Stewart Liff In the News
How to spot a turkey farm
Stewart Liff is extensively quoted -
By Camille Tuutti
, FCW, Jan 14, 2013
...... Stewart Liff, an expert in human resources management who spent more than 30 years in the federal government, said turkey farms remain an issue most supervisors struggle with governmentwide.
“I haven’t been to one [agency] where it wasn’t a problem,” he said. As for how many federal employees are poor performers, Liff said he has heard estimates ranging from less than 5 percent to upwards of 10 percent.....
Using Visual Management To Improve Performance
How displays of data and sensory stimuli create a better workplace
By Stewart Liff, OHMYGOV, August 27, 2012
Eighteen years ago, I walked into an organization, took at quick look at its space and quickly realized that it had only one sign up anywhere. The sign was on a supervisor’s desk and said, “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?” Recently, I walked into another organization and scanned their environment. It had a few pictures hung up here and there, but nothing that really moved me or seemed to be relevant to today’s overwhelming challenges.
Neither space had virtually any performance goals or metrics posted. (As I recall, I did see one graph hung up in the more recent organization I visited – however, it was over a year old.) Neither space displayed information about employee performance. Neither space was overly focused on highlighting or honoring its mission. And neither space celebrated the good work of the employees.
An Interview with Author Stewart Liff - Part 2
GovSupervisor, May 15, 2012
GovSupervisor is pleased to publish the second part of our interview with Stewart Liff.
What do you think the impact of Gen Y workers entering the federal workplace will be?
SL: They are a horse of a different color as they have grown up in a new world. Social media is an important part of their world. They are more accustomed to communicating via text message than over the phone. They are much more computer savvy than the previous generation, and more comfortable working in a virtual environment.
They are already changing the way government operates in many different ways. For example, the huge push toward telecommuting is partly driven by the competition to attract and retain new talent.
An Interview with Author Stewart Liff - Part 1
GovSupervisor, April 30, 2012
GovSupervisor is pleased to publish the first of a two part interview with Stewart Liff. Stewart is a human resources management expert, author and consultant, who has held many high-level positions throughout his distinguished four-decade career with the federal government. During his most recent assignment, he managed the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Los Angeles Regional Office, which employed over 400 people. His books include Managing Government Employees, Managing Your Government Career, The Complete Guide to Hiring and Firing a Government Employee, and his latest, Improving the Performance of Government Employees.
Thank you for speaking with GovSupervisor. What are the biggest challenges facing federal supervisors today?
SL: The two biggest challenges are managing a shrinking workforce, and dealing with increased demands for performance.
Improving Government Performance – Part Four
Writing employee performance standards...
By Stewart Liff, OHMYGOV, March 15, 2012
In my last column, I talked about how to establish performance metrics. Today I am going to discuss one of the most difficult aspects of managing individual employee performance – writing employee performance standards.
In my experience, this is one of the tasks that supervisors struggle with the most; even though it is one of the most important. After all, if employees don’t know what is expected of them, how they going to achieve management’s expectations? How are their supervisors going to be able to rate them? What will be the basis for giving out awards? What criteria will they use to distinguish between employees when making decisions regarding promotions?
Shaping Space for Success: The Power of Visual Management
The Public Manager - March 15, 2012 - Spring 2012
Visual management can held your agency deliver better service. Combing performance management, human resources management, organization design principles, and fine arts shapes your environment to positively influence your employees and improve overall performance.
This article is reprinted with permission from the Volume 41 Issue 1 of The Public Manager © 2012, The Bureaucrat, Inc.
Improving Government Performance – Part Three
This time let's focus on – performance metrics
By Stewart Liff, OHMYGOV, January 22, 2012
In my last column, I explained how to manage employee performance. This column is going to focus on another part of the puzzle – performance metrics.
There is an old saying: “you get what you measure.” This means that employees focus most of their energy on achieving the organization’s goals and objectives and relatively little time on other areas that are not measured. This also means that it is extremely important to measure the right things; otherwise, the workforce will waste an enormous amount of time trying to hit targets that are not important to the organization.
Wanna Make a $10,000 Bet?
Stewart Liff mentioned - Men's Health News, December 14, 2011
Accompanying the same group of people to lunch every day will give other employees the impression that their workplace is driven by relationships, not performance, says Stewart Liff, a human resources consultant.
Improving Government Performance – Part Two
How to manage the performance of individual employees
By Stewart Liff, OHMYGOV, December 8, 2011
In my last column, I explained how to manage performance at the big picture level. That is, how organizations can achieve their overall goals. This column is going to focus on how to manage the performance of individual employees.
