better next week

Good week, hard week, just whatever? Whether you accomplished more or less than you planned, here are some pieces to simmer on for a better* next week.

  • Believing in awesome begets awesome.  Awesome. Some research from Harvard Business Review worth reading before the next time you cross paths with your staff.
  • Federal program managers will have to get creative if they want to pull ideas from this article on improving customer service. My main take-away is this. The served community has access to many channels to provide feedback. Finding ways to embrace all of those and integrate them into our processes-- as opposed to forcing one channel- is the single greatest way to improve service.
  • More scientific evidence supporting what we already know. Women rock! ;)

Have a great weekend!

3 ways to saturate your messages

3 saturated messaging.png

This morning I did the unthinkable. My phone rang. I didn't recognize the number... and I picked up.  I know.  I'm not proud.  

It was a cold call from a realtor. She was clear in her request and sufficiently pleasant but completely generic. As a result, I was as polite as possible as I found the nearest exit to the conversation.

To start, she mispronounced my name. This is an almost unrecoverable error. Now, it's not that I mind that people frequently stumble over the pronunciation of cama-ROTE (no Y sound at the end). It's not totally obvious but it is an easy filter to apply in these situations. One, by the way, that I'm anxious to use because it's a benefit I never had as a Smith.

Anyway, then her script progressed with no relevant research done (average home prices are up!), connections made possible (I know a great kitchen remodeler!), or successes demonstrated (I just sold something down the street for over asking price!) or even any neighborhood gossip (guess who's getting a divorce?!) Ok, maybe that'd be inappropriate but at least it's interesting.

In the absence of anything specifically relevant to our situation, I didn't see the need to prolong the conversation. However, I might have stayed on if she'd taken a bit more time upfront to saturate her message with a bit more color.

From time to time, we're all in the position of starting a conversation with a decision-maker, prospective partner or client, or the public. How do you build in tidbits that hold someone's attention and make them want to follow up?

Here's my take...

  1. Know how the organization/individual refers to themselves. For example, don't call a Bureau of Indian Affairs staffer and say BIA.  They're IA, thankyouverymuch. This is relatively easy to find out by checking their website, any memos they've published externally, messaging a linkedin connection who had a meeting there once, or checking media coverage (not foolproof but better than nothing.)
  2. Offer specific, relevant research. Cloud contract changes, alignment of new House members to the Appropriations Committee, former agency leaders indicted, etc. Combine this with at least one other data point-- check out a recent post on Triangulation to see what I mean.
  3. Share examples of how your program or offering applies. Mention a relationship with a similar or complementary organization or reference comparable work completed at some place totally different. People tend to be pretty interested in hearing the skinny on what others are doing-- either to make themselves feel good "at least we're not Mississippi" or add some heat under a slow simmering project "they're beating us!" Either way, insights help them build their own case. Use 'em!

Murray Newlands writing for Inc. has some great, practical tips for email marketing here that can be extrapolated out for all kinds of communications. 

Saturating your messaging with these three key attributes may not work with everyone but it'll certainly resonate more than your watered down pitch. Good luck!

Top 4 things you can do to improve buy-in

Increasing Program Buy-in by Shifting from Role-based to Attitude-based Engagement

Sometimes the cost of gaining buy-in seems extravagant—or completely unobtainable. Like a Beltway-proof private helicopter for commuting or full-time hair stylist, it’s a want-ish need or a dream that would make life so much better.

Whether you think in terms of effort or dollars or both, what makes some projects so hard is the anticipation of resistance you will meet along the way. But take a breath, get some coffee and consider how you might apply these three things to improve communication and buy-in today.

What’s the end objective? Shift from role-based (project manager, engineer, HR Director, etc) to attitude-based messages to increase buy-in by more precisely addressing each group’s unique concerns and challenges.

How might this shift from role-based to attitude-based outreach work?

Message Segmentation

Program Perspective Matrix

Program Perspective Matrix

Role-based communications is critical when communicating job requirements but is not precise enough to address an individual’s unique perspective of concerns.

To more precisely target outreach efforts, program managers should segment their stakeholder community by creating attitude categories. The 2x2 matrix below includes two dimensions including 1) perceived program value (high or low) and 2) implementation pace (early adopter, passive supporter, and resistant). 

  1. Refine the categories to mirror (to the degree possible) the general categories of concerns and complaints raised
  2. Estimate the percentage of staff within the broad stakeholder community that fall into each bucket. This will provide some focus and sense of areas of importance
  3. Develop messages and outreach opportunities that match the needs of each attitude category
  4. Roll-out approach, recognizing there will be multiple messages released in parallel

Examples of Attitude-based Categories and Sample Messages

As shown above, there are two broad dimensions of perceived program value and pace of adoption that help define attitude categories.  Using the combinations, attitude groups emerge that can help inform targeted outreach efforts. 

To implement this approach, program managers have to morph the traditional thinking on outreach.  Specifically, key assumptions include:

  • The believers or people who rate high on the perceived value of the program and are early adopters are critically important. These people are continually looking for ways to improve and advance program within their part of the organization. They might be frustrated with the negative feedback because “it’s working just fine for them.”  Confident program managers should encourage this key group to run with their ideas to push the program forward.
  • Reaching out and trying to convince the most stubborn, resistant staff (depending on their role) should be a lesser priority or not done at all. 
  • Outreach efforts should be focused on the top and middle tiers with the belief that they’ll create the momentum and have the most influence.
  • Every opportunity to highlight accomplishments should be seized upon.  Amplifying the positive leaves less time and attention for the more negative, counter-productive attitudes.

