Ticked Off at Technology, Let's Get Fiscal, and a Lesson from Bangladesh

Plus: Too much certainty, and more management news

How often are you ticked at technology? If your experience is like ours, the answer's probably, "Too often." Which leads us to a question we'd really like to have lots of you answer, so we can publish a thoroughly non-scientific result: What percentage of your workdays contain at least some frustration with technology (whether it's a computer system, a website, e-mail, fancy phones, whatever)?

E-mail us with your answer!


Is it the calendar year or the fiscal year? That's a question any good manager should ask when looking at data. The differences can be dramatic. Just a few weeks ago, for example, the news came out that there had been a 2 percent decline in state tax revenues for 2010. When we noticed that figure in a Reuters report, we were surprised. So we asked Don Boyd of the Rockefeller Institute to help clarify things. He explained that revenues were down about 2.6 percent for fiscal year 2010, which ended for most states in mid-2010. But revenues rose by 4.3 percent for the calendar year, which captured six more months of improved revenues.


A Lesson from Bangladesh: Conversations about performance often focus on determining whether a project has been a success or failure. But as this terrific infographic shows, gauging success isn't a one-stop-shopping kind of exercise. Even if initial performance measures show a program to be a success, it still requires ongoing oversight to make sure there aren't any unanticipated — and negative — consequences (and, of course, to make sure the success continues as time goes on.)

The Bangladesh situation may seem to be a million miles away, but the issues are universal. That country was faced with severe shortages of potable water. Solution: Put in more wells. That appeared to be a grand success — until people discovered that many of the new wells had high levels of arsenic. On to another great "success": Paint the contaminated wells red to caution the citizenry. But wait! Now villagers who live close to red wells are stigmatized; people who have arsenic poisoning find themselves discriminated against, and women in that situation find it difficult to find marriage partners, which has led to a rise in prostitution.


"There is a serious cost to excess certainty." — Tim Harford, author of the forthcoming book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.


You, too, can be Big Brother! In an effort to cut down on fraud, the city of Philadelphia has become the first in the nation to use smartphone technology to allow citizens to report fraudulent incidents directly to the government. According to American City and County, "Philly Watchdog allows smartphone users to send reports of fraud, waste or abuse directly to [City Controller Alan] Butkovitz's Fraud Unit. The app gives the option to report incidents anonymously. A GPS feature pinpoints the incidents' locations, and users can capture a photo, upload a stored media file or type a description of the incident."


The most important question a manager can ask, according to a recent post by Linda Hill and Kent Lineback on a Harvard Business Review blog, is this: "What can I do to help you be more effective?"

As they write, "What question could be more central to being a good boss? If you want to manage and lead successfully, you've got to know what the people doing the work need. So why not ask them? But the truth is, this question is not asked by bosses nearly enough."


Illinois has dramatically raised both business and personal taxes. (Personal income taxes have gone from 3 percent to 5 percent, and corporate taxes increased from 4.8 percent to 7 percent.) Following the announcement of the tax changes earlier this year, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin announced that he intended to target Illinois businesses, which would, he argued, be ready to jump borders in for the greener pastures of lower taxes found in his state.

This whole thing excites us from a purely journalistic point of view. It'll be easy enough to see, in coming months, whether the roads out of Illinois are crowded with outgoing corporations or not. And that may help to shed some light on a critical question: How much do tax rates really influence corporate location choices?


Tick tock. Tick tock. We've just come across an interesting study from one of the most significant membership organizations for state leaders. We bring this up not to share the report's findings with you, but to complain about the fact that some of the major takeaways appear to be based on data that's over a decade old. We won't mention the name of the organization, because this practice is so common that there seems to be little benefit in throwing a dart at one perpetrator. Our point: You can't draw any significant conclusions about state management and policy exclusively from data that's moldy with age.


When we asked B&G Readers to tell us what motivates them in their work, we mentioned that we personally thrive on praise from others. Honestly, we had anticipated that many respondents would tell us cash was the way to their hearts, and in that we were thoroughly wrong. In fact, though a few mentioned financial remuneration, the majority of e-mails we received spoke, in some fashion, about making a difference — the feeling that your work really has impact.

One of the more thoughtful notes came from Emily Sherwood, director of the Children's Behavioral Health Interagency Initiatives at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services in Massachusetts. She mentioned five "right conditions," for an environment that motivates employees:

  • Mutual respect among team members and by leadership: Critically, this includes being "backed up" by your leadership, and/or dealt with by leadership in a respectful manner, even if the outcome needs to change
  • Knowledgeable and skillful leadership: implementing a good plan
  • Attitude of creative problem solving: fully cognizant of barriers and risks, but not immobilized by them
  • Acknowledgement of a team's work: in simple ways, to internal and external stakeholders
  • Good humor: lots of laughter

A few weeks ago, we complained about the frequency with which states are treated in the press as some kind of uniform monolith, with little regard for the fact that there's huge variation. We got some affirming e-mails back, and we wanted to quote from our regular correspondent, and the former state accountant of Missouri, Tom Sadowski: "I agree with your point about the huge variation among the states. Often when I make a presentation outside Missouri I'll include some demographics about the state. I then make the comment that if you know one state, you know one state. While they have much in common, in many ways they are much more different than they are the same. You can go very wrong by assuming otherwise."

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