To me, employee performance is a function of five primary components: 1) the way you select, train, develop and treat your workers; 2) the tools (computers, software, manuals, physical plant, information, etc.) you provide them; 3) the expectations you set and the manner in which you give them feedback; 4) their performance; and 5) the degree to which there are reliable consequences for every level of performance. Let’s look at each component in a bit more detail.
3 Tips on How to Deal With a Difficult Manager
Posted By Camille Tuutti, Federal Computer Week - November 8, 2011
After last week’s post on how federal managers can best deal with difficult employees, you probably have some ideas on what to do if you find yourself in that situation. But what can you do if the roles are reversed and you are the one working for an impossible manager? Whatever you do, refrain from becoming cynical, says Stewart Liff, a human resources management expert.
“Whatever happens in government or life, never let them make you cynical,” he said. “Once you’ve become cynical, you lose your credibility, your zest, your enthusiasm for why you came to work, and it will affect every part of your life.”
Improving Government Performance – Part One - Setting up a Virtuous Cycle
By Stewart Liff, OHMYGOV, November 4, 2011
Perhaps the biggest challenge today in government is improving performance, especially with the likelihood that resources are going to be severely curtailed over the next few years. My next few columns will examine ways in which government organizations and managers can improve their performance using down-to-earth, tried and true approaches. For more detailed information on this subject, see my new book, "Improving the Performance of Government Employees: A Manager's Guide," February 2011, AMACOM Books.
In today's column, we are going to look at performance management at the big picture level. That is, how can organizations establish a performance-driven culture?
To do this, they must do several things. First of all, they need to see performance management as the way the organization does business, and not as a separate stand-alone program. This mindset is crucial, because managing performance is something that should happen every day, and not simply at the middle and/or end of the performance cycles. Secondly, they need to recognize that performance management is always about results; it is not about producing outputs and/or doing good stuff.
4 Tips Toward Good Communication for Managers
Posted By Camille Tuutti, Federal Computer Week - November 3, 2011
Government professionals need to boost their communication skills well beyond the basics if they want succeed as leaders and meet agency missions in a fast-evolving world amid global competition, according to a human resources management expert.
With the backdrop of budget pressures and increasingly challenging times for the federal government, managers are grappling with how to best shape and manage future leaders. A surveythat the American Management Association conducted in 2010 revealed that a handful of skill sets – dubbed the Four Cs – are evolving into must-have elements for the workforce in challenging times: Critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.
According to the survey, effective communication is the No. 1 priority in federal agencies but the problem is how to best do it, said Stewart Liff, a human resources management expert who spent 32 years in the federal government. From the survey and his own experience, Liff offered some tips.
Expert: Federal Managers, Deal with Problem People!
Posted By Camille Tuutti, Federal Computer Week - November 2, 2011
Firing a federal employee might be hard, but it's not impossible and managers should not avoid the pink slips when difficult workers call for it, according to an expert.
In a presentation at the American Management Association in Crystal City, Va., Stewart Liff, a human resources management expert and former fed with more than 30 years in government, gave a couple of pointers on how to deal with “problem people.”
Few managers are eager to truly take on a difficult employee, Liff said. He cited the findings of a survey that polled 14,000 federal employees. Asked how likely is management to deal with a problem employee, 87 percent of the surveyed employees said “not likely.” And the responses provided by the supervisors themselves were even worse: 91 percent replied they were “not likely” to deal an employee performing poorly.
How to Deal with a Difficult Employee: 3 types of problem-makers and how to handle them
By Stewart Liff, OhMyGov.com - September 27, 2011
Every survey of Federal employees indicates that their biggest source of frustration is management's unwillingness and/or inability to deal with difficult employees. Dedicated employees hate to work hard all year and then see a co-worker skate by, putting in little effort and pulling down the organization, and then receive the same rating and bonus that they do.
When this happens it has a demoralizing effect on the workforce. They conclude management is weak and not serious about performance. Some will leave in response to this while others will slow down or in some cases, virtually give up. Regardless, unless management deals with their problem employees, it is highly unlikely it will be able to have a top notch organization.
So how do you deal with a problem employee? The simple answer is you should treat them fairly, firmly, directly and promptly. That is, treat any problem employee in a manner that is consistent with your organization's published guidance (e.g. standards of conduct, table of penalties, normal practices, etc.)
