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Showing posts from February, 2013

Internal Communication: More Story Means Less Data Required

When you provide information to your staff, do they know what to do with it?

If the data has no story attached - probably not.

You can give them a gigabyte of words and numbers and photos in an email. Who cares?

If they don't know why it matters then it's easy to hit "delete."

My experience has been that people expect very little from corporate communication. They know it is sensitive. A little hint goes a long way.

But covering the lack with oceans of no-context "information" doesn't cover it either. In fact it can make things worse - just like drinking salty ocean water when you're stranded in a boat.

Most of the time those stories are out there. Not on big broadcast emails. But in small informal gatherings where they must be shared. To make the speaker seem human, the organization real. To break the ice.

There are differences between audiences at work when it comes to communication preferences. There are those who already know the stories because they l…

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's Personal Brand Crisis

In the branding world there are only two things: superficial perception and the inside story.

There is no reality. There is only data. Data means nothing until you give it a frame. Nobody cares about the truth. (What is truth anyway? What is meaning? Graduate school made all that stuff debatable.)

Branding is a game of chicken. I put a story out there (the message), backed by an inside story (the framing of data), and you match me with two levels of perception. The first is what you think without thinking. The second is what you think upon consideration.

Now to Marissa Mayer. She has a serious problem on her hands. Which is that while the data may support her business decisions, her poor choices in communication have created a lot of negative noise around her personal brand. Translated into plain English that means: she's losing credibility as a leader.

From a completely outside perspective, watching only the news and the social media space, here are the communication mistakes she is …

Government of the Future - 15 Ideas*

1. The leadership function exists, but is widely dispersed to promote accountability by all. There is a Leadership Council with traditional and nontraditional functions. Those would vary by agency but could include such cross-cutting areas as field operations, finance, communication, change management, diversity, information technology, data science and knowledge management, innovation, strategic planning, policy, and training. 2. Management is predominantly a mentorship function as departments are eliminated in favor of integrated project teams that handle short-term priorities meeting long-term goals. Agency recruits for potential IPT members rather than a vast array of hyper-technical specialists. Sample specialist types could be:  Mission specialist - deep subject matter familiarity with the specific mission of the agency.Communication specialist - ensure the flow of relevant, timely information internally, externally, etc.Relationship Specialist - help people to get along with one …

Iyanla Vanzant, Fix My Government

Iyanla Vanzant on ABC News

"Data, data everywhere" - and sometimes there is not a drop of insight to drink.
Don't get me wrong. I love data. Data takes us out of superstition, the Dark Ages of trusting opinion over fact.
But data can also be an excuse and an enabler of dysfunction. Data is sometimes our way of saying - "I don't want to see what I know is right in front of me."
Branding, really is intangible data. It's perception. You can't see it, you can't measure it, you can't prove it - and that kind of data is routinely ignored or dismissed as "not real."
Iyanla Vanzant is a motivational speaker, guru and spiritual healer whose top-rated show "Fix My Life" can be seen on the Oprah network.
She has overcome unbelievable obstacles and emerged to help the rest of us. Here are a few short videos that capture her in action. If you have a few minutes I hope that you will discover her contributions and think about the ways we can …

5 Tools That Make Work Life Easier For Less Than $5 (Total)

1. White noise "music" helps to focus on one task at a time - I like "Clean White Noise"

2. Forward your calls to Google Voice - it transcribes the voicemails.

3. Doodle.com saves time scheduling meetings.

4. The 99 cent iVocal app for iPhone lets you talk-to-text (email or SMS). Set up a contact called "dictation" with your email address and use that for voice notes.

5. The Blogger app is handy for blogging during a boring train commute.

7 Counterintuitive Productivity Tips for Workaholics

1. Try to be productive at all times. Do not force yourself to "do nothing" in the name of relaxing. This will only stress you more.

2. Instead, force yourself to take a break from work by working hard at other productive things.

3. Redefine for yourself what productivity means. If being a good partner or parent is one of your goals, then pure relationship time is productive.

4. Measure and manage your soft skills over time. Listening for example is an extremely challenging thing to do if you are an action-oriented person. Improved listening skills quickly yield tangible results - e.g. you understand people and situations better - and this can encourage you to develop such skills further.

