over and out

Good morning!  Thanks for checking in.  How are you? I'm two cups of coffee in and all good here.

I'm writing to let you know that today is the last post on this blog.  Yep!  I'm popping this bubble-- or at least consolidating all my stuff over at robincamarote.com. Goviepop has been so much fun. Not to worry, there is much more to come.

If you like musings on what might make our federal government run better, let's keep the conversation going and focus a bit more on communications strategy and building buy-in with snappy, sticky, gooey content.

Delish! See you soon.

anatomy of a great status report

I love NPR and listen to it every morning in the car-- when I remember to switch from the kid's tunes. Dear Liza has a whole in her bucket after all. Sad but true.  This interview between Melissa Block and General Paul Kennedy on the Philippines typhoon in November 2013 is just one of thousands of examples of great status reporting.

example of a status report

Why I love it

It's logically structured, crammed with facts, oozes details, and is free from too much speculation about what might or hopefully will happen.

How you might use it

Prior to your next senior status briefing, sent out a couple of sentences on the issue and solution-in-progress along with the invite.  Keep it short.  Limit the meeting to 15 minutes or less (including questions.)* Then, separately send a handful of smart questions to the project team. Ask them to come prepared to address them but ban use of PowerPoint. 

*Have you ever noticed that things take as long as you give them? It's like grocery shopping. I can do it in 20 minutes or 2 hours.  It all depends on how long I have to spend in the store. Keeping your meeting durations down actually doesn't limit the information conveyed, it just forces people to stick to the facts and limit extra editorializing, speculation, and wishful thinking.

stand up straight

Need to share some history?  Check out this vertical timeline for inspiration.

Why I love it

Straight up and down is fresh. It'll also force you out of PowerPoint (unless you have a really short history-- which is fine). This format would look great in a report or online. In this example, I love that content can be divided into two logical pieces on either side of the timeline. The color coding was a bit too much for me but it could work with a skinny-d down list of categories.

How you might use it

To introduce yourself.  I see this and immediately think of the quals section on a proposal. Shift gears to look at this from the perspective of your firm or your program and you might imagine project summaries down the left and corporate qualifications or skills going down the right. Looking at the two components side-by-side is compelling and pulls people in. During proposal evaluations, our clients are choked with page after page of table templates and, I'd imagine, would consider this a fresh air. You could set this up once to convey the firm's history and growth, then just do minor edits to ensure you hit the appropriate key words when including it in a proposal. For federal program managers, similarly you could have project phases running down the left and accomplishments on the right. This format helps put the entire program in context on a single sheet.  

printable checklist, better virtual meetings

Many of us spend our days on one call after another. It's almost the default to how works get done. Meet during the day then squeeze "actual" work in before and after hours.

Some of these meetings are fine, some are terrible-- few are actually good and member. I read a stat recently on post-meeting recall.  It's something abysmal. Few of us can remember even 20 minutes after a meeting what the main points where and any key decisions made. Actually, maybe I heard the stat in a meeting and now I can't remember.  Anyway... Keith Ferrazzi shared this helpful piece on How to Run a Great Virtual Meeting on Harvard Business Review.

Why I love it

It's practical and takes the tried and true advice shared in most articles a step further. He makes an unmissable point about doing anything you can to stop multitasking. This is so important and so difficult to enforce-- even on ourselves. The temptations are too great. I participated in an all-day meeting last week where everyone was in the room but one person who called in from Arizona. There are about 1 million things I'd personally rather do but she was game. She actually sat on her couch all day-- away from her computer-- so that she would force herself to listen and participate. It seemed to work pretty well because she was chiming at appropriate points during the day.

How you might use it

I took some of his points and added a few of my own to create this little printable reminder that you can keep near your desk phone. So, print this.

Then, without telling anyone, just start using these techniques in advance of your next meeting. There are a couple of things that (to me) make the difference between a good and totally awful virtual meeting experience. If you do nothing else, I'd recommend banning the "around the horn" brief-outs.  It's an invitation for people to disengage.  Prereads and an agenda focused on gathering feedback and brainstorming is the other way to go. The other thing is to reserve a little bit of time at the end for people (while they're still technically together on the call) to break the multitasking rule and ask them to take one step towards the actions agreed-upon during the meeting. I find that there is this energy spike that happens right near the end that should be seized to propel the group forward. Even 10 minutes after, the action seems harder and is more likely to be put off or go undone.

it all comes full circle

In yesterday's post, I shared one of my favorite examples of small multiples. Save the Children's report on the state of moms around the world focused in a couple of key numbers and repeated the pattern for each country included. 

