism began with the question, “How many tons of pig iron bars can a worker load onto a railcar in one working day?” The “scientific management” practice involved managers closely controlling workers in aim of maximizing productivity, and laborers were reduced to mere cogs in the machine. 

With the rise of knowledge work, a new model of management is taking hold. Author and McGill University professor Henry Mintztberg calls it “emergent strategy.” In this model, every employee gets an opportunity to make certain decisions regarding their work and the organization as a whole. Because power is dispersed throughout the organization, each employee is accountable for both revenue and culture.

Modern management of this empowered workforce requires an upgrade from an outdated industrial mindset to one that is compatible with today’s emergent era. We need different modes of leadership that are premised first and foremost on trust—more of an art than a “science.” These modes include:

  • The Teacherempowering employees to continuously grow
  • The Learner: embracing change, encouraging experimentation, and learning from new ways of working
  • The Mobilizer: anticipating and responding to organisational needs and facilitating vital and timely change
  • The Giver: playing the long game by putting others...

Addressing Grand Challenges in Public Administration

Public Service Recognition Week provides an opportunity to highlight the incredible contributions of ordinary individuals accomplishing extraordinary things on behalf of their fellow citizens. We at the National Academy of Public Administration are proud to highlight the accomplishments of our Fellows, whose amazing careers exemplify the values of selfless service and devotion to country. Each of them has contributed to making our government, at every level, work better.

And yet, our government needs to work better still. The recently released President’s Management Agenda documents declining public trust in government and proposes a multi-generational effort to reform a “Federal Government [that] has become overly bureaucratic and complex in ways that have prevented agencies from seamlessly transitioning services to meet the needs of the 21st Century.” The Government Accountability Office specifically addresses the speed of development of new technologies as one of eight key trends affecting government and society. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman summarizes the dilemma in his recent book, Thank You for Being Late: “If it is true that it now takes us ten to fifteen years to understand a new technology and then build out new laws and regulations to safeguard society, how do we regulate when...

Against Metrics: How Measuring Performance By Numbers Backfires

More and more companies, government agencies, educational institutions and philanthropic organizations are today in the grip of a new phenomenon. I’ve termed it ‘metric fixation’. The key components of metric fixation are the belief that it is possible – and desirable – to replace professional judgment (acquired through personal experience and talent) with numerical indicators of comparative performance based upon standardized data (metrics); and that the best way to motivate people within these organizations is by attaching rewards and penalties to their measured performance. 

The rewards can be monetary, in the form of pay for performance, say, or reputational, in the form of college rankings, hospital ratings, surgical report cards and so on. But the most dramatic negative effect of metric fixation is its propensity to incentivize gaming: that is, encouraging professionals to maximize the metrics in ways that are at odds with the larger purpose of the organization. If the rate of major crimes in a district becomes the metric according to which police officers are promoted, then some officers will respond by simply not recording crimes or downgrading them from major offenses to misdemeanors. Or take the case of surgeons. When the metrics of success and failure are made...

When It Comes To Success, Your Friends Are Just As Important As Your Skills

When we think about success, we often think about skills, education, personal branding, and job performance. But as in career conversations with managers, new recruits, and other CEOs over the years, I’ve rarely had someone recognize another essential factor in a career path: surrounding yourself with the right people.

Studies confirm that who we spend time around can profoundly impact us. One suggests that you are more likely to gain weight if your best friend has gained weight, even if your best friend lives in another city. Another demonstrates that our happiness is often directly related to our colleagues and friends. Still another shows that our behavior is heavily influenced by our friends.

In a business context, it’s easy to see how your friends and associates influence you. The late entrepreneur and author Jim Rohn put it simply and powerfully when he said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Motivational speaker Les Brown put it more bluntly: “If you run around with nine losers, pretty soon you’ll be the tenth loser.”

Yet we often spend more time picking out an outfit for an interview than we do on deliberately...

You May Have to Wait 2 Years to Get That Security Clearance

Security clearance reform is back in the news. Congressional testimony and proposed legislation is drawing attention to the problems with the security clearance process, including a backlog of pending cases which reached 725,000. But there is another number that is much smaller, but much more significant for those awaiting a security clearance determination.

Security clearance processing times for Defense Department contractors have reached a new high—534 days. That means if you apply for a DoD clearance today, you may need to wait more than a year and a half before you receive a final determination. And that’s just the fastest 90 percent of cases. Many applicants report waiting two to three years to receive a security clearance, and their chance at a national security job.

Legislators were quick to point out the problems at a  Senate Intelligence Community hearing in March. Pinpointing solutions was more difficult.

“The government’s process for issuing clearances is largely unchanged from when it was established in 1947, and the net result is a growing backlog of investigations, and inefficiencies,” noted Senator Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He noted the need to consider new technologies, create real-time awareness of...