Mar 16

Four Scenarios for the Future of the Federal Government – Five Years Later

In 2010, I published the following four scenarios on GovLoop:

SteamGov – The Federal government still uses large, centralized IT architectures and the average Federal worker’s work technology is less capable than the worker’s personal technology.

Google.Gov – The Federal government is greatly reduced in size while almost all government services are provided through contractors.

LabGov – State and local governments take the lead in using the latest open-source technologies, agile project management, and other innovations to more effectively and efficiently deliver government services. This causes a shift in the balance-of-power between the Federal government and the states as citizens demand the Federal government allow the states to provide services that once were the purview of the Federal government.

InnoGov – The Federal government establishes a DARPA-like institution to seek out innovative Gov 2.0 projects and accelerate the adoption of new open-source technologies and agile management techniques. By 2014, the Federal government is the leading innovator in IT and management practices and helps to revitalize the private and non-profit sectors with its technology/best practices transfer programs.


Almost four years ago, I revisited the four scenarios. At that time, I wrote that the Federal government seemed to be heading toward InnoGov because of the launch of the GSA’s Digital Services Innovation Center. Even so, many parts of the Federal government were still stuck in SteamGov. Since that time, there has been more progress toward InnoGov with the establishment of 18F and agency innovation labs such as Health and Human Services’ IdeaLab and the Office of Personnel Management’s Innovation Lab. Most of the Federal government is still stuck in SteamGov, but good progress has been made.

I am still undecided on if the ultimate scenario will be InnoGov or LabGov. The state, metropolitan, and local governments are making incredible gains in technological innovation. Judging from what I read in GovTech, I am still betting on the LabGov scenario being the dominant scenario in 2020.

Feb 16

The Constructal Law in Organizational Design

feature-constructal-law-physicsA key component to my new theory on public administration and my new organizational design is the Constructual Law. First proposed back in 1996 by Adrian Bejan, the Constructal Law states:

"For a finite-size system to persist in time (to live), it must evolve in such a way that it provides easier access to the imposed currents that flow through it"

The Constructual Law is a physics law and refers to natural systems. However, if one defines the imposed currents as data, information, and knowledge, then you can see the application to organizations. Especially in the communication channels for data, information, and knowledge.  The tricky part is that the organization's environment changes over time and thus, the organization's internal configuration of flows needs to evolve to optimize access for data, information, and knowledge.

The organization's internal configuration will evolve according to the dictates of the Constructual Law. Making this directed evolution rather than unguided evolution is the great insight offered by the Constructual Law to organizational theory.

Feb 16

Evolving Human Resources Using Adaptive Case Management

peoplemanagementA key part of my new organization model is a new evolution of human resources management. I prefer Josh Bersin’s term, people management, because “human resources” reminds me too much of the 1950’s organizational man model. Another concept that shaped my thinking along with Bersin’s people management model is the Alliance Model.

The Alliance, co-written by the founder of LinkedIn and two entrepreneurs, describes a new type of employer-employee contract. As the authors argue, the old unspoken compact between employer and employee was built on stability. You work for the company, and you will have lifelong employment as long as you do a good job and obey orders. The company will develop you and move you up the ladder to an eventual good retirement. That does not work anymore.

In the Alliance model, employers and employees negotiate “tours of duty.” Employees are encouraged to think of themselves as free agents who spend time developing their skills and looking for opportunities. Employers hire for specific skills to help fulfill the strategic mission. The contract is explicit and agreed upon by all parties. Tours of duty can be short-time or open-ended depending upon need.

What I like about tours of duty is that they are mutually-satisfying and that the relationship is equal between employer and employee. Tours of duty also make sure that the employee’s interests are aligned with the organization’s interest. When the interests no longer serve each other, the employee and employer make an amicable break. Employees then join the organization’s alumni network and could be rehired when circumstances change.

To implement a tour of duty people management system will require more flexibility and responsiveness than current HR processes. That is why I propose using adaptive case management (ACM) as the platform for the new organizational model’s people management processes. ACM provides just enough structure to ensure that organization’s people management processes are in compliance but is flexible enough handle the uniqueness of each tour of duty. I am currently working on a book chapter that will specifically describe how to replace current commonly-accepted HR processes with ACM.

