Too often we spend time coming up with corporate and organizational values that sound nice but are never really used. I recently had the chance to interview Alex Bard, the CEO from Campaign Monitor. Under his leadership, the company actively uses their values to drive both day-to-day and strategic decision-making. Read more about how here.
Performance metrics matter. We know this and yet we continue to track things that have little to do with our goals. The better alternative is to make sure that you're measuring progress against the things that matter most to you and your future. Here are four steps to think through that process.
I'm trying to move away from outputs-- such as number of contracts-- and focus more on outcomes. Did I create a connection with a client? Did a client come back after the project to ask more questions or start another task? Would we both want to work together again?
What do you track on a regular basis?
INCREASING BUY-IN BY SHIFTING FROM ROLE-BASED TO ATTITUDE-BASED EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT
Gaining buy-in is something we often treat like a "check the box" exercise when, in fact, it's much more complex and costly.
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?
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 matrix above includes two dimensions including 1) perceived program value (high or low) and 2) implementation pace (early adopter, passive supporter, and resistant).
- Refine the categories to mirror the categories of concerns
- 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
- Develop messages and outreach opportunities that match the needs of each attitude category
- 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.
Too often we think about the long list of things we need to do to to advance within our organizations. What we don't reflect on as often are the small things we can do each day to increase our power and influence- positively.
Here are three simple ideas of things you can do tomorrow. You will end the day with more say and sway then you started with. Promise.
- Be a connector. Internally or externally it doesn't matter. Opportunities come up all the time to make a warm introduction that will benefit someone in their professional pursuits. This isn't just about new jobs or new business but more about helping people within your circles broaden their horizons and hear another perspective or lesson learned from someone else who's been in their snow boots.
- Curate your own commentary. We all have a running internal dialog filled with reactions and ideas. Some are more practiced than others at filtering what comes out. Curating your own commentary means only jumping in with input that moves the conversation forward. When time is limited (and it always is) negativity, unnecessary examples, and meaningless amplification irritate and waste time.
- End office drama. Nothing crushes productivity and morale like office drama-- and most office drama is manufactured. Opt out. Even the most inane issues can become super distracting if allowed to grow or continuously flow. Ending the drama means avoiding talking about anyone not present, firing or reassigning staff quickly when needed (if you're in charge), and helping colleagues balance two beliefs-- our work is important and it's all going to be okay.
My teammate and I presented our strategic planning approach to a client the other day. After the hour-long presentation and a couple of questions she said, “This looks great. I just don’t know if we’re making a mountain out of molehill.” Her concern was acknowledged and we assured her that the pace and depth of the process could be adjusted according to their needs. And so, we began.
As we said our goodbyes and planned to meet again, it struck me though that every strategic plan is a choice between a molehill and a mountain. The difference isn’t defined externally. It’s internal to the organization. It is the leaders’ vision and ambition.
Every mission in every organization- no matter what stage or how constrained- can do things bigger, better, faster, more flexibly, more inclusively, with more heart, or with less friction.
Anything is possible.
Change is coming. Disruptive forces are at work changing expectations, competition and our own attitudes about the purpose and possibilities within federal consulting.
Back in the ’90s and early 2000s, federal management consulting was a booming business. It wasn’t new per se but it sure was growing. The economy was strong, unemployment low, and we shared a common belief that our biggest enemies were beyond our borders.
Those of us working in federal management consulting at the time look back with memories on these growth years when clients could still travel, everyone was armed with a copy of MS Project, and we had frequent afterhours planning meetings catered with “the big shrimp.” Most of us worked in small, energetic teams headed by a lead with a voice and a vision. There was a sense of excitement about the possibilities and a generally positive outlook for future business and professional growth.
The problem is that we’re the same but the business isn’t.
The change began with budget cuts. According to a Bloomberg article, federal spending on management support services dropped 28 percent from 2010 to 2012 alone. And it continued with an Obama administration push to not only cut budgets and deficits but to streamline organizations and improve government efficiency, effectiveness and accountability.
At the same time, the private consulting industry was facing changes. In 2013, HBR published an article on Consulting on the Cusp of Disruption. According to the authors, “disruption displaces an existing market, industry, or technology and produces something new and more efficient and worthwhile. It is at once destructive and creative.” Knowing that the federal government lags behind industry, we’re right on the cusp now, ourselves.
