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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.
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Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Government

A goal of many public administrators—to create reliable, repeatable administrative processes—parallels nicely with the promise of artificial intelligence in that AI can improve performance and consistency of public services. But as Tom Davenport and Julia Kirby observe about AI in their recent book, Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines, “The moment a realm of intellectual activity is codifiable, it ceases to be uniquely human.”

So, what does this portend for the work of government employees in the future?  

As part of its 20th anniversary activities this year, the IBM Center is exploring how government might operate 20 years in the future. It recently held the second in its series of “Envision Government in 2040” sessions, focusing on the potential impact of artificial intelligence on government operations. (The first session focused on the future of work in the public sector.) The session focused on barriers to the  use of AI in government, as well as AI’s future potential.

AI in Government

To understand how some agencies are using AI now, consider one example highlighted in a recent IBM Center and Partnership for Public Service report: The Bureau of Labor Statistics is...

How to Improve your Organization’s Performance

Employees frequently have to deal with demands for improved performance. The demands are typically accompanied by simplistic solutions, such as fire more people, tighten your performance standards or improve your IT systems. Rarely is there an acknowledgement that performance problems may be caused by inadequate resources, unrealistic expectations or a bureaucracy that is difficult to navigate.

In my experience, performance problems are generally caused by a multitude of issues, which are invariably connected. Thus if you want to truly improve performance in the long term, you must address the key issues in relation to each other.

Inadequate resources may very well be a real problem that is pulling down your performance. That certainly happened to me in my career and I suspect it has affected you as well. While this may be the case, you are unlikely to get more resources anytime soon, so you need to acknowledge this, document it for your own protection and do everything you can to improve performance anyway. Moreover, if you look deeper at your organization I bet you will find opportunities to improve your efficiency (and thus find more resources) that you didn’t realize were there.

The Performance Management Model

Below is...

Why Federal Employees Need a Better Work Experience

Civil service reform cannot come too soon.  However, replacing government’s antiquated HR policies and practices will have only a limited impact on agency performance or on government’s success in attracting highly qualified applicants. In the books on high performance organizations the HR function is often not mentioned at all.

The hiring process is an obvious problem but government’s brand as an employer deters many new graduates from applying. In a 2013 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, less than 2 percent of seniors were interested in a federal career.

In a recent video, Director of the Office of Personnel Management Jeff Pon acknowledged the need for reform “to make employment in government more attractive.” Reforming HR policies is clearly necessary but government’s brand is based more on comments about the work experience in federal agencies on websites like Glassdoor and on social media platforms. The critics are not helping.

In building a world class workforce, government could learn from the practices of companies on the annual list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” developed by the Great Place to Work Institute. This year’s list is dominated by knowledge or...

How Know-It-Alls Threaten Organizations

People who think their knowledge and beliefs are superior to others are especially prone to overestimating what they actually know, new research suggests.

Even after getting feedback showing them how much they didn’t know relevant political facts, these people still claimed that their beliefs were objectively more correct than everyone else’s. On top of that, they were more likely to seek out new information in biased ways that confirm their sense of superiority.

The study focused on people who profess “belief superiority”—or thinking their views are superior to other viewpoints—as it relates to political issues. The researchers note that people also claim belief superiority in a variety of other domains besides politics, such as the environment, religion, relationship conflicts, and even relatively trivial topics such as etiquette and personal preferences.

The research used several studies to answer two key questions about political belief superiority: Do people who think that their beliefs are superior have more knowledge about the issues they feel superior about? And do belief-superior people use superior strategies when seeking out new knowledge?

To answer the first question, participants reported their beliefs and feelings of belief superiority about several political topics. Researchers asked them...

Why I Criticize Candidates During Job Interviews (And You Should, Too)

Successful teams in an “agile” workplace share a common trait: They don’t just fail fast, they fail forward.

This means no one points fingers when an objective isn’t reached, or a new feature doesn’t function as planned. Teams that react to failure by lifting themselves up and moving forward with little hesitation are the most effective.

But how do you know what someone’s response to failure will be before you’ve hired him or her?

During the process of hiring 60 people within the last nine months, my startup has developed a strategy for understanding how candidates accept criticism and learn from experiences: We give feedback throughout the entire interview process. On one occasion, for instance, I told a candidate I didn’t think he fully understood one of our products based on the questions he was asking. In a separate interview, I told a candidate he was providing vague answers to appease multiple teams without actually answering the question we were trying to solve.

After providing feedback, we observe how candidates react. Over several interviews, I have seen candidates:

  • Immediately go on the defensive. If a candidate completely refuses to listen to any feedback, this...