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

Most in the Workplace Are Secretly Threatened By Creativity

Creativity is highly prized in Western society—much touted by cultures that claim to value individualism and the entrepreneurial spirit. But scratch beneath the surface, and it turns out that a lot of schools and businesses aren’t actually all that excited about bold new ideas. By and large, we tend to be threatened by creativity—and eager to shut it down.

The problem begins with education. We know that teachers say creativity is important. But research shows that many teachers define creativity as a skill that’s mainly associated with the arts—thereby downplaying the essential role that creativity plays in everything from math and science to argumentative writing and sports. Furthermore, teachers routinely label creative students as “disruptive,” treating outside-the-box thinking not as a strength but as a problem to be dealt with. So it should be no surprise that independent studies with thousands of participants, in the US and elsewhere, have confirmed that millennials are less motivated to elaborate on creative ideas, and more anxious about embracing them, than prior generations. Recent data show that millennials are also less likely to start new businesses—a trend that has contributed to the lowest number of US startups since...

Memo to OMB: Speed Kills

As was largely expected, the first budget proposal from the Trump Administration calls for major cuts across the civilian agencies and a substantial increase in defense spending. Less a budget than it is a broad spending outline, the proposal, even despite its lack of detail, has already generated fierce debate between the parties and within the GOP itself. Indeed, while the budget outline as constructed might be dead on arrival, it is clear that the goalposts have moved and the parameters of the spending debate have significantly changed.

But the challenges with this budget outline are significant. While the document allots 180 days for agencies to develop their detailed spending plans, the reality is that the legislative budget cycle is already underway and will be over by the time those analyses are completed. Further, the administration has committed to submitting a more detailed plan to congress in less than 60 days, raising questions about the ultimate relevance of the agency plans. In other words, we have two carts before the horse. As we have seen over and again, when organizations are given only a short time to hit tough budget targets they tend to default to spreading the cuts relatively...

The Clumsy War Against the 'Administrative State'

President Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, shook official Washington with his pledge before the Conservative Political Action Conference to ensure the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” He promised a battle: “If you think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.” In fact, “Every day, it is going to be a fight.”

In response, I have only two words: “too late.” The administrative state, as the Progressives knew it, evaporated years ago.

The “administrative state” label actually comes from a doctoral dissertation published in 1948 by a promising young scholar, Dwight Waldo, who went on to become one of public administration’s superstars. Bureaucrats have power, he argued, because they do what we expect them to do: bring professionalism and expertise to tough jobs. In exercising that power, Waldo contended, bureaucrats need to be responsive to citizens and accountable to elected officials.

The twin ideals of competence and responsiveness have faded, because of neglect from the left and assault from the right. Liberals have developed a disconcerting habit of launching big ideas without paying much attention to how to make them work. Nothing captures this better than the failed launch of...

Getting Serious About Employee Performance

President Trump recently stated, “Our moral duty to the taxpayer requires us to make our government leaner and more accountable. We must do a lot more with less.” Over time new technology will undoubtedly play an important role in this, but with budget cuts, the hiring freeze and planned workforce attrition, the “more with less” focus for the immediate future will depend on the workforce.

Employees have the capacity to perform at significantly higher levels than is common in traditional organizations. In the 1990s when the idea of empowerment was first introduced and knowledge jobs became important, there were frequent media reports of companies that adopted new work management practices and realized significantly higher performance levels. One study found gains of 30 to 40 percent.

The story of successful entrepreneurs is also on point. Books have been written about people who started with very little and built business empires or became superstars in their field. Presidents Johnson, Reagan and Clinton are recent examples in politics.

As a wise old consultant told me years ago, “It’s not how long you work, it’s how good you work.”  Yes, people who love what they do often work long hours. However, requiring...

The Stubborn Problem of Ageism in Hiring

As traditional pensions disappear and lifespans get longer, older Americans are worried about not being able to retire, or burning through their 401(k)s to make ends meet. More people 65 and over are continuing to work: 18.8 percent, as opposed to 12.8 percent in 2000. Given the size of the Baby Boomer generation, that’s a lot of people (almost 9 million), and the number will likely keep growing.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 prohibits employment discrimination based on age for people 40 and older. But that hasn’t stopped it from becoming pervasive. Nearly two-thirds of workers aged 45 to 74 say they have experienced age discrimination in the workplace, according to a study by AARP, and 92 percent of those who did said it was common. And bad news, Millennials: One expert believes it can kick in as young as 35

large-scale study found that younger job applicants were much more likely to get a callback than people in their mid-60s with similar experience, and that discrimination against older women, particularly, is rampant. Employers value older workers’ knowledge, but may view them as less flexible, less willing to learn new...

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