Management Insights

How Governments Can Hold on to Their Top Performers

As they work to build the workforces essential to executing their missions, government leaders need to recognize that they are competing with the private sector for talent as never before and that they face significant challenges in attracting and -- perhaps even more important -- retaining their best people.

Conventional wisdom says that employees will leave if they are dissatisfied but that money will make them stay. That greatly oversimplifies the issue. People stay in a job or leave it for a range of reasons. Top performers want to be well compensated, of course, but they are seeking other kinds of satisfaction, primarily related to their learning, growth and opportunities to make a positive difference. READ MORE

When the Best Intentions Lead to Disaster

As the Department of Veterans Affairs begins the long, difficult and expensive process of addressing the problems that led to its scandal over falsified wait times for veterans seeking medical appointments, government managers who want to keep their own enterprises out of the same kind trouble would do well to look at the elements that brought the VA down.

At the heart of the VA scandal is the falsification of records in the face of a huge surge in veterans needing care and insufficient resources to serve them. One study by federal auditors found that, while official VA reports claimed that some vets waited 24 days for an appointment, the average wait time was actually 115 days. And there is another, equally troubling aspect to the scandal: the harsh reprisals to which VA workers who tried to report wrongdoing were subjected. READ MORE

What a Public Employee Really Costs

During my time as Oregon's secretary of state, I came to the conclusion that America's two main political parties were imprecisely named. What we really have is an "anti-government" party and an "anti-anti-government" party. This attitudinal divide is especially evident when it comes to the issue of public-employee compensation.

Those in the anti-government camp like to cite studies such as the one published monthly by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Government Workers Cost More than 45% More than Private Sector Workers," is the headline one commentator recently gave to this study. READ MORE

When a Public Agency Is Badly Broken

A single silver lining in the Department of Veterans Affairs' health-care scandal may be the teaching moment the disclosure of the agency's failures has provided. Thoughtful public managers at all levels of government are pausing to reflect and consider how -- or if -- such a pattern of poor performance, cover-up and mistreatment of whistleblowers could happen in their agencies. My experience suggests that under the wrong conditions, any public agency can slide into habits that treat those it serves with indifference and find ways to falsely claim competence and success.

The appointment of a new veterans' affairs secretary from a corporation with a textbook reputation for inculcating a culture of high performance, competence and customer service is a good first step. Yet Proctor & Gamble's disciplined corporate culture was built over decades and is sustained by selecting, mentoring and promoting leaders at all levels who have internalized that culture. READ MORE

Performance Management in Government: The Old Is New Again

For all of the interest and excitement surrounding current efforts to expand performance management in government, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the concept was born in the past decade or two. Yet today's innovative approaches to finding ways to deliver public services more efficiently -- from proliferating "stat" programs to powerful data-analytics tools -- have their roots in research going back to the early part of the last century.

The early work of ICMA, the International City/County Management Association, in measuring the efficiency of municipal services, for example, was so well received that it served as one of many catalysts to the development of public-sector performance-management approaches. We published the first in a series of 14 articles focused on "economies," or ways to improve performance in a variety of local-government areas, in Public Management magazine back in July 1932. Five years later, graduate student (and eventual Nobel laureate) Herbert A. Simon, along with then-ICMA executive director Clarence Ridley, authored an article titled "Technique of Appraising Standards," the first in a series on management standards in city administration. READ MORE