Management Insights

The Urgent Need for Intergovernmental Dialogue

One of the saving graces of our country is our system of checks and balances, and that includes the balance of power between state governments and the federal government. That said, those checks and balances can make it very difficult to move forward on the priorities Americans care about -- infrastructure, public safety, health care, jobs, retirement security, and clean water and clean air, to name a few.

Even with the Republican Party in control of Congress, the White House and most state governments, our elected leadership struggles to find consensus on goals. Some argue that hyperpartisanship is the reason we have been unable to address our nation's challenges in a thoughtful way. While that is certainly a problem, the bigger issue is the failure to develop smart policies that integrate local, state and federal government programs. That requires much more communication among thoughtful leaders to identify a way forward. READ MORE

The Worst Idea in Government Management: Pay for Performance

I started paying attention to business management in the late 1970s, and my timing could not have been better. I saw all the business fads of the late 20th century paraded before me, from "management by objectives," "Theory Z" and "in search of excellence" through "reengineering the corporation," "good to great" and "Six Sigma." At one point I wondered, are all these management theories actually the same ideas with new titles?

The fads seemed harmless enough -- and may have been useful if they encouraged executives to think about their businesses in new ways. But one struck me, then and now, as dangerous. And that was "pay for performance." Even more frightening, it has made its way into government, with terrible consequences. READ MORE

When Politicians Face an Angry Public

The recent discomfiture experienced by some members of Congress facing angry crowds at town hall meetings in their districts has drawn considerable attention. The prospect of thoroughgoing changes to our health-care system was the salient issue driving angry constituent responses, but not the only one. Some members of Congress declined to attend such meetings at all, while others suffered through them, clearly regarding them as ordeals from which they would rather be spared.

Local-government officials everywhere have to have found this manifest angst about town hall meetings richly amusing. Local officials, after all, conduct such meetings as a matter of routine. Mayors, council members, county supervisors and other elected officials at the local level meet with upset constituents on a continuous basis -- it is what they do. As a local-government administrator, I attended such meetings for 35 years. Local officials see nothing unusual or threatening or even particularly difficult about them. READ MORE

Why We Need to Rethink Public-Sector Retirement

A recent New York Times column made me recall a lesson I learned almost 40 years. "Their Jobs Keep Them Healthy" was the article's title, and its point was that delaying retirement can be good for "the brain and the body." Delaying retirement by key contributors is good for employers as well. Keeping employees with valuable job knowledge working in some capacity is at least a partial answer to the kind of staffing crisis that governments in particular face. And of course it reduces pension costs.

Early in my consulting career, I was asked to play a role in assessing the market for retirement counseling. We dug into the research and talked to several experts. That made me aware that professionals in legal and medical occupations -- who could presumably afford to retire -- often continue working and remain productive into their 80s. Today, of course, increasing numbers of workers in all occupations continue working on some basis or would like to do so after the "normal" retirement age of 65. READ MORE

What Government Can Learn From Business

The column I wrote in December on the "enduring myth" that government should be run like a business generated a lot of reaction -- more, in fact, than any in the five-plus years that I have written in this space. The level of response and the thoughtfulness of the rejoinders convinced me that the narrow perspective I had taken, and the limitations of an 800-word column format, almost demanded that I give it another try.

My main point in the prior column, expressed in the aftermath of the election of a president who had touted his business success as a qualification for leading the federal government, was to suggest that the experience of running a private-sector enterprise (perhaps especially a family business) does not translate directly to the challenges of leading a government. READ MORE