Smart Management

Managing Life-and-Death Situations

When former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack was about to take office in 1999, he went to the National Governors Association’s New Governor’s School, and sat next to then-Gov. Zell Miller of Georgia. Vilsack had one big question to ask his seatmate: “What are the one or two things I should focus on? Should it be health care? Jobs? Education?” 

As Vilsack recalls, “Gov. Miller said, ‘Son, emergency management. I guarantee you that within six months something is going to happen in your state and if you don’t handle it well, it won’t make any damn difference what you do in health care or jobs or education.” Vilsack took Miller’s advice, and when the state was hit with a huge tornado three months later, its leaders handled the situation in a coordinated, capable way that saved lives and property. READ MORE

Higher the Rank, Higher the Turnover

In just a four-year term, it’s not uncommon for a governor to watch high-level officials walk out the door -- sometimes several times for the same job. 

Though there are no studies indicating which positions have the highest turnover, at least three have tended to come up in conversations with government officials over the last years: Medicaid directors, secretaries of health and human services, and chief information officers. Each tend to change leadership roughly every year and a half.  READ MORE

The Growing Urgency of Government's Quest for Talent

There's a looming government workforce crisis, and it's not even on the radar screen for too many state and local elected officials. Human-resources managers, however, are well aware of the challenges of recruiting and retaining the qualified workers governments urgently need.

That concern is documented in the latest annual survey from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE). For the second year in a row, members of the International Public Management Association for Human Resources and the National Association of State Personnel Executives ranked recruiting and retaining qualified personnel as their most important workforce issue. READ MORE

Digital Government and the Virtues of Simplicity

Any mechanic knows that simple systems are harder to break. Digital thinkers apply that ethos to everything they do. It's a core value of every successful technology company: If the user is not happy, or is in any way slowed down or frustrated by the technology, then the whole business crumbles. So they try to design simple and intuitive experiences.

A new breed of digital innovators is hell-bent on bringing this ethos into the public sector. "Our government is addicted to complexity in a way that isn't serving us well," says Jen Pahlka, the CEO of Code for America, "and the complexity itself is actually the problem." READ MORE

What Employee Surveys Reveal About Working in Government

Several weeks ago, we wrote a column about employee surveys in state and local government. It focused on the importance of using the results to take actions that improve the workplace. But as we looked into the best utility of these surveys, we grew curious about what they actually reveal -- especially when compared to the federal government and private sector.

While there was good news to be found, some of the results were worrisome. READ MORE