Management Insights

A Robust Vision for Using Data in Government

State and local governments collect data in amounts that almost defy description -- everything from health outcomes and marriage records to crime statistics and Head Start enrollments. Much of this data collection is required by federal or state law, and some is compiled at the initiative of individual agencies.

But collecting data is not the same as harnessing data, a fact that is gaining acceptance among state and local decision-makers as they move toward a more robust vision for what data can accomplish -- specifically, toward the idea that data is a strategic asset that can help policy-makers and officials manage programs more effectively and inexpensively. READ MORE

6 Ways to Engineer Public-Employee Engagement

Here's a troubling statistic: According to the latest Gallup report on state and local government workers' engagement, a median of only 29 percent of them are engaged at work. What's worse, 17 percent of public workers are "actively disengaged." Those employees are "busy acting out their unhappiness," in Gallup's words, undermining the accomplishments of their engaged co-workers.

Some disengaged employees leave. The real problem is the ones who stay. Many of them are mentally leaving their workplaces long before they exit the building for good. These quit-and-stay employees are particularly toxic. Their negative attitudes and poor work habits are highly contagious, resulting too often in customer frustration and anger, poor quality of services and decreased team performance. Cells of disengaged workers can create a cancerous effect on the overall health of an organization. READ MORE

What Academia Could Be Doing for Government

There is a growing discussion of how colleges' and universities' schools of public administration are failing to provide the kind of research that public-sector practitioners need to help them deliver services efficiently. Turning policy into effective practice presents many difficult challenges for public leaders, so it's a dialogue that has long been needed. But for those looking for solutions, there is a worthy model elsewhere in academia: schools of business.

Over the past decade or more, for example, a prominent thread in business research has been on identifying practices that encourage employees to perform at their best. That brings together what we know about effective supervision, individual motivation, knowledge and skill development, creating a supportive culture, and the role of technology in decision-making. READ MORE

When Performance Measures Go Horribly Wrong

After the scandal erupted over the creation by Wells Fargo employees of more than 2 million bogus bank accounts, for which customers were charged over $2.5 million in unwarranted fees, the bank's CEO claimed that it never wanted the accounts created, that it had fired 5,300 employees who were involved, and that he was "fully committed to ... fix the issue and strengthen our culture."

But here's the problem: What happened at Wells Fargo wasn't about culture. Nor was it about unethical employees, or about one senior executive who oversaw the program that led to these abuses (and walked away with an exit package worth over $100 million). No, this was a case of super-aggressive daily sales goals that were almost impossible to reach and where failure to reach them could lead to firings. As one expert on white-collar crime asserted, "This wouldn't have happened without pressure from the top." READ MORE

What Plumbers Can Teach Public Managers

I've been intrigued for many years by the things one can learn from the concepts underlying hydraulics. It is an axiom of highway planning, for example, that engineering hydraulics predict much of the phenomena experienced in traffic flow. Hydraulics explains, for example, why it takes so much longer to clear a traffic backup after an accident than it does for the backup to develop. And it explains how a single driver can trigger those infuriating "no cause" stoppages.

But engineering aside, much of public management rests on virtual "plumbing." As in preventing a household plumbing emergency, careful attention to throughput capacities, sticky valves, identification of blockages and plugging of leaks is essential. Otherwise, speculation of causes or cures can result in misleading metrics, lost resources and frustrated citizens. READ MORE