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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.
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You Aren't Too Nice To Be Leadership Material

Have you ever been told at work that you’re too nice? That you need to be tougher, more demanding? I have, at least a dozen times, by colleagues, clients, and bosses.

These voices were in my ear years ago when I had a run-in with a coworker named Jane. Jane was responsible for giving approvals for client proposals, and she was notorious for taking her time. Normally I did my best to accommodate her, but one time I had an urgent proposal and couldn’t shake the advice that I should be tougher and stop worrying about getting other people’s buy-in.

So I decided to do something that went against my usual style—I went above Jane’s head to her boss. I got that approval, but I ruined a relationship. Sure enough, the next time I needed help from Jane, she said no.

I had lost Jane’s trust, and in the end, it hurt me just as much as I had hurt her.

When you’re nice, you earn trust, and trust is the crux of every business relationship. But being nice is not considered cool. Or powerful. Or effective. In fact, in the corporate world...

The Office of Personnel Management Could Soon Lose One of Its Most Significant Functions

The Trump administration has been in the spotlight for its security clearance woes. So it perhaps should not be surprising that, according to multiple sources, the White House is considering a major overhaul of the entire background investigation program.

In a meeting last week, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney met with officials from the Office of Director of National Intelligence, the Defense Department and the Office of Personnel Management to discuss another potential major change in personnel security, the third in just 18 months.

The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act paved the way for Defense to take back control of its own investigations—a job it held until 2005, when the program was moved to OPM in response to cost overruns, major delays, and a pervasive backlog. While Congress has already approved the workload shift back to Defense, members of Congress and other stakeholders have repeatedly questioned the possibility of redundancy with the two programs—OPM’s National Background Investigations Bureau and Defense—basically performing the same function, albeit for different government customers.

The White House apparently shares that concern and is reportedly weighing the option to move the entire background investigations program to Defense.

“The frequency...

Civil Service Reform Must Be a Priority

Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff Pon recently promised sweeping changes in government’s HR practices. That initiative can’t start soon enough. But it would be a serious mistake to limit the changes to the policies and practices “owned” by the Office of Personnel Management. If the title wasn’t already taken, a book or movie about working in the federal government could, without irony, be called The Land That Time Forgot.

Pon has an enormous task ahead. The philosophy inherent in the civil service system reflects the worst of bureaucratic government. Here is just one fact that highlights the problem: The classification standard for jobs in the GS-2210 Information Technology Management Series was last revised in 2011. It is 205 pages long, and the word cybersecurity appears only once, on page 183.

A new book, Talent Wins, sets forth a philosophy that would serve government well for decades. It was written for corporate chief executives but the message is directly relevant to government leaders at all levels. It begins with the statement, “Most executives today recognize the competitive advantage of talent, yet the talent practices their organizations use are vestiges of another era.” With the civil service system...

How To Give Feedback That Actually Works, Without Hurting Anyone More Than You Have To

Management moguls are obsessed with telling you to give more feedback. It will save your startup. Make you a great manager. Earn you millions. Hell, they promise, it’ll resuscitate your marriage and your sex life, too. But will it?

Feedback fanatics aren’t crazy. A lack of frequent, helpful feedback is among the top reasons people quit their jobs. Studies show that more communicative, honest cultures drive increased productivity, innovation, and employee satisfaction.

Feedback helps us see our inevitable blind spots, and optimize our performance. As Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, famously stated, “You are not going to get very far in life based on what you already know.”

Poorly delivered feedback, however, can wreak havoc. At its best, it stirs confusion. At its worst, it breeds fear, resentment, and revenge. As a result, we’re conditioned to viewing the delivery of any feedback as a risk.

But anyone can master the art of giving feedback. Here’s how:

Learn how feedback affects you, and your team

If you’re afraid of delivering feedback, you’re not alone. In two surveys conducted by leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman, each polling nearly 8,000 managers, about 44% of...

How to Respond to the President’s Management Agenda

With change comes opportunity. The White House Office of Management and Budget’s recent release of President Trump’s management agenda calls for modernizing government through technology, data, and the workforce. As such, it aligns the stars to finally make efficiency and effectiveness real.

The agenda identifies lead and supporting agencies for each of the 14 Cross Agency Performance Goals. While it’s not yet clear what all the reform initiatives will be or whether Congress will adopt various reforms in the Trump administration’s proposed FY19 budget, agency leaders can begin transforming their operations immediately.  

Here’s how leaders should begin:

Combine and Plan. Take the OMB guidance, requirements, and input along with recommendations from the CXO advisory councils, inspectors general, the Government Accountability Office and agency strategic and performance plans, and develop a clear implementation plan and timeline. Identify short term (fiscal year), mid-term (duration of the Trump administration), and long-term (beyond the administration) objectives. Put someone in charge and begin. The plan should have goals, strategies and actions that will be executed immediately, with a phased and integrated approach. Identify risks and resources, key stakeholders and how the plan integrates with the president’s management agenda. Identify...