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

What Does It Take to Foster a Culture of Responsibility?

In many organizations, it is all too common to see coworkers throw one another under the bus. Some of us may have even engaged in some finger-pointing ourselves when a project went south, or when a big pitch landed with a thud. After all, nobody enjoys being perceived as a failure, even to oneself.

But what if things were different? What would happen in an organization where employees, rather than racing to absolve themselves, jostled to take the blame?

On a recent trip to the U.S. Army’s National Training Center, Ned Smith, an associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School, was surprised to find just such an organization. In after-action reviews and debriefings, soldiers of every stripe, from privates to company commanders, stepped forward.

“It wouldn’t be much of an overstatement to say that they are almost competing to take the blame,” Smith says. “ ‘No, it was me…,’ ‘It was my guys,’ ‘No it was me,’ ” Smith says. “That’s not something you readily see in corporate America.”

How does a hierarchically structured organization like the military foster an environment where people are willing to take the fall when things go wrong? Smith and...

We Talk Tech, But We Really Need to Talk People

September—the month that brings us both Labor Day and the Service to America Medals honoring outstanding public servants—is a good time to talk about the people who are so essential to government. But aside from an announcement from President Obama seeking a too-small (but welcome) pay raise for federal employees, that conversation has been sorely lacking in depth and scope.

Think about it this way. The government is in the early stages of a major and largely inevitable shift to the digital era. Thus far, most of the talk about that transformation has focused on the technology. We measure progress by the percentage of data centers that have been consolidated or the number of websites that have been improved. We talk about IT modernization, bringing more digital skills into government, agile development. These are valuable and important efforts. But they are only the means to much more impactful ends—including fundamental changes in how work is done. 

Nowhere are the opportunities and barriers, possibilities and implications, greater than when it comes to the workforce.

To better grasp the scope of change this shift could well evince, all we need to do is look around us. Consider, for example...

There’s a Productive Way to Approach Wasting Time Online

There is a productivity-destroying epidemic infiltrating workplaces across the world, and chances are you’re guilty of it. It’s called “cyberloafing”—the act of wasting time on the Internet while on the clock—and much like work itself, it’s bleeding into people’s personal lives.

Whether it’s watching cat videos or live tweeting your feelings, time spent cyberloafing can be difficult to quantify. One study found that employees spend 30% of their workday digitally loafing, while others have measured rates as high as 80%. By some estimates, cyberloafing is costing the American economy $85 billion a year.

Cyberloafing extends to the home as well (if you’ve ever found yourself browsing viral videos instead of exercising, or choosing Snapchat over sleep, consider yourself an offender). According to Matthew W. McCarter, an associate professor at the University of Texas, San Antonio who co-authored a study on how to prevent cyberloafing in the workplace, social cyberloafing can also include moments when people are pretending to pay attention. (Think about every dinner party, seminar, or recital you’ve spent sneaking looks at your phone.)

“Cyberloafing is defined in the work domain, but we [also] observe abuse of internet use at...

Communicating to a Cynical Workforce

We don't need to debate this, do we? Many people are checked out at work. They don't take the time to read your carefully crafted messages very carefully, if they read them at all. They can barely be bothered to take the all-employee survey with its detailed questions and responses.

And if you tell me that employees work for their managers, not the company, and they mostly want to hear from the boss who's giving them a performance evaluation at the end of the year, point taken. But are employees really engaged with the information they receive from their managers? Maybe the information is timely and relevant to their jobs, but does it have that higher ring of truth and meaning?

Consider the fact that at any given moment a substantial percentage of employees are angry. They don't like the way they're being treated, or they don't feel valued on the job, or someone at work is harassing them, maybe even the boss. Perhaps they are underpaid or their job title is inappropriate for the work they do. They are probably keeping their eyes open for another, better job; or maybe they're actively...

The Myth of the 'Female' Foreign Policy

Margot Wallström took office as Sweden’s foreign minister in 2014, declaring she would pursue a “feminist foreign policy.” She’s now held the post for two years, and it’s still not entirely clear what she meant. While it’s true that an entire school of feminist international-relations theory has developed since the 1980s, the field remains contested, and largely untested in the realm of policy. You could surmise from Wallström’s term, as she herself stated, that a “feminist foreign policy” would promote women’s rights around the world, but what would it say, for example, about the logic of preventive war? Would it prioritize free trade and open borders, or emphasize protecting workers from competition? Would it generate a new way of dealing with unsecured nuclear material in the former Soviet Union?

Granted, Wallström has not had much time to implement the idea; relative to longstanding foreign-policy traditions like realism, feminist foreign policy hasn’t yet had a chance to leave much of a track record. So far, one of its key features has been controversy: The Swedish foreign minister’s first major move was to recognize Palestine, infuriating Israel; Saudi Arabia temporarily broke...

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