In sum, an attitude-based approach will help target messages—regardless of role within organization—and more precisely address their issues and needs for better buy-in.

Products for Busy Consultant Moms

When things get busy this time of year AND I’m spending more time than usual buying stuff online, I can’t help but think of products that would make life as a working mom easier.

working mama.jpg

Consider this a plea directly to the various industries that produce stuff. A call to action of sorts! Let's not stop at silicone lids that turn any cup into a Sippy or fancy day planners with boxes for everything from account meetings to play dates. No! Let’s come up with some things that would actually save time and face. Here are a couple of things that come to mind.

  • Getting out of the house in the morning is a well-documented struggle. So, I'd like a minivan with air vents that blow hard enough to dry and style hair. Nothing quite says, “I (don’t) have my sh*t together” like showing up at the first meeting of the day with a slicked back drippy do. This blo feature could dramatically cut down the clean-to-commute time. It'd come standard but you could preload all your favorite anti-frizz, shine, and volumizing products. There would be settings for various meeting types—polished presentation day, roll-up-your-sleeves creative brainstorming day, and tousled beach chic day (just because).

  • Product #2 should be easy enough. It is an Excel-based baby book. The cutesy templates always struck me inefficient and incomplete not to mention completely guilt-inducing because I really can’t stand the thought of trying to fill out all of the predetermined categories. No, I don’t remember my baby’s favorite song at 3 months. I DO, however, remember this epic diaper explosion at the mall when I was out of wipes and nowhere near a baby changing station. There’s no page for that one but these are the kind of moments I’d like to share with your future friends. So, a tabular format with sorting and filtering features is the way to go. The spreadsheet could feature multiple children to save data entry time. Adding the ability to tag pictures from my phone would be super. Um, yeah. I’d pay extra in iTunes for that.

  • Another handy one? A silencer for my breast pump. I mean, seriously, Medela. Come on! Especially when firing on both cylinders, those suckers are LOUD. The unmistakable “we-WAH” , we-WAH” limits when you can pump to only those minutes of privacy in between meetings and calls—like those exist. A quieter version (or at least one with a more motivational mantra like, “moreCHOCOLATE, moreCHOCOLATE”) would be appreciated.

Not hard. Let’s get to work.

where the nerds go

I'm a member of three professional organizations-- the Project Management Institute, Federal Real Property Association, and the Facilitators Network. These voluntary groups provide a gathering place for fellow project management, federal facilities, and meeting facilitation "nerds" (shorthand for subgroups of people more interested in the details of the how and why of these topics than the general public).

These associations--and the events they each work so hard to put on-- always leave me feeling unsatisfied and suspicious that I've wasted my time.  There is something missing and, I think, the typical event format is part of the problem.  

In the interest of applying to the largest possible audience, broader topics are typically selected for sharing. What happens is that the content is then so watered down that the presenter doesn't really have an opportunity share information that has any practical application.

Further, most of these presentations are slotted for 50 minutes or an hour.  They're centered around breakfast or lunch times and come in pretty uniform blocks. So presenters are then on the hook to come up with enough stuff to fill the air-- which is really difficult to do in an interesting, engaging way.  You have to be a pretty talented speaker/presenter to hold a group's attention for this duration.

An alternative would be potentially to offer events in much smaller time intervals-- 3 slides in 15 minutes, perhaps? Another goal would be to host events more frequently so there isn't as much pressure to fill a room for a once-a-month type of gathering. Lastly, I'd love to see a general trend towards more authenticity around real problems. To protect a client or coworker or self, we seem to gloss over some of the real challenges we're facing.

ramp meter

Let's add Zumba to the list of activities to which new people should be added slowly, one at a time-- like the ramp meters on 66.  I just finished my first (last?) class. Motivated by boredom with the treadmill and curiosity about how many steps I'd score with my fitbit, I gave it a shot. The mid-morning class was precisely and perfectly timed between two client meetings.  *Side note: Have you been to the gym at 10:30am?  It's all retirees!  I don't know why this surprised me but appraently this is where they all go before heading over to Panera for an early lunch of soup and black coffee. 

Anyway, after entering the studio and finding a space in the back, I issued a disclaimer to the group.  "Hi, I'm new."  In retrospect, this fact became so immediately and intensely obvious that it really didn't need to be said. So, everything probably would have been fine if another newbie wasn't positioned so close to me. As the bouncing and bopping started, it was actually remarkable how uniformly out-of-sync we were with the rest of the group.  Effectively,  efficiently, and completely unintentionally, we threw off the whole vibe.

Some processes are so strong and groups so well established that adding a handful of new folks doesn't matter. Others are incredibly fragile. One or two new people performing off cue (despite their desire to do it right) messes up the whole group. Zumba, I've learned, falls in this latter category-- as do grocery self-checkout and EZPass lanes.

And, since this is a blog on organizational performance after all, I'll throw in a work example-- status-ing anything. Your schedule, your progress report, your team's vacation calendar, whatever.  I support a client's bi-weekly project management office (PMO) meeting during which we review the progress on dozens of interrelated activities. The group needed to expand. So, a handful of new folks joined recently and threw off the rhythm-- lessening the benefit for that week and frustrating all involved. In the future, a better approach would be to more thoroughly establish the process, then invite new folks to join the flow from the on ramp, one at a time.