5. "Play" hard. Workaholics are usually intense types. Do exciting non-work things or do boring things in an exciting way. Hiking without a compass is exciting because you can get lost. Grocery shopping where you time yourself to get it done in 29 minutes or less is exciting because …

Excuses, Excuses

In every social institution there are three kinds of people: change agents, traditionalists and those in the middle (who can go either way or don't care).  Inevitably change agents, being who they are, will agitate for improvement of whatever kind. Traditionalists will resist it. And everybody else will watch, wait and see which way the wind blows before acting. It seems to me that the trick when it comes to effective change-making is for constructive change agents to listen to and work with the constructive traditionalists. Some change agents literally just can't sit still - they live to stir things up. That's not positive energy. Negative traditionalists - the gripers and the snipers - have the opposite effect. They will do anything to torpedo any change initiative except one that reinforces the way things used to be. The organization needs constructive people of all kinds - including constructive traditionalists. They are the ones who defend the culture and carry the torch.…

Why I Write Every Day

In the past I told myself that the writing was only for the sake of building a living breathing resume. A brand.

That's not really true. You can do a lot to build a personal brand that's easier and faster than a blog.

Plus the blog is often not connected to a professional lesson. I'm never sure where it comes from. Like a rock bouncing down a mountain the words sort of hit me in the head first, then are filtered through my heart. Boom, boom, boom. It hits the page.

Why take the time out of everything else in life that is fun, and potentially useful? It's not like there are millions of comments, or a big book deal waiting at the end of the line.

One answer, I think, comes down to control. Often it's like you're just walking down the street and life just gets you. Like a mugger who hits you in the head and takes your purse - you're simply helpless. Gasping for a breath.

Powerlessness is the moment of sitting there on the sidewalk, stunned.

Empowerment is shifting f…

5 Misperceptions About Internal Communications In The Federal Government

1. That executives don't care - yes, they do, it is a top priority, so much so that there is perhaps too much fear of getting it wrong. When a method works executives are very consistent with it.

2. That executives won't talk - they will, but official communication is closely coordinated internally and externally and at all levels, for accuracy and consistency. They are very focused on getting it right.

3. That writers are devalued - the opposite is true, very good writers are highly valued and kept close.

4. That there is fear of negative feedback - it's not a fear, it's more like a desire for positivity and a solution orientation amid all the sniping, griping or silence.

5. That metrics are ignored in favor of subjective judgment - close attention is paid to whatever metrics are rigorous and available.

* All opinions my own.

Dealing w/ Workplace Ghosts, Skeletons and Emotional Baggage

If people are really just souls walking around encased in human bodies then perhaps we deal with them wrongly.

Instead of taking what we see at face value - what they look like, what they say, what their resumes offer as narrative - it might be more useful to go a step beyond.

What if we looked at people (and groups, and institutions) as collections of experience, repositories of intention, higher beings with a mission in life?

What if we took in their energy, their histories, the memories they hold and the cultures that have shaped them?

What if we knew the families and relationships that our colleagues hold dear - or have hated?

I have never for once in my life believed that work is impersonal. Or that it can be divorced from your self. Your soul.

The truth is we are who we are all the time. And to deal with people well at work, you must understand the inner factors that drive them.

You may not have time, energy or inclination to pay attention to all this. But that sad reality makes it no…

The I and the Me - Building a Corporate Brand (Slide Download)

This is an overview of my process for building a corporate brand. The way I work is framed by one school of sociological theory, "symbolic interactionism" (SI). More on that in a minute. The main difference between corporate branding and product branding is the development institutional capacity. In product branding your focus is outward, whereas on the organization side it's holistic. Internal and external stakeholders are equally important, and you get your message across in three ways: 1) What you say (content) 2) How you act (culture) 3) Doing things the same way repeatedly (consistency) The reason you need sociological theory, specifically SI, is that more often than not there is a disconnect between the message the organization sends out (or the messages, which are frequently discordant) and the perceptions that key audiences have of it. SI attacks that problem by putting your self-perception (the "I") into a dialogue with the perceptions that others have of you…

Call It B******t

There are old fashioned rules about polite and not polite, job saving and job killing behavior.

One of these is staying quiet when you have a valid point to make.

In battle situations this rule makes sense. War is not brainstorming. The leader makes the call.

But winning in the modern, knowledge-based and collaboration-based business world has different metrics. It's impossible to know or control all. So leaders have to take good advice. More than that. They will fail, utterly, without it.

Many people are afraid they don't have good advice to share. For whatever reason - they don't feel adequate. They censor themselves before one word comes out.

What's sad, and wasteful is that usually honest feedback makes some sense. We do not like to hear it, often, but its absence sends us spinning off into mistake-ville. The house of mirrors. Where we hear and see only ourselves. (Agreeing with every last word.)