I had previously argued that organizations should combine HR and IT into one organization-wide function. I believe that when HR has transformed into “People Management” through adopting adaptive case management, HR will be ready to manage IT successfully. Then, organizations will have the talent they will need while the talent will have the tools they need to make the tour of duty successful for both the employee and the organization.

Jan 16

Are Enterprise-Focused Mobile Apps the Key to Improving Citizen Satisfaction with Federal Agencies?

Two interesting reports out recently. The first is from the IBM Center for the Business of Government and reports on the use of mobile apps in the Federal, state, and local governments. The second report is the 2015 American Customer Satisfaction Index report for the Federal government.  Highlights from both reports:

  1. Since the 2012 Digital Government Strategy, the Federal government has built nearly 300 citizen-oriented mobile apps. In contrast, only 20 enterprise-focused mobile apps have been built. Citizen-oriented mobile apps, as the name suggests, are built to provide government information and services to American citizens. Enterprise-focused mobile apps are used by the agency's employees to increase internal knowledge sharing and collaboration.
  2. For the third year in the row, customer satisfaction with the Federal government has declined. In fact, the rating of 63.9 is the lowest rating for the last nine years.
  3. There were one or two point gains in satisfaction with government processes (68 to 69), information (69 to 71), and customer service (75 to 76) from 2014 to 2015. Website satisfaction was static at 72.

I just finished writing an article for the PA Times where I argued that agencies should increase their building of enterprise-focused (EF) mobile apps. There is not the immediate payoff of a citizen-oriented (CO) mobile app. However, building EF mobile apps will compel agencies to improve their internal business processes, increase collaboration among agency employees, and enhance the ability of agencies to create IT applications. These are long-term benefits that may help raise and sustain better customer satisfaction scores in the future.

Jan 16

Why Collaboration is the Heart of the New Organizational Model

Some great feedback on my recent blog posting about merging HR and IT. As I mentioned in my posting, this is part of my overall organization model where I advocate a smaller number of chief officers acting together as a lean management team.

That thinking was inspired by this Harvard Business Review article - When Senior Managers will not Collaborate. According to the research in the article, when professionals collaborate, there is more revenue for the firm and more satisfied customers with better products and services. This is a finding that has been demonstrated in other studies. So, why don’t organizations encourage collaboration?

It is the current prevailing organizational structure that rewards individual achievement over contributing to a team. Stars are valued over a high-performing team (despite the recent quest to create more high-performing teams). The great leader mental model is deeply ingrained in the Western culture and management theory. This is why there is such a proliferation of chief whatever officers whenever organizations face a new challenge such as increasing diversity, effectively using big data, or building an employer brand.

Collaboration is essential, but it is not a natural skill for everyone. Collaboration takes training, willingness to fail, and perseverance. The organizational design has to have trust built into its processes, and there needs to be plenty of feedback to keep collaboration going. This will be a hard process at the beginning but, as the evidence shows, the payoffs are well worth the effort.

Jan 16

Combine HR and IT to Create Better People Management for the New Organizations

I have been interested in making organizations work better since an undergraduate course in organizational communication. Tom Peters’ In Search of Excellence was only a few years old and James Gleick’s Chaos: The Making of a New Science was recently published when I took the course. During the 90s, I devoured all of Tom Peters books along with books on complexity theory, networks, and entrepreneurship. For the last thirty years, I have thought deeply about managing public sector organizations, private sector organizations, and nonprofit organizations. In those thirty years, I have gained an MBA (focused on project management); a Ph.D. (in public policy and management); and several IT, project management, and HR certifications. I even have a Master’s degree in managing political organizations.

I write all this to observe that I have been wrestling with the issue of making organizations work better for a long time. I believe I have the outlines of a new organizational model to achieve better performance while providing a good work experience for the organization members. In the next several blog postings throughout 2016, I will sketch out this new organizational model. In this first blog posting, I want to talk about one feature of this new organizational model that also may be one of the most controversial aspects: combining the HR function with the IT function to provide a better way to augment the organization’s member’s contributions to the organization’s mission.