The Importance of Dealing with Problem People
By Stewart Liff, OhMyGov.com - July 18, 2011
Whenever I teach a class to government supervisors, I always pose the following question to the group: "What does the government do with a problem employee?" Invariably, the entire audience answers as one, "They move him."
What a sad commentary on the state of human resources management in government. The people who are responsible for managing the government's employees believe that the way to deal with problem employees is in essence, to not deal with them.
The Motivation Factor
Government Executive, Briefing - April 1, 2011
After 32 years in government, including a stint as chief of the Veterans' Benefits Administration's human resources division, Stewart Liff has seen his fair share of employee performance issues. After leading the Veterans Affairs Department's Los Angeles Regional Office to national recognition, Liff has put his management insights to the page in his fifth book, Improving the Performance of Government Employees (AMACOM, 2011). He shared his thoughts with Government Executive.
An Interview with Stewart Liff, Government Management Guru
By Mark Malseed , OhMyGov.com - March 25, 2011
There is not a topic on OhMyGov.com that stirs more interest, passion and debate than how to effectively manage your government career. Through our weekly Dear Bureaupat column, we have answered hundreds of reader questions on all aspects of career advancement and personnel issues in government, from hiring and firing to dealing with difficult supervisors to steering clear of Hatch Act violations in the new wilds of social media.
Recently, OhMyGov expanded its federal workforce coverage by welcoming Stewart Liff, a prolific author and expert on gov HR management, to our editorial staff as a feature columnist. "Stewart Liff on Government" appears regularly on OhMyGov.com. His latest book, Improving the Performance of Government Employees: A Manager's Guide, just came out, and this week I sat down with Stew to talk about it.
You can learn to lead
By Herb Levine, SmartAnswers Correspondent - May 28, 2010
What is a leader? The word is used in different ways. According to Stew Liff, president and CEO of Stewart Liff &
Associates Inc. in Santa Clarita, Calif., leaders are at the highest level of management, above managers and
But you don't have to wait to be promoted into the Senior Executive Service before you can develop your
leadership skills. Start now to increase your chances of promotion.
Don't Blame the System
By Brian Friel – Government Executive - January 20, 2010
Conventional wisdom holds that federal managers can't effectively hire, manage and discipline their workers because the government's civil service system hamstrings them with endless rules, regulations, procedures, limitations and requirements. In many government offices, that conventional wisdom has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Managers throw up their hands and blame the system for their inability to attract strong workers, keep their workforce productive, improve the performance of underachievers and fire chronic poor performers.
A new book argues that managers can oversee their workforces effectively if they adopt a can-do attitude and figure out how to make the system work for them. "While some degree of bureaucracy will always exist in government, the key is to understand the system that is in place, streamline it whenever possible and use it to your best advantage," author Stewart Liff says in his new book, The Complete Guide to Hiring and Firing Government Employees (American Management Association, 2009)
Go into government job for right reasons
Tuscon Citizen Online.com - April 30 2009
I get uneasy nowadays with so many people saying they want to work for the government. The same way I got uneasy years ago when lots of people said they wanted to "get into computers." They didn't know why. Just that it was where the jobs were.
Government jobs may be aplenty and growing. Some estimates range from 250,000 to 600,000 new jobs, primarily due to the stimulus bill and changing government priorities, says Stewart Liff, author of Managing Your Government Career, who also suspects those numbers are too high.
Nevertheless, if that's the direction you're pursuing, know what you're getting into.
First, let's look at the main reason many people -- maybe you -- want to get a government job: security. Job security is indeed one of the advantages of working for the government, says Liff. The government offers more job security than the private sector because it's funded by taxes, doesn't have to make a profit and will always exist in some shape or form. You also don't have to worry about corporate mergers or jobs moving overseas.
But plenty of people lose government jobs. And there is always the risk of consolidation, Liff points out. Indeed government workers do have strong protections. And "the federal government offers an incredibly attractive array of benefits," says Liff.
By Alyssa Rosenberg - Government Executive - February 26, 2009
With the economy in a free fall and federal agencies set to spend billions of dollars in stimulus money to stop it, government is suddenly the hottest employer around. That makes a new guide to help applicants get hired by agencies and to teach them how to succeed once they get there, particularly timely.
In Managing Your Government Career: Success Strategies That Work (American Management Association, 2009) author Stewart Liff advises prospective federal employees to focus on the job and the career path that will bring them the most satisfaction -- and not to place too much emphasis on pay.