Here's a totally different example from Simon Rogers Guardian and another very effective use of circles.


In contrast to the small multiples, this graph highlights a subset of countries, organizes them by continent, then focuses on a single metric-- emission levels. 

Why I love it

These circles are so effective because they enable the reader to quickly understand the difference in magnitude on a single data point. I like that it's grouped by continent because it helps orient you to where the lesser known countries are located. I also love the colors but it might leave some people craving Skittles rather than evoking concern for the environment.  Lastly, it's further supported by a couple of line graphs and tables at the bottom for some addition detail. Big stuff on the top, little on the bottom. 

How you might use it

If you like the circles*, consider using them to compare a single important data element across a number of units within your organization.  Program budgets might be one example.  Or people served by a specific program benefiting the public across a number of locations might be another. The key is to pick one important outcome and track it against multiple contributors so that you can see the key players.

To be sure, this took lots and lots of time to assemble. I don't know specifically but I'm guessing it was more than a single afternoon. If you're thinking of replicating a series of charts like these, consider doing it as a poster that will be printed and displayed, as well as, posted electronically. This format isn't appropriate for a PowerPoint presentation.  It should be treated as a stand-alone communications product. Actually, it's a good reason to forget the presentation all together and just do this.

*I had a client years ago who didn't like circles. I'm not kidding. They were banned from all deliverables after we brought him a draft that he glanced at then retitled "the birth control chart" during a big staff meeting. Awesome. I'd never met someone with such an aversion to a basic shape. Primary colors?  Sure.  A lot of people hate yellow.  But a circle?  It makes me sad just thinking about it. I hope this never happens to you.

eye-catching small multiples

Small multiples is Edward Tufte's description of charts like this one. This is an incredibly eye-catching example from Save the Children’s 2012 State of the World’s Mothers report. While I hope you can spend some time reflecting on the challenges facing moms around the world, I'm sharing it here as an example of engaging graphics.

Why I love it

A tremendous volume of data can be effectively summarized using this technique. In this case, the analyst chose circles to represent 5 important characteristics, then varied the size based on their value. This same method is repeated for each country then the countries are grouped into three big development status buckets. The impact?  The viewer can very quickly make important observations on use of contraception-- more common in developed countries. That won't surprise them but maybe a handful of the outliers will. The beauty of the visual impact is that you can look at the big picture, then hone in on a single line of interest, then back out to find another trend, and then dive back in again. The viewer is controlling their interaction with the material and empowered to make their own observations.  Pretty awesome.

How you might use it

If you have a number of different locations, patents, programs, etc. that each have common elements maybe on budget, staff, or some quantifiable accomplishment, then this could be worth trying. Just recently, my team mimicked this very example to show key characteristics of more than 400 geographically-dispersed field units. Our client's reaction was "wow. If we did nothing else, this chart would still be incredibly helpful."  Great! It's engaging and an incredibly effective way to share hundreds of data points while flattering the intelligence of your audience.

only 12 percent of data collected is ever analyzed


Govloop shared this stat in a post last last week and it got my attention.  If someone had asked me for the percent of data analyzed vs. what's collected, I would have guessed less than 100 percent but wouldn't have gone that low.  

The other thing that struck me was that-- for as much time as my client and team spends thinking about data-- we'd never examined their issues with field-level buy-in, demonstrating progress, or general forecasting from that perspective. So, I think it's a great, highly quote-able stat.

Why I love it

It has shock value. Also, it came from a Forrester Research survey so it has credibility.  I did a little digging and found this reference on their site for more information.  It's unclear if this report on hadoop contains the survey data but if you're interested in the exact citation, that would be a place to start.

Here's an excerpt... "In a recent Forrester survey, technology execs and decision-makers ranked data-related projects at the top of their list for importance and investment. Why? Companies seek deeper insights from the massive amount of data at their disposal but estimate that they are analyzing only 12% of the data that they already have, leaving 88% of it on the cutting-room floor."