Let me briefly describe some recent readings that have influenced my argument to combine HR and IT.

1) Bersin’s writings on the Simply Irresistible Organization and People Management changed my perspective on how IT can reenergize HR by creating an IT backbone to the organization that augments the workforce.

2) The Alliance Model which introduced the “tours of duty” concept. Tours of duty abolish the traditional employee life cycle for a more engaging model where the employee benefits by personalized development while the organization has a more engaged employee.

3) The Harvard Business Review July-August 2015 issue that had several articles dealing with the strategic transformation of HR.

4) Dion Hinchcliffe’s writings on the new digital organizations convinced me that IT is also changing to serve the organization better. More specifically, the key engagement factors supplied by IT and the values of the new era of networked organizations.

5) Daniel Pink’s research on motivation.

At the core of my argument to combine HR and IT into one organizational function is the idea of an augmented workforce. Several futurists have written about the combination of humans with machine intelligence to produce a better worker than the human or machine alone. Rarely does HR and IT consult with each other in current organizations but, this will be a necessity as more organizations rely on cognitive computing and the tours of duty as the new employee lifecycle. It has been my experience (and maybe many of my readers) that current IT departments and HR departments seem to be the largest obstacles to doing my work. HR and IT needs to come out of their silos and become a combined department of strategic possibilities rather than their current roles as the Departments of No.

Imagine a future where the organization has an organization-wide IT platform built on APIs and easily configurable to meet current organizational IT needs. Workers can easily bring their work tools (BYOWT) that plug into the platform. Analytical measures are transparent and open while flowing easily through the platform so as to provide real-time feedback on the performance of the organization. Workers are measured on their contribution to the organization’s mission while the organization fulfills its promises to develop the workers based on individually negotiated Tour of Duty agreements. Employee evaluations are continuous and built into the feedback streams as are employee engagement measures are also continuous and easily observable by management (maybe blockchain technologies could help enforce the Tour of Duty agreements on both sides).

Combining IT and HR functions is not because either function does not perform well. In fact, most IT departments and HR departments do an excellent job in fulfilling their respective missions. The problem is that IT and HR departments are often hyperfocused on their local goals to the detriment of the overall strategy of the organization. IT departments have the vital job of maintaining organization’s technical infrastructure while HR departments keep the organization in compliance with the myriad of HR laws and regulations. These are important goals but, it often leads to a restrictive IT network that frustrates users. HR’s overemphasis on compliance prevents it from being a full strategic partner to the organization by helping to find the essential talent needed to achieve the organization’s mission. Siloed and myopic, HR and IT functions are a drag on the performance of the organization.

Talent and technology are what makes a digital organization. Digital organization needs a fully-engaged workforce that has been constantly learning and developing to keep the organizational agile and on mission. The digital organization’s workforce needs a robust IT infrastructure that augments the work of the employees and provides real-time feedback to keep the workforce aligned with the organization’s mission. Combining HR and IT will compel HR to become more strategic in helping to fulfill the organization’s mission while IT will be more supportive of the augmented workforce. This is the first step in realizing the new better-performing organizations of the future.

Dec 15

Government Management in the Zone!

Even though I have not completely read Geoffrey Moore's latest book, Zone to Win: Organizing to Compete in an Age of Disruption, I had to put it down and write a blog post about his brilliant insights. If you are not familiar with Moore's books, he is most famous for taking Roger's Diffusion of Innovations theory and turning it into business strategy. I read Moore's first book, Crossing the Chasm, when I was a Presidential Management Fellow at the Social Security Administration. Although, he was writing about private sector companies, I could see immediate parallels to government management back in the late 90s when the early Internet was revolutionizing how the Federal government operated.

