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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.
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Let’s Talk About Some Bad Ideas for Civil Service Reform

While the Trump administration touts salary freezes and reduced retirement benefits for federal workers (to attract new talent?), at last week’s Merit Systems Protection Board Summit, MSPB Vice Chairman Mark Robbins discussed some other proposed civil service reforms. Spoiler alert: They won’t help employees.

Some proposals are common sense, like excluding shutdown-created furloughs from the list of appealable adverse personnel actions (federal employees gained little from appealing furloughs during previous shutdowns). But others double down on the federal government’s bad management practices. For instance:

1. Expanding the VA “accountability” law governmentwide

In June 2017, President Trump signed a law that reduced civil service protections at the Veterans Affairs Department to expedite the firing of bad employees. The Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act lowered VA’s burden of evidence in misconduct cases from preponderant (51 percent) to substantial (“more than a mere scintilla,” whatever that means). It also shortened the adverse action process and removed MSPB’s authority to mitigate penalties. Now the administration and some lawmakers want to expand those provisions to all executive agencies.

Given the government’s resources, it is incomprehensible why an agency cannot readily prove when employee misconduct occurs. For example...

If It Takes More Than a Month To Hire Someone, You've Already Lost Your Top Pick

The best hiring managers spend time searching for ideal candidates, going through rigorous interview processes. But if the journey takes longer than a month, it’s highly likely that they’ll lose out on top candidates, according to independent research conducted by 3Gem, commissioned by recruitment firm Robert Half UK.

The survey, conducted between December 2017 and January 2018, included 9,000 full-time employees over the age of 18 from 11 countries. According to the report, sent to Quartz, 67% of the 9,000 employees surveyed took a second-choice job offer because their preferred employer took too long to give them an answer. Meanwhile, 70% of jobseekers reported that they would lose interest in a role if the hiring process—from initial application to a final offer—takes too long. Only 12% of job candidates found it acceptable to wait over a month to hear back about a job.

That’s a pretty big problem when over half the candidates surveyed said they had waited longer than a month to find out the results of a job interview. About 20% said they’d been in situations where they didn’t get a response for over two months.

“While it can...

To Bring Out The Best In Your Next Meeting, Serve Coffee

Serving coffee at a meeting can focus group discussion, boost involvement, and leave members feeling better about their own and others’ participation, according to new research.

Decades of coffee research have explored its effects on the individual, but this study is the first on the effects on performance in group tasks.

“If you look at where coffee’s being consumed, a significant amount happens in group settings,” says Rao Unnava, dean of the management school at the University of California, Davis, who wrote the study with Vasu Unnava, an adjunct assistant professor and his wife. The study appears in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

The researchers conducted two experiments, each involving about 70 undergraduates at a large Midwestern university.

In the first experiment, small groups had coffee together about 30 minutes before discussing an article about the Occupy movement and making recommendations about the topic’s inclusion in a competition for discussion topics in graduate school. Other groups had their coffee after the discussion.

Participants who drank coffee before the discussion more positively rated their groups’ and their own performance.

One question about the act of drinking coffee nagged the researchers. “Is it the caffeine in the coffee or the simple...

What To Do When An Employee Reports Sexual Harassment

We know from the 2016 EEOC report on harassment in the workplace and other studies that between 25 percent and 85 percent of women, and between 11 percent and 16 percent of men, say that they have experienced sexual harassment.

That means that, if you’re a manager, it’s very likely that you’ll encounter a sexual harassment situation at some point in your career. You may learn about it anecdotally, or it might arrive at your desk as a formal report or notification from HR or elsewhere.

How you react can determine whether you’re able to build open teams that encourage everyone to have a voice. Here are important steps you should take:

Know the process. It is your responsibility to know your organizational policies, protocols, and investigatory processes as well as what you would need to do. If these procedures are unclear, you should take initiative now to make changes to clarify them. Keep in mind that multiple report pathways and strict protocols are crucial.

Avoid the allure of denial. Learn to take stories about sexual harassment in your organization seriously. Be careful about snap assessments that a certain story or comment is “not a big...

Four Models for a Modern Leader

Taylorism began with the question, “How many tons of pig iron bars can a worker load onto a railcar in one working day?” The “scientific management” practice involved managers closely controlling workers in aim of maximizing productivity, and laborers were reduced to mere cogs in the machine. 

With the rise of knowledge work, a new model of management is taking hold. Author and McGill University professor Henry Mintztberg calls it “emergent strategy.” In this model, every employee gets an opportunity to make certain decisions regarding their work and the organization as a whole. Because power is dispersed throughout the organization, each employee is accountable for both revenue and culture.

Modern management of this empowered workforce requires an upgrade from an outdated industrial mindset to one that is compatible with today’s emergent era. We need different modes of leadership that are premised first and foremost on trust—more of an art than a “science.” These modes include:

  • The Teacherempowering employees to continuously grow
  • The Learner: embracing change, encouraging experimentation, and learning from new ways of working
  • The Mobilizer: anticipating and responding to organisational needs and facilitating vital and timely change
  • The Giver: playing the long game by putting others...