We ought not punish people who give feedback. But the fact that we do is no…

How To Ask Colleagues For Data - 10 Tips

Is it your job, or a part of your job, to ask people for information for a living? If you are a knowledge worker chances are the answer is yes. And it's not always easy, because people are busy. The bad news is that hunting down answers always involves some form of challenge.The good news is that you can turn it into an art.Here are some things I've learned over time that help me to be more effective in less time.  Short but doable deadlines: Pressure makes for action. But if there's no chance of meeting the deadline people won't bother.Be Specific: Phrase the request in terms of the concrete rather than the abstract. If there is a constraint associated with the information, include that (e.g. fiscal year) but if not, be clear that any information is useful.Get The Source: Ask for a link to the original information or the original document. Along the way, find out if the data is a matter of public record or not, and treat it accordingly.Clarify Your Authority: Unless they…

Gaming Authenticity

There is really no way to communicate well other than to say things that matter.

The truth.

But that doesn't stop people from trying.

The way to tell truly authentic people from gamers is that relevant honesty stings.

When you ask someone, "How did I do?" and they say "Actually, not so well, and here's why" and it's accurate - that is valuable feedback. But it hurts, too.

People who step up to leadership roles - be they formal or in the community - are required to say uncomfortable things.

That is the essence of leadership: corrective vision, phrased as an actionable path.

People in leadership roles who talk, but say nothing, are just fakers. The market does not have much room for them, and even that gap is shrinking.

Say something of value, that is true - even true for you. Or don't say anything at all.

Why Sheldon ("The Big Bang Theory") Should Be Microsoft's Next Spokesman

Image via QuickMeme, source here

Microsoft is messing up their brand image by trying too hard to be Apple and Google. They should not have Bing commercials on Google's home turf. Bad!
Instead the goal of branding is to make virtue out of what you already are - accentuate reality. Reality plus so to speak.
Sheldon from "The Big Bang Theory" is cool right now. Microsoft should get him to be their "spokesman" or at least do extensive product placement on the show. 
Think of how similar Microsoft and Sheldon are: Both brilliant but arrogant. Both socially clueless.  Both hopelessly geeky, but capable of a certain geeky charm.
Microsoft + Sheldon: A winning brand combination.

The Public Owns The Data

On Thursday night my daughter pointed to my face, under my right eye and said, "What's that?" "What do you mean?" I studied her vaguely worried expression. "Those things," she said. "Lines." "WRINKLES? I'm getting WRINKLES? Oh my G-d." I went to the mirror but didn't see anything. Friday night my husband looked at me funny. "What's that?" Again, that area under my right eye. "What do you mean?" I studied his face just like I had hers. Except he seemed to be laughing a little. "The lines," he said. "You're getting wrinkles." "OH NO." I went to the mirror. I did not see anything. Or maybe I did? Blame it on the makeup, blame it on the weather, blame stress. I'm not going to admit a thing. Very kindly my daughter added, "You've staved them off long enough, Mom." Gee, THANKS! Freaking out about wrinkles is not only about looks. Really it's about your own morta…

Why To Use LinkedIn Even Though You Hate It

LinkedIn right now is like the Sharepoint of professional networking. It’s a common tool, and most everybody uses it, but it is often difficult to understand.

To make matters worse it’s intimidating to put yourself out there (“what if I say the wrong thing?”) and uncomfortable to be “self-promotional.)

Nevertheless you have to do it - because LinkedIn, like physical exercise, healthy eating or financial planning, works best as long-term insurance not as a short-term salve. It is reputation management in the form of a living, breathing, online resume.

Note that exercise, salad and money-saving are not fun things to do. But medicine, including preventive medicine, is often bitter.

You make an upfront investment (the profile) followed by a little deposit at a time (status updates, keeping accomplishments and projects current), and in so doing establish a professional brand that is real, consistent and stable.

Plus you can export your profile as a PDF and use it as your resume, so no need for …

Sequestration As An Employee Engagement Opportunity

Lots of articles flying around about sequestration. The federal workforce is uneasy, waiting. Instead of letting fear fester like an open wound what if agencies would say something like this:

1. Yes budget cuts are coming.

2. Yes we are at risk.

3. Yes we have some room to cut.

4. Yes your performance as a group can improve.

5. Yes we can tell you what improvement looks like.

6. Yes we will train you, if you commit to the plan for improvement.

7. Yes we want your ideas on how to save money.

8. Yes we want you to stay here.

9. Yes your years of service mean something to us. The more the better.

10. Yes we are in it together.

Note: All opinions my own.

The Exaggerated Pain of Misbehaving Leaders

I strongly believe that our feelings about leadership go back to Dad.

