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

IBM is the latest firm to announce an end to remote working arrangements—a practice it popularized and enabled through its products and advertising.

It seems there’s a trend, particularly in struggling companies ranging from Best Buy a few years ago, to Yahoo, and now, IBM (20 quarters of declining revenues) to find it a requirement to house employees near one another.

For knowledge worker organizations dependent upon the best and brightest, this reversion to old thinking seems . . . old, and mostly wrong. Nonetheless, I acknowledge that it is a complicated issue.

Two Schools of Thought

Over my career in software and technology firms, I have been exposed to two schools of practice for remote work.

One camp was opposed to the idea, operating with what I perceived was an unspoken assumption that employees could not be trusted to work if they were out of the line of sight of managers. That was (and is) short-sighted, untrusting, and petty thinking.

The other school embraced the idea wholeheartedly (and sometimes naively) and invested in technologies and approaches to enable distance workers to participate and collaborate.

In our software firms, the distance effort mostly worked, particularly if we allocated liberal budgets for...

Evaluating Trump's Psyche in Public

It’s not hard to find somebody who’s willing to call the president of the United States crazy. “Madman” was, after all, one of the words that cropped up most frequently in coverage about him during the 2016 campaign.

But psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental-health professionals have been especially careful about not speculating about the president’s mental state. Well, some of them have been. (It’s not like this question has been left unexplored entirely, however, including in the pages of this magazine.)

But, officially, many psychiatrists and psychologists are cautious, and for good reason. Leading professional organizations like the American Psychiatric Association have underscored the importance of upholding what’s known as the Goldwater Rule, which says psychiatrists should never give opinions about the mental state of individuals they have not directly evaluated. The name refers to a controversy that erupted after the 1964 presidential election, when Senator Barry Goldwater won a libel suit against a magazine that printed the opinion, shared by about 1,000 psychiatrists, that he was mentally unfit for office.

The rule isn’t just about avoiding litigation. Psychiatrists warn that they risk losing patient trust and diminishing the integrity of the profession...

Trump at Six Months

If there’s any lesson from Donald Trump’s first six months as president, it’s that any prediction is wildly risky. New York Yankee great Yogi Berra must have had this moment in mind when he said, “It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

But let’s give it a stab. Here are six lessons we might glean as we mark the 1/8th point of the Trump presidency.

1. Political conversation has been indelibly coarsened. We’ve been teetering on the edge of greater incivility for a long time, but the administration’s sharp elbows will make it very hard to go back. Of course, it’s easy to pine for days that never existed. Fortunately, it would be hard to top the street brawls surrounding the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. But we’ve clearly crossed a line in the last months, in which ad hominem attacks are more common, more nasty, and more pointed. It’s hard to imagine that we’ll easily get back to the civil side of the line, even if future candidates promise they’ll do so, as they surely will.

2. Future presidents won’t rely on...

Most People Feel Guilty About Taking Breaks—But Science Shows Rest Is Just As Vital As Hard Work

It’s important to know how to put your head down and work hard. In an increasingly globalized economy—in which we are competing not just with each other, but also with human-replacing technologies—those who embody grit and grind will have an undeniable edge.

But that’s only half the battle. If we ceaselessly push ourselves without ever taking breaks, the quality of our work will suffer in the short term. And in the long term, we’ll be liable to burnout. For hard work to become valuable and sustainable, it must be followed by rest and recovery.

There is no shortage of products that promise to help us “hack” our way to sustainable peak performance. Unfortunately, every quick fix that I’ve ever evaluated has one thing in common: they all fade quickly. The vast majority of scientific evidence suggests that the best way to grow a capability—whether it’s learning an instrument, running a marathon, or improving at public speaking—is to give yourself an intense challenge, follow it up with a period of rest and recovery, and then rinse and repeat, only this time, starting with a slightly more demanding challenge. As I explain in...

Donald Trump and the Danger of Management 'Adhocracy'

“His favorite technique was to keep grants of authority incomplete, jurisdictions uncertain, charters overlapping. The result of this competitive theory of administration was often confusion and exasperation on the operating level.”

You could be forgiven for assuming this comment referred to Donald Trump, the 45th occupant of the Oval Office. But you would be wrong. It was rendered by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. about none other than Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States.

I am not suggesting that Donald Trump ought to be mentioned in the same breath as someone who rightfully appears on every short list of the greatest presidents in American history. But the two share a penchant for a decision-making and governing style that can best be described as adhocracy, which favors the unstructured and at times downright chaotic.

Adhocracy offers a sharp contrast to more formal styles of decision-making, in which participants with a legitimate stake in the outcome are included and others excluded; options are rigorously weighed in memos and then discussed at carefully run meetings; and those meetings in turn lead to decisions followed by clear assignments, closely monitored execution, and periodic review. Ideally, assumptions are challenged and resource considerations taken...