How you might use it

If you work with data-- and, really, who doesn't-- you can use this reference in two ways.  

  1. From an analytics perspective: Use this single little stat to launch a review of the body of data you/your client collects. Consider the data fields you collect as an entity and asset unto itself. Pull the list of fields into a spreadsheet, then make tabs for all of your common report queries with the lists of fields they're pulling.  Calculate the stat for your organization.  From the stuff that isn't utilized, figure out quickly if you can stop collecting it or find a way in the next 3 months to use it.  I suspect that a lot of these fields aren't used because some people are populating them and others aren't.  So there is no confidence that the data is sufficiently complete to be relied upon for any analysis.  To overcome this, just keep what you can use in the near-term and let folks off the hook for collecting everything else.
  2. From a communications perspective: Take this stat and the one you calculated for your organization and share this in your next leadership meeting. Outline your plan for increasing the use select fields and plan to sunset everything else. Both scenarios represent a win in data use and time savings for data elimination.

lucky how

Today is a fun day to dig out the least hideous green stitch in your closet, recall the days when you made it out to a bar on a "school night", and think about luck. At work, we think about luck in terms of a chance meeting with a prospective client, the inside scoop what a hiring manager is really looking for (usually not technical skills), or finding a Starbucks gift card in your wallet with $9.87 still on it.  Awesome.

Another way people talk about luck is in the context of job happiness-- "I'm so lucky to have found this job, this team, this client assignment because I'm feeling really good about the work I'm doing. " Luck is characterized as unplanned and definitely un-manipulated. But is there a way to set yourself up to invite more luck in?  I think so.

Job happiness is inextricably linked to how we work—not what we do. When we're feeling restless at work, we assume it's a what issue and say things such as, "I just haven't found my calling, or purpose, or reason to keep coming in and putting up with this craziness!"

In fact, we spend so much time exploring our passions and researching worthy causes that it's become a niche industry unto itself. There are a sea of books, coached processes, and retreats all aimed at finding the what.  The reality is that there are so many to choose from any one of them would be awesome.

So, instead of chasing after something so elusive or hoping it just finds us—we need to look at how we work, evaluate what is causes us to slow down, get stuck, or accept a non-update update.  We need to end the distractions, the chaos, the confusion, and infuse focus into our days.  We do that through attacking the how—not the what. Good luck.

Women In Facilities Roundtable at NFMT 2015

photo courtesy of Ballistic Furniture, @BallisticFS

What do you get when you put 100+ women and (smart) men in a room to chat about women in facilities?  A high-energy, fun event with lots of positive ideas exchanged. 

Panelists included Tina Reistma from Sodexo, Theresa Olson from Fannie Mae, and moi! :)  Here's a high-level summary of the discussion moderated by the very talented Naomi Millan. (Photo courtesy of Ballistic Furniture, @BallisticFS)

- What are some of the smartest things women can do to advance their careers?
Being open to new opportunities.  Even when the challenge seemed daunting or you fear you’ll be in way over our head, you have to try and absolutely take chances. You can worry about backing off later if you need to.  Once you jump in, you only have to worry about the issue right in front of your face in the beginning.  If you’re fixated on the enormity of the challenge, new stuff is too overwhelming.

- What are some of the challenges or missteps you have observed along the way?
At times, women are too risk averse.  At others, they’re trying to be someone that they’re not. One example is when new managers are feeling pressure coming from a boss or client. Under stress, new managers sometimes go too far to the extreme or too heavy handed with giving feedback, setting unrealistic deadlines, and not listening when people brought issues up. The telltale attitude is, “yeah, everyone is busy just get your shit done.  I don’t want to hear it.”  
When this happens over a period of time, morale drops and staff may feel no other option than to leave the team. Watching people walk out is so hard—and feeling responsible for their bad experience is a bad place to be. You can avoid this mistake by remaining true to yourself, being honest with your team about the stresses and challenges you’re feeling, and find support in your leadership and network.

- What credentials, training, organizations, etc. have proven to be most helpful to you and why?
There is so much available today.  NFMT is a prime example of the availability of positive, broad, quality content and opportunities. In addition to technical trainings and conference, broad leadership, strategic thinking, and managerial programs are excellent.  Take advantage of anything and everything your organization has to offer.

