Management Lessons From the Road: “Believe THAT”

By Robyn-Jay Bage

Management lessons can be found in the most interesting of places.

Bage febRecently in the WWE Universe, WWE Superstar Roman Reigns soundly won the Royal Rumble. By design, the winner of the match earns the right to a title match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Although WWE is an entertainment company, the wrestling is athletic, requires impressive stamina and strength, and involves dangerously physical maneuvers. Reigns’ achieved victory in a brutal bout.

Over the course of an hour, Reigns survived a steady stream of competitors. He went through 29 contenders and tossed a whopping 12 accomplished wrestlers out of the ring, setting a record for the event. Lest anyone doubt the extent of realism in that fight, Reigns emerged victorious but also bloodied, bruised and visibly exhausted.

His win was not contested. However, having accomplished this incredible feat the Powers that Be denied him the title match he’d believed he’d earned. The result – an angry and mistrustful employee.

Here is the lesson, an application of the Expectancy Theory:

  • If employees don’t believe their effort will result in the level of performance you require.
  • If employees don’t believe the desired level of performance will result in a valued outcome.
  • The outcome is not valued; employees will not be motivated and engaged.

As managers, this means that we must know what our staff value, what they appreciate and desire. Does Paul appreciate a gift card to the local coffee hut or would he prefer a day off?

We must also be clear about our expectations and the standards to which we hold people accountable. Without this information, our employees may be unclear about the amount of effort they need to exert. Moreover, they won’t recognize when they’ve succeeded.

Finally, we need to follow through. If the desired outcome isn’t achieved, despite meeting the target performance standard, the employee may never again believe that his or her effort will lead to something of value. In other words, they may never again believe YOU.

In case you’re wondering, Roman Reigns didn’t quit the WWE. He remained a Superstar. He was given a new standard to meet (another fight to win) and having met it earned—again—his reward, the title match.

But let’s be clear: This is not a common result. Disappointed and disgruntled employees aren’t usually our superstars, even if they started out that way. Only happy and engaged employees are. As Mr. Reigns’ motto aptly advises, “Believe THAT.”

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Are We Turning Back the Clock?

The Ongoing Debate About Abortions

By Winnie Eke

With the introduction of six anti-abortion bills in Congress, it seems the government wants to control a woman’s choice. Granted the country is divided over abortion but it appears this Congress wants to make its mark on controlling what a woman does.

I wonder if it is not in the best interest of the nation for Congress to focus on other substantive issues as Eugene Robinson indicated, like middle class stagnated income, infrastructure, global trade and terrorism.

I wonder what will happen if Congress passes bills that help living children than trying to “protect” the unborn. Maybe this is a way to keep the poor and marginalized where they are – pregnant, uneducated and poor.

Your thought.

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Is “Innovation in Government” an Oxymoron?

By Geoff McLennan

Time and time again, we learn that some old government project has failed and cost the public millions. In California, we have witnessed millions spent on information technology legacy system renewals that eventually will run; on health services that eventually will work; on prisons that eventually will rehabilitate or emancipate. In national media, we see the same sagas in others states and in the federal government. All the while, the taxpaying public, corporations and some of the very wealthy pay for services that eventually will get it right. It is no wonder that innovation in government is perceived as an oxymoron. I can hear the late actor Jimmy Stewart now: “Well, get off your government chairs and fix things!”

Let’s look at some of the facts about government and innovation. In 2011, noted innovation researcher Marianna Mazzucato published The Entrepreneurial State, wherein she argues that the most risky and uncertain investments underlying most technological revolutions were undertaken by public sector agencies. Literally billions in federal government funding went into developing the Internet and aviation enhancement. Federally funded development continues today in health care research, with multiple beneficial spin-offs.

The same concept applies to state and local governments that have recently funded hackathons and projects that renovated old processes to create better traffic, health and social services, such as the phenomenal improvement in child care service in Los Angeles County. Almost 100 cities across America have chief innovation officers. Obviously government can and has innovated. So why do we continually acknowledge obsolescence in government process and procedures? According to Ronald Reagan, “Status quo, you know, is Latin for the mess we’re in.”

Academic researchers, many of whom are ASPA members, have noted steady improvements in organizational performance and morale when leaders make deliberate attempts to implement creative solutions in government programs. Many ASPA chapters nationwide recognize innovation with annual awards during Public Service Week. Experts are quick to note that leadership needs to sponsor; endure the downside risks; and defend and support innovative processes and legacy systems, as the 10 percent of successful innovations offset the losses of the 90 percent of innovative efforts that fail.

How long can 30 year old processes, procedures and patch-worked information technology systems endure? Does your government program have an innovation officer and foster an environment in which anyone, without harassment or retribution, can propose an innovative solution? Where is the innovative leadership in government when the public clientele so badly needs it the most?