Almost twenty years later, his latest book has also spurred my thinking on improving government management. Moore's Zone Management is simple: companies should divide up their organization's operations into four zones to best deal with disruptive change. The four zones are based on three investment horizons:
Horizon One – Return on investment (ROI) is realized in the first year.
Horizon Two – ROI is realized in two to three years.
Horizon Three – ROI is realized in three to five years.

The reason behind the horizons is to ensure that company is producing revenue today and in the future while containing the potentially damaging effects of disruptive change. A company does this by having four zones:
The Performance Zone – What the company currently does to generate revenue and sustain the company now.
The Productivity Zone – The enabling functions such as IT, HR, and finances that help keep the performance zone running at full efficiency.
The Incubation Zone – Placing small bets on potential disruptive ideas that could propel the company into the next phase of growth.
The Transformation Zone – Scaling up one of the disruptive ideas from the Incubation Zone to be ready to enter the Performance Zone.

As Moore advises, each zone needs to be managed differently with a different set of operational expectations and measures. Overlaid on the zones is a lightweight governance structure that helps guide each zone management system. The key is not to have a uniform method for governing all four zones because that will benefit only one-fourth of the company (for the short term) while mismanaging the other three zones. For example, expecting HR and IT (Productivity Zone) to generate profits like you would expect from the Performance Zone, can greatly diminish the Productivity Zone's ability to support the revenue generation of the Performance Zone. You may have a profitable HR function but if this leads to constant turnover, replacing employees will eat into the Performance Zone's profits.

How does this relate to government? Well, replace the Performance Zone with the Mission Zone. Then, redefine the Horizons as:
Horizon One – The agency's Mission Fulfillment Success (MFS) is realized in the first year and is at or near 100%.
Horizon Two – MFS is realized in two to three years at or near 100%.
Horizon Three – MFS is realized in three to five years at or near 100%.

Stated this way, the agency is constantly focused on achieving its mission now and in the future. The Productivity Zone is constantly refining supporting functions to support better the Mission Zone. Meanwhile, the agencies are using the Incubation Zone to forecast possible disruptions to the agencies' missions and develop solutions to meet the future challenges. Once an Incubation Zone idea has matured and proves promising, the agencies move the idea to the Transformation Zone to scale up the idea and prepare it to enter the Mission Zone when current Mission Zone activities have outlived their usefulness (the Dead Zone?).

What I especially like about Zone Management is that it may help with the current "Twilight Zone" that many agencies seem to find themselves. Twilight Zones occur when there is a mismatch between the zones because of not fitting the right management style, metrics, and outcomes to the right zone. Twilight Zones can also occur when zones are not cooperating with each other, or one zone tries to dominate the other zones. I've seen this happen when certain functions in the Productivity Zone (IT, HR, or Finance to name a few examples) attempt to dominate the other three zones. Zone Management is not a justification for building silos or protecting turf. Rather, the true value of Zone Management is appreciating how different parts of the organization can support each other while recognizing the unique needs of each zone. Good Zone Management is like managing a sports team; every player has their role but, it is the combined efforts that make the organization succeed.

Dec 15

Beware the Sith Mentor

In the last two postings [Part One and Part Two], I described ten pieces of advice I would give anyone entering government service. These were lessons that I learned from working in state and Federal government as a paralegal, HR specialist, a data scientist, and a training professional. Summing up the first ten items - be resourceful and innovative while treating barriers as challenges to overcome. Keep an open but skeptical mind.

My last piece of advice is about how to be properly mentored. I have had several good mentors, and they greatly helped me grow and develop in my career. The kind of mentors you see in Star Wars such as Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda. Mentors that challenge you because they believe in you more than you do (especially in the early stages of your career). They tell you the truth even if it is not what you want to hear at the time. They advocate for you but are also aware of your limitations and will not put you in a situation you could not handle. If you find such a mentor, be thankful for the lessons you will learn. Also, there is no reason you cannot have several part-time mentors in different areas.