- In speaking with FM professionals, many seem to have had a moment of reckoning where they realized they were leaders, and they realized they wanted to lead in a certain way. Has this happened for you and what has that meant in your careers?
Yes! Have you ever had the feeling of being part of a team and all of a sudden you look around and realize you’re it. There is no net.  You’re just doing it.  It can make your heart jump for second when you really reflect on the level of responsibility you have.  Then you just get back to work. We have all hit this point a couple of times.  

Many of us are happiest being very hands on. The belief that teams are most effective when they’re working in a positive environment should be spread across all kinds of organizations. Further, working to provide every possible piece of information to your staff on the issues and challenges you’re facing as a team only empowers them to make better decisions and prioritize what stuff they bring you to arbitrate.

- How do you judge that a position is a good fit for you? How do you identify when it is no longer a good fit (here with an eye to trend of women being overly loyal to one position). How do you identify and prepare for that next step?
Many women do fall in the bucket of loyalty (sometimes to a fault) to one organization, boss, client, etc.  One key question to ask yourself is, “am I still learning something?”  When the answer was no, reach out for new stuff.  In facilities consulting, this rarely means that you shed past responsibilities. Instead, you just pick up more stuff. That’s ok to a point because it brings new time management challenges, new relationships, new issues, new staff, and so on.
When you’re truly ready to move on, you’ll notice a number of pieces falling into place. Any misalignment with the organization’s strategic direction or the messages coming out of leadership can be big indicators. Further, when you don’t see a path for yourself and you’ve checked your perspectives and observations against your network, you’ll know when it’s time.
To prepare for that, there are some tactical things about shoring up your network that you need to do.  There are also some personal and emotional things you need to consider.  The first is just anticipate some amount of disorganization and loneliness in the beginning. Before you even leave, line up some familiar touch-base coffees or lunches to help you through the first couple of months.

- What roadblocks do you see women setting up for themselves, and how should these be avoided/overcome?
These aren’t unique to women. A ton of men do them too. One big roadblock that staff unintentionally put up for themselves is talking about the wrong things to the wrong people. We need absolute alignment between the issues we’re bringing up with the person we’re talking to—and we have to put in their context. Oversharing on family issues or reason you need to be out of the office are prime examples. Of course, at times having a conversation about personal issues is necessary with a direct supervisor or manager.  But these shouldn’t be a recurring theme or part of your brand.  Keep your every conversation that you can focused on the client’s issue, business problem, staff’s needs, etc.

- Do you have any advice/tips for effectively negotiating career/pay/benefits? 
If someone comes in with facts—ideally from data they have sourced externally or from an appropriate internal source—and are able to put what they want to do in the context of our larger business, that’s great.  When the manager feels manipulated or threatened, it’s a huge turn-off and a short-term strategy, at best.

- What do you see the industry doing to attract and develop women, is it working, and what should be done better?
Events like this are great.  The other thing we can do is focus on the women already in facilities within our organizations.  Help them envision a path so they stay and don’t leave for greener pastures.  There are oodles of juicy technical, strategic, and management problems to solve.  Second only to maybe healthcare, facilities is something that is growing—it’s not going away.






better next week, vacation edition

We're closing out a chilly, sunshine-y ski vacation in Colorado. It's been a great trip to clear my head on a number of fronts. Here are a couple of things I've been reading and reflecting on this week.

  • Professional coaching is a perq most often offered formally as we grow within our organizations and informally through project managers and mentor circles when we're new. Ed Batista share some ways of working with each other in this piece that would help integrate the best of coaching into all of our professional interactions.  Good stuff.
  • Something has been lost in the tug-of-war between titling managers versus leaders. We need both, we need to be both, and the trend to grow and encourage leadership should run in parallel with the same development emphasis for management. This is an interesting piece in that it helps define these terms and traits which is helpful as we try to pinpoint exactly what we want to see in our colleagues, staff, and executives.
  • Updated guidelines on nutrition don't have much to do with organizational impact but what's interesting is the ability of research and popular opinion to push long-awaited updates to federal food recommendations. An example that it's OK to change positions when we know more.

Have a great weekend!