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ASPA’s New Normal

By Craig Donovan

Over the past few months, as the cold winter winds have blown about, I was privy to a breeze of another kind. A conversational whirlwind has swirled around the upper echelons of ASPA dealing with issues of the ‘problems’ which ASPA faces as well as probable ‘solutions.’ I will not bore you with the details but I could not help but be struck with a strong sense of déjà vu. Declining membership, chapter inactivity etc., etc. are the same issues we discussed in national council two decades ago.

Over these same 20 years, I have been a transplant to the Garden State of New Jersey. For those of you who have never been, the late night talk show hosts are right when they joke about the grittiness of the lands around the northern turnpike. But they are wrong in failing to mention all the beauty there is around the state. However, the butt of jokes or not, Joisey has a host of problems.

Twenty years ago as a new resident, I remember reading about how New Jersey had some of the highest property taxes in the nation. People were “mad as hell,” and they weren’t going to take it anymore. Our roads and bridges were also in bad shape. Did I mention we exported more college students than any other state? The talk of the time was that things had gotten so bad that major reforms were just around the corner.

Well, you can imagine what comes next. Each year the numbers get a little worse. Taxes keep creeping up. Our roads and bridges are worse than ever. We still export the most students of any state, great minds that more often than not never return. No matter how bad things get, we find a way to accept it as the new normal. Now this is not to say that there have been no changes and that nothing has gotten better. But, sad to say, things are more the same than different, more still sagging than soaring.

Looking back at ASPA since the late ‘70s, certainly since the ‘90s, we too are still sagging. We have not crashed and burned as some have feared, but neither have we soared to new heights. Overall, things are more the same than they are different. We tinker around the edges. We rename our committees and task forces. Each year’s new president brings some new priorities. But over time, we have soldiered on and have pretty much come—-full circle.

I wish I had all the answers. I had, and still have some. I ran for President and lost (and that is a blog or two in and of itself). But I do believe that in ASPA, like in New Jersey and the nation, the leadership structure is part of the problem. Our council structure, both in form and function, combined with our executive leadership keeps us keeping on but not getting better.

I am not convinced that we fundamentally want to be better. We do not want to be worse. We do not want to cease to exist. But we are not disposed to try those things that might succeed, but in doing so would change that with which we have become so comfortable.

If 90 percent of New Jersey residents got fed up enough with the status quo to move out of state, the state would soldier on secure in its constitutional sinecure. If 90, even 40 percent of our members moved on, I am not sure we would be so secure. Perhaps then there is hope that one day, things will get to a point where we dare to be inventive and innovative enough to see a 21st century ASPA arise, Phoenix-like, from the organization that has so steadfastly stayed the same.

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Seeking the Gold Standard of Survey Accuracy (Part II)

By Tom Miller

Part one of this blog was published Jan. 6, 2015. Click here to view.

As I looked through jurisdictions’ surveys conducted by my own organization and interviewed Scott Keeter, director of survey research at PEW Research Center, I uncovered a number of examples that offer reasonable proof of the accuracy of surveys that have no link to voting outcomes.

Mr. Keeter pointed to a series of studies by PEW that demonstrated close concordance of national survey results based on reports of about one thousand respondents on their demographic characteristics, health status, receipt of government benefits and more – with results from tens of thousands of Americans collected in U.S. government surveys.

PEW findings also showed close connection between the characteristics of those who responded to surveys (these days only 9 percent, on average) and those who did not respond when comparing party affiliation, financial status and voting behavior, giving real confidence that those who do respond are largely like those who do not.

In our own research on hundreds of unique places across the country we found these examples of survey accuracy (to list only a few). They are examples of concurrent validity because they show how survey respondent opinions are linked to existing conditions to which we would expect them to be linked, if the opinions were accurate.

  • In places without buses, residents give the lowest ratings to public transportation.
  • Where the bus runs every five minutes until two a.m., is free and safe, residents give the highest rating for public transportation.
  • Once a city builds a library or recreation center, ratings of these services spike (and sustain).
  • Residents of poor cities in Southern India with turbid water that runs intermittently only from stand pipes on the street give ratings for water service lower than in any U.S. city.
  • Ratings of snow removal plummet after an impossibly heavy winter storm.
  • In a city with smelly open drainage swales, residents give low ratings to storm drainage.
  • During The Great Recession in the U.S., residents from communities across the country gave lower ratings to their personal economic outlook than they gave before or after the recession.
  • Where roads are mostly dirt, residents give lower ratings to streets than where roads are paved.
  • Where communities have invested in the construction of road connections, residents rate traffic flow better than in communities where no such investments occur.
  • In a community where the primary water source is polluted by mine tailings residents give very low ratings to water quality.
  • Long time residents of communities favor population growth less than do newcomers.
  • Wealthier residents of communities feel safer than do poorer residents.
  • Renters generally are more supportive of property tax increases than are property owners.

