Recapture Your Agency’s ‘Why’

How often do you stop to ask why your organization exists? Agencies often forget their identity in the midst of everyday work. The answer usually lies somewhere between “providing jobs for federal employees” and “saving the world.” But that “somewhere between” is very large, and it’s easy for organizations to lose themselves in the vast possibilities of what they could be doing to further a variety of different potential missions.

Employees generally know what they are currently working on or what programs exist in their immediate proximity. However, these activities only explain what an organization does – not why it exists. The why goes deeper than simple legislative or executive mandates. In fact, an organization’s original mandate, its original why, has likely morphed over time.

Why ask why? Read More

Four Immutable Laws of Data

I am often fascinated by the ways in which data is erroneously perceived, collected, stored, retrieved, and reported in organizations. Data of all kinds certainly have limitations. In any given situation, I find that half the people ignore any data that is presented, and half of the remaining people misinterpret the information.

But rather than dwelling on these failures, I believe that a potential solution to data ignorance lies in thinking bigger about data. Data errors would be far less common (though certainly would not be eradicated) if people understood the true nature of data and the relationship of data to the space-time continuum (or some other type of scientific-like thing).

Therefore, I propose the following “Four Laws of Data” to help guide practitioners to understand the interdependencies within the data universe. Read More

Institutional Wisdom as a Tool for Effectiveness

Mature organizations are not necessarily old organizations, but they do share the characteristic of wisdom we often attribute to more experienced people.

Wisdom is generally recognized as good problem-solving and decision-making through an integration of experience, knowledge, and deep understanding. Mature organizations are energetic, vibrant, results focused, innovative, caring, and calm. Having “institutional wisdom,” organizations can operate consistently (across quality, values, performance, results), and easily adapt to change with little to no drama whether or not the leader is present.

They regularly achieve high marks on quality, results, service, employee satisfaction, and adaptation to new realities. They proactively and realistically see issues before they become problems, are solution oriented, transparent, collaborate well with others inside and outside the organization, and get things done efficiently and effectively.

I realize this may sound utopic, but maintaining institutional wisdom is one of the critical roles of the leadership team. Without it, you are forever playing catch up in reacting to the world around you. What a mature organization looks like and how to get there is the subject of this brief article. Making it happen requires strong leadership, a cultural shift for some, and legislative action to reform the budget process and the civil service in a way that both honors federal employees and allows for strong management to support organizational effectiveness. Read More