better next week

This week was a blur. I was pushing projects to a logical hand-off so we can leave for our ski vacation next week with a clear conscience. Done! Well, done-ish.  

In between draft finals and final drafts, here what I was reading and loving this week.  Enjoy and have a great weekend!

Office housework, what?! Don't you love it when someone assembles a couple of words into a phrase that perfectly captures the issue?  That's what Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg did for me in this piece in the New York Times.

I'll stop what I'm doing for writing tips anytime, anywhere. Isla McKetta's article on the Moz Blog is just awesome--  bookmark-worthy for reading again and again. I'll admit that it gives me heart palpitations, though.  There is so much to think about and incorporate at once that I decided to pick one or two things for each big report/deliverable and start there. The next one, I'll pick two more and so on. In the meantime, I'll keep my favorite editor on speed dial (hey, remember when that was a thing?!)

Ok, I'm a big, sappy nerd.  I watched this twice in a row. Maybe because the National Park Service is my favorite client, maybe because I got engaged in a national park nine years ago this weekend, or maybe because I've sworn off chocolate (temporarily) and it's making me emotional. Whatever the reason, this video is just so sweet.

better next week

Shiver. It's still cold, cold, cold here in DC. How are you? How was your week? Mine was good-- some steady progress on a couple of projects and a big WOW from a client on another that still has me beaming. I'm extra proud of my team and their unwavering commitment to trying new things and creating beautiful, meaningful products.

Here are a couple of my favorite articles from the week.  

  • This message came across so loud and clear with me that Stew Friedman might as well have been reading it into a megaphone next to my desk. One to read, think about, reread, then make some changes.
  • The proposed federal pay raise seems like a lot of fuss over a itty bitty percentage but, of course, it adds up across the federal workforce. Isn't there a way to reinvest some of the funds unspent due to retirements in revamping parts (or all!) of the hiring, grading, and promotion process-- or even to set some strategic goals?
  • Many are on a quest to improve public speaking skills and will try anything-- evidence of that phenomenon here. Improv camp might not be desirable or realistic for most of us but there are some solid tips to take-away.

Enjoy and have a great weekend!


call me maybe

This afternoon, GSA hosted a call to go over President Obama’s 2016 budget that included significant increases for public buildings. I had a free 30 minutes so why not listen in?  I'm glad I did but not because I learned a ton about GSA. The format itself is interesting though.

Here's my summary of the call.

Administrator Dan Tangherlini, Deputy Administrator Denise Turner-Roth, and Commissioner of the Public Building Service, Norm Dong read prepared statements. See the internally prepared summary here and an external one here. For three normally suave, engaging professionals, a couple of stumbles made it sound as if they were seeing some of the content fresh off the printer.

To start, they reviewed the budget request and sprinkled loads of words like transparency, efficiency of internal operations, innovation, cutting edge, vital/critical investments (said probably 8 times), etc. They highlighted a couple of points on savings over the last couple of years that resulted from some building closings/consolidations, changing up their approach to staffing, and decreasing space allocations per staff in federal buildings. I heart efficiencies too!

They talked a little bit about St. Elizabeth’s cost reductions (established $1 billion if I heard this correctly) that resulted from crashing the schedule. Curious to know how that's going to work. They also mentioned new courthouse construction in Tennessee and safety repairs in Fort Lauderdale. Oh yeah, I always forget that there are lots of federal buildings outside of DC. And, of course, they've starting planning for new investments in 2016.

They then opened it up for questions. Needless to say, this is a little awkward—even with a moderator who unintentionally interrupted the Administrator. Here are the highlights...

  • There were several random questions from people wanting to say their name/organization out loud, “long time listener, first time caller” types.  Sorry, if your question is on where you might find agency information on the internet, Google seems like a better starting point than the agency's top three executives but whatever.
  • They then had one from GAO that prompted a big “only if we get the money” caveat from their earlier statements. 
  • They answered some questions on how they prioritize projects which is largely customer-driven because of their reimbursable model.

The three emphasized that a key point of their budget is building in transparency on the amount of rent they collect—an important initiative driven by the Administration. They’re eager to continue demonstrating how they reinvest the rents collected into improving the building efficiency including energy.

There was a good question on getting the proceeds from the sale of assets in disposition. It sounds like whether or not they get the money depends so they’re moving towards an exchange model where they can get services instead of money.

In sum, the fact that they host this call at all is interesting. They open these conference lines up to the public from time to time. It's a curious communication technique because the information is, by design I'm sure, very high-level and directly supports the budget request. There really is never anything new shared or insider information offered. I'm curious to know who this scores brownie points with-- their examiner, their internal staff, their clients, their vendors? Does your agency or client do something similar?  

Curious to know what other tactics people are using to build support this time of year-- especially given the big unknowns with this Congress.


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.