When you receive the results of a survey, take a moment to assess whether resident opinions square with your understanding of the community. Do residents in sections of the city without recreation facilities give lower ratings to recreation opportunities than do residents near to parks and recreation centers? Do low recycling ratings fairly reflect the fact that the community offers no curbside recycling? Are public trust ratings in the dump, as expected, because the mayor was just sent to prison? Are quality of life ratings really high the year you receive a national award as one of the top 10 best places to live?

Even though response rates are low and falling, there remains plenty of evidence to support confidence in high quality local government survey results, and you should add a review of your own data, if doubt lingers.

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Free Community Colleges?

By Wiha Powell

“Forty percent of our college students choose community college,”… “Some are young and starting out. Some are older and looking for a better job. Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market. Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt.” –President Obama

In one of the best speeches of his presidency, President Obama proposed two free years of community college for everyone during last month’s State of the Union address. This proposal comes as the knight in shining armor for millions of high school graduates and other Americans who seek the opportunity to attend college.

The president’s proposal was tailored after “Tennessee Promise,” which offers two years of free-tuition to community college or technical school for Tennessee high school graduates. The program is a last-dollar scholarship, which covers costs that are not covered by Pell Grants or other federal programs. The president’s proposal comes at time when most jobs require applicants to have at least some college education or credits.

The word “free” is always a crowd pleaser. Therefore, it is not hard to figure out why there is so much excitement around the president’s proposal. However, the only downfall is that community colleges have the reputation of having low standards, low graduation rates and diplomas that are worthless in the marketplace. Furthermore, a majority of the students that attend community colleges are high school students unprepared for university or who cannot afford to attend university. But on the bright side, community colleges do succeed under such touch conditions. Moreover, if such proposal was to pass, dramatic improvement to the curricula and graduation rate is needed.

Having free community college will be a game changer especially for low and middle class families. Today, many understand the importance of a college education. This was clear during the Great Recession. Unemployment among college-educated individuals was relatively low compared to people with only a high school diploma. This program can offer the opportunity for many young people to step into a college classroom without worrying about cost, which can result in a college degree becoming the norm in our society.

Offering the first two years of community college for free is a bold step. The president, our leaders and the nation should capitalize on such plan. It attracts young people back to the education system and creates a system that will have America winning again in the global economy.

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SNAP 2016 and Beyond: As We Prepare This Table…for All of Us

By Henry Smart

Thanks to the likes of Mitt Romney, there has been recent media coverage about the plight of the poor in the United States. A timely report, recently released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) states that approximately 1 million adults will lose their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

The CBPP report highlights the fallout from the temporary patchwork necessitated by the Great Recession. During the Great Recession, states received waivers to extend the SNAP benefit thresholds to give support for those willing to work but unable to find employment. With the uptick in the economy, waivers will go away and CBPP suggests that the need for extended food support will remain.

A major claim in the CBPP report is that very few states provide work or job training to all who need it. While this claim might be true, I won’t bore you with trying to confirm or debunk the claim. Instead, I thought I would push this discussion forward by identifying the states that will be most impacted by the economic shift and the anticipated reduction in SNAP waivers.

Using statistics from 2013 as a reference point, I created a SNAP participation index (participation/state population) to identify which states might be affected the most by a reduction in SNAP waivers.1 The results are depicted in the figure below. For the sake of this exploration, states with a SNAP participation rate of 18 percent or more are deemed as having high SNAP participation or high impact.

Key Facts:

  • Our nation’s capital shares the highest SNAP participation rate (22 percent) along with the state of Mississippi.
  • Majority of the high impact states are in the southeast region of the United States.

Smart jan

Do the states with high SNAP participation have job training programs?

The short answer is…yes. All 14 of the high impact states2 have job training programs, also known as Workforce Investment programs. Whether the needs of the 1 million are met will be partially based on the states’ response. Unfortunately, no matter how strategic a state’s response is, the state programs will only have partial control over the food plight of the 1 million poor.

The situation calls for attention from the federal government as well. All factors considered, high impact states should have a more strategic response to the reduction in SNAP waivers than those states with low SNAP participation. As states attempt to address this issue, here are a few ideas that might help in the development of a strategic response:

  • Consider employment opportunities with local government. Encourage cities to waive some of the restrictive job requirements for entry-level positions with city government for SNAP recipients.
  • Examine what other states are doing. Workforce Investment Act program administrators can learn from other programs in their region and in other areas of the U.S.
  • Partner with local businesses. Administrators should try to increase partnerships with local businesses that are willing to offer internships and paid job opportunities. The development of strategic partnerships is probably already occurring in most states. However, increasing efforts in this area could only improve the results.

12013 data was used for this discussion because 2014 population estimates were questionable.

2Washington, D.C. is included in the count of 14.

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