"I think people have to weigh pay in the context of their own core values," Liff said in an interview with Government Executive on Tuesday. "To some people, pay is everything. To other people, pay is part of an overall decision-making process. In my experience, people who just chased pay ended up in a job they were miserable in, and ended up returning to a different job."
Be Not Afraid
By Brian Friel - Government Executive - June 6, 2007
A problem federal employee became even more of a problem when he decided to start intimidating two co-workers. He was a big guy who had gotten into trouble at work in the past. He started staring at two female colleagues in a threatening way because they had complained about him.
It wasn't a good situation. But what could his supervisors do? This was the federal government after all. How could they take disciplinary action against someone for looking at his co-workers the wrong way?
Luckily for the two women, upper management didn't agree. Instead of doing nothing, they proposed a bold move -- fire the employee -- even though they weren't sure of the outcome in the notoriously bureaucratic federal appeals process. It turned out that the bully wasn't so tough. Surprised by the strong management response, the employee begged for his job and promised to stop staring. Management eventually gave him a temporary job at another office.
Former federal manager Stewart Liff includes this tale, along with many other battle stories from the trenches of the civil service, in his new book, Managing Government Employees: How to Motivate Your People, Deal With Difficult Issues and Achieve Tangible Results (Amacom, 2007).
ADVICE+DISSENT: Management Matters Be Not Afraid
By Brian Friel - Government Executive - June 1, 2007
You can manage if you've got the guts.
A problem federal employee became even more of a problem when he decided to start intimidating two co-workers. He was a big guy who had gotten into trouble at work in the past. He started staring at two female colleagues in a threatening way because they had complained about him. It wasn't a good situation. But what could his supervisors do? This was the federal government after all. How could they take disciplinary action against someone for looking at his co-workers the wrong way?
Luckily for the two women, upper management didn't agree. Instead of doing nothing, they proposed a bold move - fire the employee - even though they weren't sure of the outcome in the notoriously bureaucratic federal appeals process. It turned out that the bully wasn't so tough. Surprised by the strong management response, the employee begged for his job and promised to stop staring. Management eventually gave him a temporary job at another office.
Former federal manager Stewart Liff includes this tale, along with many other battle stories from the trenches of the civil service, in his new book, Managing Government Employees: How to Motivate Your People, Deal With Difficult Issues and Achieve Tangible Results (Amacom, 2007). Drawing on more than 30 years' experience in federal agencies from the General Services Administration to the Veterans Affairs Department, Liff encourages government bosses not to believe the prevailing wisdom that managing in the public sector is impossible. Federal managers too often are governed by fear, and Liff is out to help them conquer it.
You Can Manage Your Way Out
By Brian Friel -
Government Executive - July 1, 2002
… Good managers in government already know that. They're not waiting for the powers that be to fix the system - although they certainly wouldn't mind if leaders made the rules less rigid. In the meantime, good managers are doing their best to set clear expectations for employees, share information, motivate workers, recognize good performance and help poor performers improve. They spend their days trying to make the work environment pleasant, getting employees the training they need, talking with employees about their work and making workers feel like their jobs makes a difference.
Stewart Liff is one such manager. As head of the Veterans Benefits Administration's Los Angeles regional office, Liff has taken one of the worst-performing veterans offices in the country and made it 30 percent more productive, boosting both the satisfaction of veterans and the morale of the office's employees. His approach relies on actions that are well within the power of any federal manager: share as much information with employees as possible, set clear expectations, base rewards on performance and create a positive, customer-focused work environment.
In government, there are good managers and bad managers. Even if the civil service is reformed, bad managers won't make a good system work. So while members of Congress and political officials in the executive branch work on the system, federal executives and managers need to work on themselves…
Seeing Is Believing
By Brian Friel -
Government Executive - July 1, 2002
When Stewart Liff arrived as the new chief of the Veterans Benefits Administration's Los Angeles unit in 1994, he found an office that Charles Dickens might have designed.
"It was gloom, doom and despair," Liff says. The office's 450 employees had been toiling over veterans' claims applications in the half-dark for two decades because many of the overhead lights were turned off during the oil embargo in the 1970s - and never turned back on. Cubicles and walls were painted bureaucratic gray, nicotine yellow and sickly green. "It looked like a damn dungeon in here," says Richard Brandeburg, a Department of Veterans Affairs manager in California.
Piles of files towered over desks, tables and the floor. The ragged carpet was dotted with squares of different-colored fabrics held together by masking tape. "You could hopscotch on them," Liff says. Workers were crammed on one side of the office while rows of file cabinets took up the other side, getting more natural light than most employees. "The file cabinets had the best view of Southern California in the office," Liff says.
