Management Insights

When Performance Measurement Goes Wrong in Government

Recent revelations that employees at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals falsified performance data on patient-appointment wait times in order to receive larger bonuses have turned the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), once considered at the forefront of federal efforts at performance management, into a national joke. While it is not known how widespread this practice was, it is a reminder that it does not take many bad actors to ruin the reputation of an entire agency.

The VA scandal comes on the heels of a number of high-profile cases of education administrators and teachers cheating (or encouraging cheating) on standardized tests, making it all the more worrying to those of us who advocate reforms centered on performance management. In Atlanta, the school superintendent, as well as 35 teachers and principals, resigned in the wake of a scandal allegedly driven by pressure placed on teachers to falsify test-score results. Educators in cities including Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Newark, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., also have been caught up in cheating allegations involving standardized tests. READ MORE

The Challenge of Building the Workforce Government Needs

State and local governments are hiring again, but they're having difficulty finding -- and retaining -- the right people. Do governments have a people problem?

In the Center for State and Local Government Excellence's latest annual workforce survey, government human-resources managers cite staff development, succession planning, employee morale and retaining staff for core services as their top issues. Those issues were rated as greater concerns than compensation and health-care and retirement-plan costs. What's going on? READ MORE

The Road Hazards Ahead for Transportation Funding

The U.S. Department of Transportation says balances in the federal Highway Trust Fund will drop so low next month that payments to states for work already underway will be delayed. Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office warns that trust-fund balances will be entirely depleted by 2015, putting funding for new projects at risk as well. To add to the uncertainty, the federal surface transportation measure known as MAP-21, which authorizes funding for state and local projects, expires Sept. 30.

Highways, bridges, passenger rail and public bus systems depend on a mix of federal, state and local support. If any element falters, the entire system is weakened, with risks to both passenger safety and economic growth. The federal government has provided roughly a quarter of all highway and transit funding (including both capital investment and operations), and some states rely on the federal government for as much as 40 percent. For these states, a depleted Highway Trust Fund and uncertainty about MAP-21 create major fiscal challenges. READ MORE

Planting the Seeds to Harvest Innovation

More and more, government leaders are under extraordinary pressure to innovate -- to purposefully create and execute solutions while implementing continuous improvement and managing planned change. But simply waiting for innovation to happen is perilous, especially in today's political and fiscal climate.

In short, playing it safe is no longer playing it smart. Today's government leaders must be effective catalysts, creating and maintaining the conditions that make innovation happen. In effectively implementing a culture for growing innovation, there is much that leaders can borrow from the people who grow our food. READ MORE

You Can’t Manage a Secret

"Problems don't get better with age." So says Colin Powell, the former military leader and secretary of state, and he's absolutely right. But how do you get people to bring problems to senior managers' attention when the culture has rewarded just the opposite? The recent stories of General Motors and Ford illustrate powerfully how a culture of openness, or the lack of it, can make or break any organization, private or public.

Many were outraged when it was revealed earlier this year that GM had decided back in 2005 not to spend about a dollar per car to change an ignition switch that eventually was linked to the deaths of 13 people. What's equally outrageous, in my view, is how little GM's CEO, Mary Barra, knew about this problem. Barra, to be fair, is new to her job and had no role in the ignition-switch problem. But when she was presented with a number of facts about the long history of ignition-switch failures while testifying before Congress, she seemed unaware of them. And when asked why it took GM 10 years to even acknowledge the defect, she had no answer. READ MORE