Management Insights

What Government Can Learn from the Culture of Apple

Apple has been in existence for less than 40 years, yet it is the world's most valuable company and brand, with a market capitalization north of $700 billion and over $160 billon in the bank. Beyond its financial strength and market dominance, Apple's internal culture and its approach to its business have become the gold standard for a number of industries. So how can a public-sector organization become "the Apple of government?"

Apple describes itself not as a computer or technology company but as one that combines the roles of innovator, integrator and -- of particular applicability to government -- experience provider. Besides its function as a democratic institution, the role of government is to be the protagonist for a better quality of life for residents/citizens/taxpayers. In that pursuit, beyond the delivery of public services and programs, government also creates a sensory experience. Ask residents of a city if they feel safe and the reply won't be about the number of officers on the police force but about their perceptions -- a blend of their own experiences, first-hand and otherwise. READ MORE

Sexual Assault at UVA: 4 Lessons in Crisis Leadership

The turmoil that has enveloped the University of Virginia since Rolling Stone magazine's publication of a scathing article describing a gang-rape at a fraternity party and a university culture "less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal" has done more than tarnish the reputation of a prestigious public institution. It has produced a primer on how not to lead during a crisis.

The Nov. 19 article included graphic references to a UVA coed, called "Jackie" by the author, who told the magazine she had been raped by seven men at a fraternity party. The article described a university culture in which sexual assaults "are kept quiet" not only by the university administration but also by students "as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture." Later that day, UVA President Teresa Sullivan issued a statement saying, in part, that the university "takes seriously the issue of sexual misconduct" and that Charlottesville police were being asked to investigate the alleged rape. Then she left the country for a previously scheduled conference. READ MORE

Lessons from the Feds on Managing IT (Really!)

From 1983 to 2011, I taught at Harvard and, beginning in 1987, ran a research program on strategic computing for governments and what it takes to be an effective leader in a heavily networked world. For 24 years, for three or four sessions a year and two or three days at a time, we'd explore the information-technology issues that were hot at the time, such as how to get citizens "online, not in line."

At the end of those sessions, the most common comment from state and local participants was something along the lines of "Good grief, I'm glad I don't work for the federal government!" READ MORE

The Public-Administration Quandary: ‘Who’ vs. ‘What’

Every senior public administrator has on occasion wondered whether a leadership position should be filled by someone with deep content knowledge or by a person whose executive skills and proclivities embody the process sensibilities thought essential to getting something done. Can't we all wince at memories of a promising individual with deep knowledge who foundered in execution because he or she lacked the skills of community consultation, adaptation and finding workable consensus? Conversely, can't we all recall the talented person who never seemed to "get" the cultural nuances of a field he or she did not know from long experience and was defeated in the trenches of change leadership?

There is no pat solution to this quandary. It is part of the mystery and challenge of public administration. But lest we forget that it happens at all levels, consider the sharp relief coming into view with recent federal-level crises. In replacing the secretary of veterans affairs, the Obama administration went not for the military veteran steeped in the organization or in medicine but for an individual who understood corporate culture and customer orientation. Conversely, what about the long-time Secret Service official, elevated in the face of earlier scandals, who crashed and burned in the face of spectacular security breaches at the White House? READ MORE

The Troubling Partisanization of Elections for Secretary of State

In early November 1956, a young state senator named Monroe Sweetland was locked in a tight election campaign for Oregon secretary of state, one that Sweetland would narrowly lose. But as election day neared, Sweetland was encouraged that voters finally seemed aware of the important duties of Oregon's second-ranking state office.

The reaction of two elderly women he met outside a post office on this particular day was especially heartening. Clasping Sweetland's hands in delight, one told him, "Of course you can count on both of our votes -- and all our friends, too!" But Sweetland's newfound faith in voter awareness was short-lived as the woman then exclaimed, "Yes -- all of us think that John Foster Dulles has just got to go!" READ MORE