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A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

To Deal With Poor Performers, You Need Will and Skill

In my last article, I discussed the merits of VA’s plan to restrict the employee protections of its senior executives. While I don’t support an approach that 1) treats one group of senior executives in government differently from others based on a few cases, and 2) may serve as a disincentive for the best and brightest employees to enter the department’s SES cadre, I also recognize there are legitimate reasons why VA’s leadership wants to make the changes they are proposing.

Their frustration mirrors that of leaders and managers throughout government who have tried to hold employees accountable. Simply put, they feel the system is rigged against them because they believe it takes too long and is too difficult to remove a poor employee. Moreover even if they succeed in removing the employee, the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board or an arbitrator may overturn the action.

I have often argued that the problem lies less with the law and more with the people trying to administer it. All you need is the will and the skill to deal with a poor employee but far too often government officials lack one or the other, if not...

When a Shortcut Means Shortchanging Yourself

There in the corner of my childhood kitchen in New Jersey sat a small, nondescript plywood shelf virtually stuffed with oddly shaped purple boxes. The boxes contained a magical potion called the Cookie Diet, and when I was growing up in New Jersey we sold a ton of them.

Do you remember this? A "delicious chocolate-chip cookie for breakfast, one for lunch and a healthy dinner," or something like that. People went insane. I can have my cookies and lose weight too? Unbelievable!

But we always struggled with our weight in the family, because food = love. Nevertheless we tried.

In its purest form ("induction") the Atkins plan will also make you lose weight. But it is absolutely disgusting. You're supposed to be able to eat "whatever you want" from a menu of delicious food. The problem is, your body wasn't made to live on a dozen eggs a day plus oil, cheese and cream, platefuls of steak and chicken and liver spread. Sure, you lose weight. But the last time I tried it, my cholesterol shot up to 450, because all I wanted to eat was hard salami.

If there is a shortcut to be found, be sure...

Do You Have What It Takes To Be a Political Appointee?

The start of a new Administration is still months away, but planning for 2017 has already begun. The New York Times recently presented an in-depth article on the forthcoming transition, highlighting a recent transition planning meeting held in New York.  Vetting for the first personnel decision is already underway—both the Washington Post and the New York Times report that the presidential candidates have begun reviewing potential vice presidents.

So it is only natural that political donors and campaign workers outside Washington might start to exhibit symptoms of Potomac Fever as they dream about the possibility of a presidential appointment. Inside the beltway, veteran “in and outers” naturally begin thinking about one more rotation “in.”

A recent article focused on the relatively small number of presidential appointments that are actually available to a new administration. If you think you can beat the odds and are interested in an appointment, this article aims to assist in your deliberations. There are many reasons why an individual should be attracted to public service. There are, however, reasons why public service may not be suited to everyone, and there are some real downsides to public service. Anyone thinking about an impressive Washington title and...

Do Women Make Braver Leaders Than Men?

Reams of research show that women confer many benefits to companies. They listen better, they represent the views of half the population, and they temper their hard-charging (pdf) male counterparts.

Except that it turns out, they are even more hard-charging.

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, the CEO and president, respectively, of Zenger/Folkm, a leadership consulting business, designed a “boldness index” from a database of assessments from 75,000 leaders around the world. They found that “women on average rank in the 52nd percentile of boldness, a few ticks higher than the average men rating of the 49th percentile.” If that doesn’t seem like a big difference, that’s because it’s not. But their conclusion defies the conventional wisdom that women are biologically more harmonious and risk-averse compared to their fractious and ambitious male counterparts.

Here are the components of their index, published in the Harvard Business Review:

  • Challenges standard approaches
  • Creates an atmosphere of continual improvement
  • Does everything possible to achieve goals
  • Gets others to go beyond what they originally thought possible
  • Energizes others to take on challenging goals
  • Quickly recognizes situations where change is needed
  • Has the courage to make needed changes

Some might call the...

The Perks—and Limits—of Having a Superstar Mentor

It would seem a safe bet that when faced with two offers from similarly prestigious companies, a job candidate would, most of the time, end up taking the one with higher pay. But when New York University’s Jason Greenberg and MIT’s Roberto M. Fernandez analyzed over 700 job offers from a cohort of students graduating from elite MBA programs, they found that something other than pay was driving students’ decisions.

In a paper that will soon be published in the journal Sociological Science,Greenberg and Fernandez write that the students were significantly more likely to accept jobs found through networking—done either through alums of their program or their own social connections—even if those jobs came with lower pay than offers arriving through more formal channels, like on-campus recruiting. The choice, the researchers suggest, may be driven by students’ interest in their own career development, and a belief that taking a job with more networking opportunities would give them a professional edge, even if it came at the cost of compensation.

The importance  of social networks in one’s career trajectory helps...