However, just as there are good mentors, there are bad mentors. Continuing the Star Wars analogy, there are the Sith Mentors. Not all bad mentors are Sith Mentors. I’ve had several bad mentors who were bad because they didn’t take an interest in being mentors (“Another job on my list,” one bad mentor told me); they really had nothing to teach; or they were not good role models (one assigned mentor had four personnel actions filed against them so I knew this mentor couldn’t get along with people). It has been my experience that having a mentor assigned to you is a mistake. Seek out your mentor rather than wait for the HR department to send you one.

The Sith Mentor is very different from the good mentor or even the usual bad mentor. Sith Mentors are looking for fresh blood to help the Sith Mentor stay in power or gain power. This Mentor will tell you what you want to hear; even if it contradicts what he or she said the last time you spoke. The Sith Mentor is secretive about their past, and only share tantalizing nuggets of information or resources. The Sith Mentor will tell you how they praised you in front of superiors but, in actuality, the Sith Mentor criticizes your abilities and knowledge behind closed doors with your superiors and peers. The Sith Mentor will put you in situations where you are bound to fail (often due to the covert machinations of the Sith Mentor) so that the Sith Mentor can come in and save you from failing.

The Sith Mentor justifies this by telling you that you are “paying your dues.” What is going on is that the Sith Mentor realized early on that he or she could get ahead by using the efforts and ideas of others and presenting other people’s work as their own. The Sith Mentor will be the one telling you not to worry about who gets the credit but, the Sith Mentor’s name is at the top of the list when the work is being presented. Even when you are credited with the work, the Sith Mentor is behind you telling how it was their advice and experience that helped you achieve. Fail to show the proper gratitude and you are just being “emotional” or “ungrateful.” The Sith Mentor does not worry about losing you as a mentee; they often have several mentees at one time and will often pit the mentees against each other to fight for the Sith Mentor’s favor. The Sith Mentor often leaves a trail of disillusioned mentees behind him or her as the Sith Mentor advances in his or her career.

How do you avoid the Sith Mentor?
• Take your time in choosing a mentor. Sith Mentor’s will often rush to offer their mentoring before the new government employee can find out the Sith Mentor’s reputation.
• Observe your potential mentor for several months before approaching him or her. Do they have integrity? Are they well-respected by his or her colleagues? What do people say about the potential mentor when the mentor is not around?
• If the potential mentor has current mentees or former mentees, ask the mentees’ honest opinions. Be careful of the mentees that have nothing but praise for the mentor. Sith Mentors are expert at creating amazing loyalty in mentees. Look for a balanced appraisal of the potential mentor.
• Consider having more than one mentor. A sounding board of professionals is much better than relying on one person’s advice no matter how good the mentor is.
• Document, document, document, and then document some more the work that you do. A good mentor will appreciate your documentation while it will be easier to demonstrate how you contributed to a great product. If a mentor tries to dissuade you from documenting, you have a Sith Mentor.
• If you are currently in a Sith Mentoring relationship, drop the relationship immediately. Find a good mentor if possible. Also, realize that you will have to do some work to repair the damage that the Sith Mentor did to your reputation. It will take some time and realize that the Sith Mentor is probably still criticizing you to your leadership.
• Refuse to play in any games that the Sith Mentor will try after you break off the relationship. Realize that the Sith Mentor wants to cast you as being “emotional” or “not yet ready for the responsibility.” Be civil and don’t criticize the Sith Mentor. Even so, defend yourself and your work. You may decide that you want to move on, and you do not want the damage caused by the Sith Mentor to follow you into the next job.

Again, I do not want to persuade you from not having a mentor. Public service can be confusing and challenging. Good mentors help you understand how to use YOUR talents, skills, and knowledge to become a great public servant. It has been my experience that many government workers are good, decent people willing to help each other and that there are many good mentors out there. It is rare that you will run across a Sith Mentor but, now that you know how to spot one, you know how to steer clear of his or her influence.

Dec 15

Unconventional Advice for Millennials Entering Government Service (Part 2)

Previously, on Rambling Bill: I told you how I came up with this list of advice for folks just entering government service. It may sound cynical in spots, and it is unconventional, but rest assured that all of this advice has worked for me. Now, the next five pieces of advice from the list of eleven.

