Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.
ARCHIVES

10 Things to Know About Government Reorganizations

I have had a long and somewhat checkered career in public service. Among the things that stand out to me are the research and work I’ve done related to government reorganizations. I was involved in creating two new agencies, abolishing two others, and moving an agency from one Cabinet department to another.

While much has been written about the topic in general, a search for information about the effects of reorganizations is an unrewarding task. Almost no one has asked the question: What difference have past reorganization plans and executive orders made? How have they been implemented and with what results?

Here’s what we do know:

1. Reorganization is not a cure-all. At times, a careful analysis would have shown that a problem is caused more by faulty processes, a poorly trained workforce, or weak leadership than by the structure. Maybe the cause is a combination of the three. Success with large-scale reorganizations depends on the extent to which all three of these basic elements are addressed in tandem.

2. Lift the veil of secrecy quickly. Reorganization plans often need to be crafted relatively secretly, to ensure ideas don’t emerge stillborn. But once released, the circle should...

What Federal HR Could Learn from Tennessee’s Reforms

I recently visited the state of Tennessee to review its award-winning human resources function and training program and the reforms state officials have made over a five-year period. I took a federal chief human capital officer and his deputy with me, so they could imagine the possibilities. While the state’s rules are somewhat different from those of the federal government, what Tennessee has accomplished is remarkable and there are lessons for federal civil service reform.

Tennessee has approximately 42,000 state employees responsible for a range of functions. Approximately 500 HR employees support the state workforce (a 1-84 ratio), including employee training and development, under a shared services model with the same functions as federal HR. While the state workers are not unionized, they do have a strong employee association that was engaged in the reform initiative.

The Transformation

To begin, Tennessee brought on a very effective executive as commissioner of HR, Rebecca Hunter. The position reports directly to the governor and is on equal footing with the heads of all state agencies. Hunter led with the Governor’s edict “to become the number one state for high quality jobs.” When she arrived in 2011, she worked to build...

Psychology’s Five Revelations For Finding Your True Calling

Look. You can’t plan out your life. What you have to do is first discover your passion – what you really care about.
Barack Obama

If, like many, you are searching for your calling in life – perhaps you are still unsure which profession aligns with what you most care about – here are five recent research findings worth taking into consideration. 

First, there’s a difference between having a harmonious passion and an obsessive passion. If you can find a career path or occupational goal that fires you up, you are more likely to succeed and find happiness through your work – that much we know from the deep research literature. But beware – since a seminal paper published in 2003 by the Canadian psychologist Robert Vallerand and colleagues, researchers have made an important distinction between having a harmonious passion and an obsessive one. If you feel that your passion or calling is out of control, and that your mood and self-esteem depend on it, then this is the obsessive variety, and such passions, while they are energising, are also associated with negative outcomes such as burnout and anxiety. In contrast, if your passion feels in control, reflects qualities that you like about...

The Case for Inbox Infinity

The day after Christmas, I spent seven hours sifting through more than 2,700 unread emails I had accumulated over the previous month. Like many other people, I intended to begin 2019 with a fresh inbox and zero unread messages.

Since the idea of “Inbox Zero” was first coined in 2007 by Merlin Mann, a blogger who championed “finding the time and attention to do your best creative work,” it has become what many people consider the pinnacle of digital organization. Hundreds of articles have been written on how to achieve Inbox Zero. Products such as PolymailMailstrom, and Superhuman were all built to help make our inboxes more manageable. And a growing number of offices have instituted chat systems such as Slack to help minimize interoffice emails.

Despite all these developments, we receive more email than ever. Email marketing systems and sales-generation software have made it easier to blast consumers with repeated messages at all hours of the day, and nearly every social-media app or service seems bent on barraging users with endless email notifications. According to a recent study by the Radicati Group, a market-research firm, people across the globe sent and received 269 billion emails a day...

Navigating a Leadership Slump

For just about everyone involved in leading and guiding others for an extended period, the time comes when the natural enthusiasm that fueled your work fades. For some, it’s a slow fade characterized by creeping malaise and a sense of restlessness. For others, it’s a full-scale leadership slump with a myriad of uncomfortable symptoms.

If you find yourself battling some degree of a leadership slump, there are a number of strategies you can employ to navigate beyond this less than desirable state of being. The common denominator in these strategies is a refocusing of your priorities, placing yourself at the top of the list.

I’ve lived this situation myself, and have worked with many senior leaders navigating their unique forms of leadership slumps. Four themes that emerge in all cases include:

1. Fatigue and frustration.

Years of attempting to navigate organizational impediments and bureaucratic procedures take their toll on the best of us. Let’s face it; organizational life wears us down. We are forced to color-in-the-lines and suppress our creativity or limit our experimentation with people, positions, and teams.

I once was told I could not create a new position in my business unit because there...