The authors go on to say: “The pattern of industry disruption is familiar: New competitors with new business models arrive; incumbents choose to ignore the new players or to flee to higher-margin activities; a disrupter whose product was once barely good enough achieves a level of quality acceptable to the broad middle of the market, undermining the position of longtime leaders and often causing the ‘flip’ to a new basis of competition.”
Everyone knows it but what’s one to do? No highly competitive gaggle of Type A’s could sit idle while the business morphs in front of them. Of course, not. Alas, we must study it, then manage it!
So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that federal management consultants hear the warning bells going off on the future of their business. In response, they are busy gathering data, trying to figure what it all means, then making sudden and awkward decisions. Some have dramatically slimmed senior ranks. Some have cut benefits. Some have sold off business units that don’t seem to fit anymore. Some have bought other business units to diversify their services. Some have developed new lower priced staffing options. And some have done all of these things and more.
If early response efforts like these are any indication — we’re looking at it the wrong way, worried about the wrong risks, and busy treating the symptoms rather than the cause.
Federal management consulting is less than three years away from being upended and we’re not ready.
Superficial talk among federal program managers and their management consultants centers on the headlines. What big issues are you facing? On cue, they’ll sigh in unison and start in on decreased budgets, leadership uncertainty, retirements, and the evergreen challenge of making change happen—getting people onboard to actually accomplish something. Anything.
What do these climate conditions have to do with disruption? A lot.
- Dollars spent with little change. While federal government spending on management consulting has seen budget cuts, there are still billions of dollars being spent. (The top federal contract in fiscal year 2015 alone was $30 billion, according to Bloomberg Government.) And yet, despite the dollars spent, federal staff and program managers have been banging their heads against some intractable problems for a long time. They’ve spent a ton of time and a lot of money trying to fix them, often with little result. In the words of one senior federal executive, “Consultants may add value by asking probing, open ended questions at certain times but in my experience progress, and sustainment over time only works when the plans of action are created from within an organization.” To be fair, the slow progress and dim results happen for a lot of reasons and a contracted consultant can’t be expected to affect change within an organization to which they can only recommend action—not actually direct work.
- A sea of sameness. There are more than 5000 federal management consulting firms operating today, all competing for a piece of shrinking pie. Aside from size standards, it is virtually impossible to tell the difference between them. The competition has fueled a boom in creative marketing campaigns to help those firms gain attention, according to a 2014 Washington Post story.
- New competition coming from unusual places. The Obama administration was been on a roll recruiting Silicon Valley talent from Google, LinkedIn and Twitter for what Fast Company is calling his stealth startup, with a purpose of changing how government works. And, according to a Washington Post article, finding Silicon Valley partners is a priority for Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. The moves took many by surprise. And, it’s amazing that not one of the big consulting firms beat him to the punch. Not one. It's too early to tell how the Trump administration's meetings with technology leaders will be woven into new policy directives.
- Promotion and advancement model unable to keep up. If all of the consulting employees gathered in a big field and each level stood on the shoulders of the ones immediately below, you’d have a massive pyramid (and pretty wobbly one at that because consultants aren’t generally built for acrobatics). Before they toppled into a huge heap, you’d want to notice that the bottom 2/3s or so weren’t very happy. Most feel like they should already be at least one level higher in the stack. The career advancement model is one that attracts ambitious, entrepreneurial people and yet in a stagnant or declining business, there is nowhere for these people to go. So, they’re feeling stuck, frustrated, disillusioned and increasing skeptical of the value delivered by their own management. Firms have yet to adapt the promotion model to reflect the work and accomplishments of staff, get them the advancement they want in a way that all can agree. They’re stuck being evaluated largely by a group of senior leaders who grew their own businesses in a very different market climate. This disconnect creates a rub and a lot of pent up frustration.
So, here we are… a shrinking (although still large) pile of money to spend, an overwhelming number of choices that are virtually impossible to differentiate between, and little insights into how to really get things done. But even with all of that, there is a bigger reason why we’re on the cusp of disruption. The federal consulting business model is fragile. More on that in our next post…