The Warren Buffet Rule of Advice – This is what I use to determine when to take someone’s free advice. Imagine you are sitting on a park bench. A fellow comes up and offers to give you financial advice. Before taking the advice, ask if the fellow uses the advice himself. Is he dressed nicely? How is his bank balance? Can he buy you lunch? A good lunch?

Now, imagine Warren Buffet sits down next to you and offers you free financial advice. Does Mr. Buffet have a few hours? Would he like lunch (I am buying)? Does he mind if I take notes? Can I videotape his advice? The point is that you consider whom the person is giving the advice before taking their advice. Have they used their advice and how did it work out for them? This seems obvious, but you will be surprised how often people act on free advice without considering the source of that advice.

I Don’t Believe in the No-Win Scenario – Probably the most inspiring piece of advice I had ever received, and it was from Captain Kirk himself. You are going to face many situations in government that seem insurmountable. Moreover, like the No-Win Scenario, everything you try will not work. That is when you need to step back and look at the situation as a whole. The best way to beat a No-Win Scenario is not to get into one. The second best way is to “change the parameters of the test.” Don’t accept the rules of the situation as a given. Where can you bend the rules or escape the rules entirely? Don’t sacrifice your integrity or break the law in the process, however. However, don’t also accept every situation unquestionably. There might be some parameters you can tweak.

The Married with Children Strategy – For those who are too young to remember, The Cosby Show of the 1980s was a huge hit. This was back when there were three networks (ABC, CBS, NBC). At the time, there was a new network startup called FOX. Now, FOX had to get viewers and get viewers fast if FOX was going to be the fourth network. So, FOX created a project by the codename – “The Anti-Cosby Show.” Take the warm, family wholesomeness of The Cosby Show and create a show that was the exact opposite. Thus, Married with Children premiered and became a huge hit among the viewers who had overloaded on the sweetness of The Cosby Show. You will see the same thinking with some innovators who take an established project, program, whatever and completely reverse it. It is quick, it is easy, and, sometimes, it even works. Sometimes.

The Stargate – This metaphor comes from my favorite book on public administration: If We Can Put a Man on the Moon. This should be required reading for everyone entering the government. The book describes a ten-step process on why the government cannot seem to do the big things it used to do such as the Interstate Highway System or the Apollo Missions. Right in the middle of the process is the “Stargate.” If you are familiar with the movie of the same name or the three Stargate series that were on the Scy-Fy Channel, then you know that a Stargate allows instant travel between any two points in the universe no matter the distance. In this case, on one side of the Stargate is Congress or the President and their laws or executive orders. On the other side is your agency. Both seem like alien worlds to each other connected only through the Stargate. Anything sent from one side of the Stargate to the other side can seem distorted or totally alien. Even so, your agency has to implement the law or executive order no matter how well the agency understands what just came through the Stargate. Learning how to navigate both worlds on either side of the Stargate will help your career.

Chicken Committee Chair – Back when I was teaching in person at the University of Louisville, I would volunteer for the Communication Department’s “Soul Food for the Good” fundraiser. One year, I was selected the Chicken Committee Chair. The job of the Chicken Committee was to go to the local grocery store deli on the morning of the fundraising lunch to pick up the 200+ pieces of freshly fried chicken and bring them back to the university. When I asked who was on my committee, I was told I was the only person. “That is why you are the chair,” they said. Long story short: I burnt my fingers loading the large boxes of greasy chicken into my car, had to fight off dogs when I stopped at a traffic light, had to drive with my head out the side window because all my windows were steamed up, and my car smelled like fried chicken for about two weeks.

The point is that even though it was not a glamorous assignment and I had to do it alone, the fried chicken was the essential part of the fundraiser. Without my efforts, all we could sell were sides, and that would not have made the fundraiser the resounding success that it was. So, even if you have the “honor” of being the Chicken Committee Chair, do the best job you can and make it successful. People are counting on you.

In my last posting on advice for people entering government service for the first time, I will warn you of the danger of the Sith Mentor. He or she may not look like Darth Vader, but they can be just as deadly to your career.