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The One Question The Best Federal Leaders Ask Themselves

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Shelly Metzenbaum, the Office of Management and Budget’s former Associate Director for Performance and Personnel Management, recently joined us on the Excellence in Government Podcast to reflect on her time with OMB and share what she’s seen separate high performing agencies from the rest.

High performing government leaders ask themselves this simple question—and have a clear answer:

“What are we trying to accomplish?”

Metzenbaum says the key to becoming a high performing government organization lies in leadership, at all levels, asking that one question.

“It’s a commitment to being clear about what you’re trying to accomplish,” says Metzenbaum. “[To figuring] out how you’re going to measure and know whether or not you’re going to make a difference.”

After four years with the administration, Metzenbaum says she saw countless examples where government agencies got clear about their goals—what they were trying to accomplish—and that performance improvements were never far behind.

According to Metzenbaum, having outcome focused goals enabled:

  • The Department of Education to make progress in turning around low performing schools.
  • The Department of the Interior to increase the amount of renewable energy being produced on public lands.
  • And the IRS to improve electronic tax filing rates.

“There are incredibly exciting things happening in government performance,” she said. “I think people are starting to appreciate the power of a goal, the power of measurement . . . seeing these things as real power tools that improve government performance.”

Hear Metzenbaum’s full interview by listening or subscribing to the Excellence in Government Podcast on iTunes. 

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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