When was the first time you realized yours was fallible?

Probably around 1976, my Dad and I spent some time, once, feeding the birds on our back porch.

That is literally my only such memory. After that he traveled a lot. I got souvenirs from an extended trip to Korea. At home, rarely saw him except to argue this or that.

Decades later. My Dad and I are actually friends now. I have become very similar in fact. Work too much, obsessed with technology, jokesters, politically almost completely aligned.

I spent 25 years angry at my Dad before we got to this place. And now - I'm over it. I think I realized that I am human just like he is. And responsible to make my own life worthwhile - not to wait for him or anyone to take care of me.

Mostly when we are angry at our leaders for disappointing us - we are working through some anger at Dad.

Maybe when we forgive him without false justifications, we can evaluate our leaders&…

The Cold, Hard Case for Social Media, Cloud and KM

If anyone remains unconvinced that we must move very fast to a shared work environment across the government or any organizational unit of work, consider this: Employees are more mobile than ever. They stick around only as long as the job makes financial, logistical and emotional sense to them. When they leave, information and insight departs with them.New information comes at the organization more quickly than ever. It's carried into the organization by employees as well as external stakeholders who interface with employees. As well as by the media, Congress, organization-watchers and so on who simply discuss the organization outside its walls. We are constantly bombarded with data.The insight generated by this information changes the scope of our projects, creates requirements for new projects, and obliterates the need for old ones.Appealing to employees themselves to make this change is silly. "What if G-d forbid you died tomorrow? How would anybody at work find your stuff?…

To Promote Culture Change, Don't Talk About It

Photo by Kin Mun Lee via Flickr

Conferences and self-help books promote lofty ideas. At work that means empowerment, collaboration, "going virtual," and so on.

But when it's time to actually implement a vision it's wise to never talk about it on that abstract level.

Instead start with a requirement that is very specific and preferably tied to the introduction of a new technology.

You let people know way ahead of time that the requirement is coming. You talk about it frequently, knowing that most of what you say - if not all of it - will be ignored as people cling to the old way.

When the requirement arrives you let people continue to work the old way for a period of time that feels lengthy enough. Even if it does not feel efficient to you.

You hold meetings and training sessions and brown bags and forums where you talk about the technology tool - only briefly touching on the requirement if at all.

The people doing those sessions should be focused on building good relationsh…

10 Things I Would Do As "CEO" For A Day

Sometimes it's fun to do a thought exercise where you're in charge. Here's the result of mine. It focuses on government. (What would you do if you were instantly made leader of the place where you work?) 1) Stand up an Office of Human Capital to absorb HR, Training, Workforce Effectiveness, Organizational Development. Mandate 360s. Post results in the aggregate, internally. 2) Crowdsource a 360 of the Agency by any interested party - what functions are inherently Agency, which can be accomplished through shared services (interagency), which should be contracted out. Post the results publicly. 3) Stand up an Office of Citizen Engagement to absorb all communication, open data and data release functions. 4) Eliminate any "administrative" category of work as a catchall and replace it with specific functions - customer service, project management, knowledge management, etc. Retrain existing administrative assistants to perform these functions. 5) Implement Google Apps or a…

What Did You Accomplish? Only You Know

Maybe it's true that "most men lead lives of quiet misery."

But I think it's also fair to say - "most people's happy moments go completely unnoticed."

The other night, motivational speaker Tony Robbins appeared on Piers Morgan's talk show.

He said happiness comes from living a meaningful life. Set a goal, make a plan, find joy in a journey that matters.

Nothing new to talk about that.

What's novel is to choose a path that is meaningful FOR YOU.

I've never believed that you cleanly set goals and reach them. Too much happens to interfere with such a simple path.

Rather I believe that life throws you a baseball. You lean in with your baseball bat and give it a "thwack."

Somewhere in the process of being bombarded and hitting back, you clear a path forward and hopefully, occasionally -- or even once -- strike it big.

When you have those moments it is likely that nobody knows. Or cares. The only one who is truly aware of the significance is you.

The Irrational Bureaucracy: 5 Paradoxes Government Must Solve To Be Relevant

1) The nature of bureaucracy is to impose order, but the nature of bureaucrats is to impose complexity on that order. 2) Governance is required for team productivity, but the most productive employees are normally the least governable. 3) Employees provide most of the value in any bureaucracy, but the nature of bureaucracy is to devalue the employee. 4) Bureaucracy relies on the flow of information to run effectively, but its structures tend to stifle the flow of information. 5) Information economies rely on rules-based organizations, but the proliferation of rules prevents the fast adaption that information economies require.