Management Insights

The Best Way to Reform Our Criminal Justice System? Shrink It.

There is widespread agreement that our criminal justice system is in need of reform, if not comprehensive overhaul. But beyond easy generalizations, there are few clear ideas about what should be done.

What is clear is that the most egregious failings of the criminal justice system result from demands that it treat ills it is manifestly incapable of treating. Three of the most salient of these are substance abuse, mental illness and homelessness, but there are many others, including a universe of petty, nonviolent crimes. READ MORE

Are You a Micromanager? Get Over It.

In February 1945, John Gunther sat at Fiorello La Guardia's elbow for eight hours and 20 minutes and watched him work. Gunther was a famous journalist. La Guardia was New York's mayor and was even more famous -- a short, profane whirling dervish of energy and ideas.

La Guardia did not disappoint. As Gunther watched, the mayor made decisions in machine-gun fashion, riffling through letters and reports on his desk, barking at this three secretaries, interrogating subordinates. He even found time to hold a press conference while seated at his desk. READ MORE

The Tricky Question of Job Security for Public Employees

From teacher tenure and law enforcement at the local-government level to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Secret Service at the federal level, the subject of job security for public employees looms large. How should government approach this subject? Are there principles that could be derived from experience and widely applied?

We can only address the subject in terms of the purposes of government agencies. Government agencies do not exist for the purpose of providing employment, much less the purpose of providing secure employment. Government employs people to accomplish a wide range of objectives. Employment is clearly a means to an end, not an end in itself. The question insofar as employment security is concerned, then, is how it bears on the attainment of government's larger purposes. READ MORE

How Academia Is Failing Government

Anyone reading this doesn't have to be told that it is a challenging time to work in government. The kinds of policy and management problems that public leaders face — from emergency management to cybersecurity to health care to improving education — require marshaling our collective intellectual resources in a search for solutions. But government practitioners frequently get little help from a large group of people who should be well positioned to come up with ideas to improve both policy and management: academics.

This is at least in part a self-inflicted wound, because the way that academic research is measured and incentivized results in squandering of intellectual resources by encouraging academics to write only for each other, use techniques that are not accessible, and publish in outlets and in forms where there is little chance of impact on the actual practice of public administration or policymaking. READ MORE

Faster Government: Rethinking the Risk Equation

The minds at Pixar Animation Studios, responsible for an almost unprecedented string of original hit movies, believe in failure. The philosophy of the studio's heads is to get all the failures out of the way early, and keep polishing. As President Ed Catmull has written, "Management's job is not to prevent risk but to build the capability to recover when failures occur."

That's not the way things have worked in government. Failure has not been an option. When America's greatest government bureaucracy was built up in the 1940s, it was wartime and the consequences of mistakes were dire. Often processes were conceived and executed by military veterans who associated imperfection with laziness, recklessness and death. After all, you can't make a mistake with an atom bomb, or planning an invasion, or sneaking a rocket scientist over the Berlin Wall. READ MORE