Featuring Stewart Liff
April 7, 2010
Good federal managers need to know how to effectively hire and fire employees. Author Stewart Liff says timing is often what's most important.
December 30, 2009 - 10:42am
Hiring is often a great thing, and firing often is not -- but the ability to do both well is important for any good manager.
March 3, 2009 - 3:16pm
My Federal career began in 1974 and took me to the senior executive level. In this interview I talked about the three critical areas of managing your career, and some ways you can help yourself do better.
February 11, 2009
By Suzanne Kubota , Senior Internet Editor, FederalNewsRadio.com
When looking for a federal job, whether starting your career or trying something new, Stewart Liff, author of Managing Your Government Career, says find your niche.
The key is to get in, try it and find your best fit. Something that just gets your blood running, and that will then take you in the direction you want to go. Don't go after the money: go after the passion and the money will then follow.
Liff says now is a great time to be looking at a federal job, for several reasons.
The big one, obviously, is the stimulus bill. Estimates indicate that anywhere between 250 and 600 thousand new jobs across the government will be created. Obviously that's going to create all sorts of opportunities. On top of that you still have a lot of folks from the class of 1973 in the process of retiring, so that's going to create even more vacancies at every level.
Liff suggests focusing on two areas in particular:
Environment - Administration is clearly going to be focusing on green types of jobs.
Homeland Security - Protecting the country will see growth.
Most important though, Liff stresses finding "where you'll find satisfaction." Remember, a federal career can be a long haul. When coming into federal service from the private sector, Liff suggests the new fed remember they're coming a different culture. In federal service, he says, there isn't "the same sense of urgency. People don't think quite the same, and be prepared to learn from that experience and adjust your expectations accordingly."
But people are people everywhere, regardless of where they work. Liff says to "focus on doing the best possible job and a federal career can be a great one."
July 30, 2008
Interviewed by Michelle E. Clark, Marketing Manager - American Management Association
The persistent myth in managing government employees is that the red tape, rigid regulations and frustrating HR standards have made effective management an almost impossible task. Listen to this webcast as Stew explored a number of techniques for meeting the challenges and stressful situations supervisors in government face on a daily basis.
The Greg Mantell Show: Interview with Pamela Posey and Stewart Liff
September 25, 2005
For all employees and employers, find out how Visual Management can make your company a better place to work and improve your organization's goals.
Blogs Featuring Stewart Liff
April 16, 2009
My radio interview this week with Stewart Liff, author of Managing Your Government Career sparked some great listener emails. Stewart was kind enough to respond to the additional questions with the inside scoop on landing a government job!
Question: How do you get around the system? No doubt there are many of us with great credentials but otherwise shouldn't waste our time due to gaps in our employment, bad employers or firms that have been merged, purged, bought and sold so that we can't provide references. Is this a lost cause? If so, are there still opportunities to work for the government without the paperwork? Consulting? Appointments by elected officials?
Answer: There are several ways to work for the government. The most direct way is to become a government employee. If you do not have references to cover the immediate past, this will not disqualify you for government employment, as they are not really taken into account until the end of of the selection process. At that point, if they like you well enough to tentatively select you, the odds are that a gap in your employment will not be a concern, particularly if it is driven by the economy, which everyone understands has had an adverse impact on many people. Consulting opportunities certainly exist with the government, but there are a wide variety of rules and regulations that govern this process. You can 1) try and consult directly with the government, which often involves having to either bid for government contracts that are announced to the public; 2) get on a GSA schedule as an approved vendor; or 3) work for a company that consults with the government. Political appointments are generally at a high level and often, but not always go to people who were involved in the most recent Presidential campaign.
Guest Post: Stewart Liff on Starting a Government Job
AMACOM Books Blog
March 12, 2009
While last week we heard from Lily Whiteman, this week we have a guest post by Stewart Liff, author of Managing Your Government Career and Managing Government Employees.
While the economy is shrinking, the stock market falling and millions of people are losing their jobs, government agencies are expecting billions of dollars from the stimulus bill. It is estimated that the number of government jobs created will range from 244,000 to 600,000. Moreover, these estimates do not include the vacancies that normally occur in government due to turnover (retirement, resignation, transfer, removal, etc.). Even though the impact of the stimulus bill has not yet been felt, the federal government is currently looking to fill over 41,000 jobs worldwide. Furthermore, this figure does not count vacancies at the state and local levels. From the available pool of jobs, there are approximately 19 million government jobs at the federal, state and local level.