I absolutely love infographics. How about you? Good ones suck you in and share content in a way that is easy to absorb and make connections. That's why I loved this one from Rintu Biswas from MyTasker. Let me know what you think.
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.
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…
The first step in seeking out a better relationship with our leaders is to separate what’s about you and what’s about them—and sadly, a lot of what we see our leaders do is about them.
How can you tell?
• Public temper tantrums, negative rants, biting or sarcastic asides, and exasperated speeches—are about them. This is the show poor leaders put on. Leaders who let their contempt show publicly figure it’s more efficient to get their message of power and control to a larger number of people. In contrast, good leaders initiate calm, private conversations and provide the opportunity for back-and-forth dialogue. These conversations are worth listening to, even if your boss is awkward in initiating the conversation or stumbles to find the right words.
• Advice that boils down to “just be more like me” is about them and should be filtered before taking it to heart. Great leaders seek to bring out the individual strengths of each person and don’t attempt to replicate their own perceived strengths (which can be grossly distorted) in others.
• Veiled negativity coming from the top is about them. Seeing these patterns can be tricky, but they are often found in the space between the company policy (or the law) and how employees are subtly encouraged by their managers to get work done. Leaders at the top are saying the right words in meetings, but they are getting the message out in other ways that compliance with the rules or laws is bad for business. This more generalized negativity is relayed down through the hierarchy of managers and should be recognized as a big red flag.
• Feedback on how your approach isn’t producing results is about you.Even when the talk is tough to hear because the delivery is awkward or unpolished (or even has a tinge of frustration), feedback about your performance is about you. This is especially true when it’s provided in a timely manner in private and is specific to the issues. As difficult as these conversations can be, feedback is absolutely critical to career survival and, ultimately, to your raging success. I know firsthand how hard it is in the moment to see “fix this” directives as the gift that they are. Dismiss or diminish these conversations at your own risk.
The second step is to recognize just how toxic leadership contempt can be to leader–follower relationships—and to organizations as a whole. Such contempt, and the attitude that it’s “us against them,” can spread quickly within organizations. Attitudes are passed around in every conversation and shape how people think about the issues and what options are on the table to solve problems.
Can contemptuous leaders change? Of course, but they have to want to. They have to want to see the damage to morale and the real, bottomline business costs caused by turn-over and opportunities missed because the staff was too discouraged, distracted or defensive to pursue new work.
Once a leader has decided to change, a world of options opens from leadership training on improving emotional intelligence to effective time management and delegation to crafting inspiring speeches.
However, undoing past damage and preventing future staff loss comes down to the leader growing a sense of empathy that eventually crowds out their negative tendencies. Specifically, get well plans include:
1. Read more. Starting with biographies of past leaders, getting a more in-depth understanding of how respected leaders think can start to sink in.
2. Forget the golden rule. Many of us “grew up” professionally in very different times. Because something was common practice years ago doesn’t make it the right or best way. Further, just because a leader doesn’t believe they’d mind having a specific negative behavior inflected on themselves, doesn’t make it ok to turn around to do it to someone else. Great leaders hold themselves to a higher standard.
3. Turn the tables. It can be helpful in the moment to imagine the person across the table is one’s own child or parent or a dear friend. Trying to see each person’s humanity and inherent value is critical.
Great leaders continually examine their attitudes about staff, competitors, and the business and fix the unproductive ones before they infect the business. One of the greatest opportunities afforded to leaders is the chance to decide in advance what they want their legacy to be. Each of us has the chance each day to lead with contempt or lead with consideration and appreciation.
Whether it is retrieving astronauts from space or clarifying a tactless comment that created a firestorm for someone in the communications office, all organizations face challenges that force employees to think and act differently in response.
At a time when many agencies just want to fly under the radar and focus on mission work in anticipation of the next administration, there are a few that can’t seem to avoid critical attention for their handling (or mishandling) of organizational issues. The VA continues to struggle with ridding the agency of underperformers. Homeland Security faces questions about executives’ use of private email. And the National Park Service faces accusations of employing “scum” by one especially vocal Congressman.
As the public gets a glimpse into the leadership’s handling of public crises, one has to wonder what’s going on beneath the surface with the career staff. How does a pounding in the press affect morale and engagement?
We intuitively know that an engaged workforce—one that shows dedication and effort in their work—is crucial to high-performing organizations. In fact, one study in the Harvard Business Reviewshows that employee engagement is key to reaching organizational goals, reducing turnover, improving work quality, and improving overall individual employee health.
We also know that high-performing organizations are better able to handle moments of crisis. But what about those organizations at the other end of the spectrum? What are they missing?
The very nature of some organizational challenges makes employee engagement especially important. For example, problems stemming from unethical conduct or incompetence among one or a handful of senior staff can be hugely damaging for organizations already on uncertain ground with their employees. Conversely, those with strong workforce engagement are more likely to view those events as one-offs and not as systemic problems. In moments of crisis, an engaged workforce can be the key to a quick recovery that minimizes the distraction and disruption when big problems arise.
According to one study, 73 percent of full-time workers surveyed encountered ethical lapses in management. Of those, 36 percent say they were distracted by the incident. For some, distraction means an entire day or more of productivity lost. Because of their size, large organizations have more to lose in terms of productivity and engagement when a crisis occurs.
The solution is preventative: Engage employees now to improve performance when times are good and minimize disruption when problems occur.
How? Most traditional approaches focus on leadership action and attempt to isolate employee engagement from other issues. Often, well-meaning organizations start by conducting an employee survey to collect insights into engagement drivers and barriers. Then, senior management convenes to discuss the results and develop an action plan to address the findings. More experienced executives then review progress against the plan at regular intervals and hold leaders accountable for results.
While this approach may incrementally improve results, there is a better, simpler way: Engage employees on actual problems. Invite them into a participative process to share what they and their teams need to fully unlock discretionary effort. Employees who believe their opinions are valued will have the best ideas to create a better workplace experience that benefits them, their teams, and the overall performance of the business.
This post originally appeared in GovExec.
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.