Opinions about branding by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal

Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

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 live them firsthand. For them the more raw the data the better.

Others are very far from the core. They don't know what's "really going on" and they need to in order to feel engaged.

The more shared story exists between organization and worker, the less explanation is required in any single instance. And then the data can speak for you.

It's about turning your heterogeneous dispersed workforce population into a nimble cohesive group that feels like a SWAT team.

To get real stories out takes a lot if courage at first. It means being real. The task is to share the conflict and the drama, the real challenges and how they are or are not resolved.

Communicating this way requires what Rabbi Nachman of Breslov called a "broken" heart. Not a depressed or pessimistic view. But rather the kind of openness that comes from realizing how fractured and uncontrollable any circumstance can be.

The stance of "broken" is not at all weak - not by a long shot. It is strength in humility and honesty before G-d (the Divine, the Universe) that witnesses and gives life to all things.

Broken communication is telling the story as a kind of living testimony. Neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, but always a struggle to achieve the mission.

Stories. Brokenness. Conflict. Drama.
A good laugh.

These are the things that people want to read. And once they get it, a little information goes a long way.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


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 making. All of them have to do with being tone-deaf when it comes to the brand.

1) Narcissism

Usually it's good to hire a high-profile, powerful-seeming person to turn a tanking brand around. But Mayer seems to have grabbed the spotlight. I seem to read about her in the news as much or more than I read about Yahoo. These days leadership is about helping the workforce to accomplish great things, not the genius leader. It's a lesson we all painfully learned when Steve Jobs passed (RIP).

2) Insensitivity

Mayer comes off as a privileged person who has never had to work a day in her life. Maybe she had good reason to end telecommuting - maybe the workforce was taking advantage - maybe they were doing that a lot. But the fact that she built her own nursery at work and then denied others the  same flexibility seems hypocritical. She should have known what people would think, and anticipated that in her communication on the subject.

3) Unpreparedness

Internal memos are routinely leaked these days. Media and social media scrutiny is ruthless. A skilled leader anticipates potential public relations crises and has a plan for addressing them, primarily going on the attack before the attacks come in. Mayer always seems like a deer caught in the headlights.

4) Inexplicability

I've been reading about various things Mayer has been doing to try and turn Yahoo! around. Some of them seem good - particularly her personal focus on new hires. Others I can't figure out, at least from a branding perspective. As others have pointed out, why would she go on the Today show to announce the new homepage when they have a partnership with ABC and Good Morning America?

5) A Darwinian Approach

The worst mistake Mayer is making has to do with how she treats people. There are iPhones, free food - and unrealistic deadlines. While everybody wants to excel, it is infuriating to bring your boss an idea and have her take it, then threaten to throw you out if you can't deliver it irrationally early:
"Mayer told the team she loves the new product so much that she wants it shipped by December 1 – months ahead of the schedule the team itself had put together. Mayer told the team they had one week to figure out if they could meet this deadline. If, at the end of that week, the team decided they would not be able to meet the December 1 deadline, Mayer said she would find a team that could." - Business Insider
Had Mayer first looked at the Yahoo heritage and isolated its "Brand DNA" - or what made it great in the first place - she could have worked with the workforce to revitalize the company and bring it back to health along a steady path. Instead her moves seem disjointed and erratic. She needs to mend fences with her team, put them out front, then explain what the company is doing, why and how - over and over again.

___

As always, all opinions are my own.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


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 another.
  • Data Specialist - find information needed at any given point in time from the masses of data out there.
  • Technology Specialist - ensure that the most innovative and useful tools are being applied to do the job.
3. IPTs are formed by posting project opportunities on an electronic bulletin board and letting people sign up. 
4. Performance management is determined by a point rating system - 360s at the end of the year. Your job is to do your job and earn those points not from a single manager but from the spectrum of people who work with you.
5. Goals belong to the government, and the Agency and its functional units serve that. That concept is clearly and consistently communicated rather than having any encouragement of local "tribes."
6. Employees are empowered to share information through internal social networks but responsible for knowing what is and isn't cleared; what can and can't be shared. There is an official repository of information easily accessible and maintained by the Agency.
7. There are no assigned workspaces. You work wherever you can get a seat. If you need private workspace you sign up for a temporary carrel. Telework policies are clear, comprehensive, and there is support for virtual work along with a system for accountability by staff.
8. There are writing tutors who can translate subject matter-speak into plain language. This is a service performed as a matter of course. We do not ask subject matter experts to be writers.
9. There is increased emphasis on retaining a direct-hire workforce throughout the career lifecycle, to preserve institutional knowledge, stability and continuity.
10. At least one day each pay period is set aside for training, performance management, or both. Work/life balance is generally encouraged to help employees avoid burnout. If there is excessive workload, rather than accommodating that, the workload is treated as the symptom of a problem.
11. A central anonymous suggestion system allows employees to submit all kinds of feedback and suggestions without fear of reprisal.
12. There are technology "genius bars" staffed during normal work hours so that you can receive walk-in help anytime.
13. We think in terms of billable hours - e.g. we don't waste a skilled person's time on tasks that can be performed by someone who would charge less. There is a strong emphasis on eliminating unnecessary work, administrivia, duplicated efforts. 
14. Maximum decentralization with strong central controls - most things can and should be decided at the local level, but existing central controls are enforced through a variety of mechanisms - primarily funding.
15. There is a central Customer Service helpdesk (preferably governmentwide but at the very least Agencywide) staffed 24/7/365 with instant chat, email, and telephone options.

_____
* As always, all opinions are my own. These ideas are not necessarily new. A variety of management thinkers, some well known and others less well-known, have shared similar thinking. See especially the work of Gary Hamel at Management Innovation eXchange, http://www.managementexchange.com/users/ghamel. 

Friday, February 22, 2013


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 use them to improve the day-to-day work of government.





Video #1: "Do The Work"



  • When there is a breakdown in a relationship, you must have the hard conversation.

  • If you're willing to listen, if you're willing to tell the truth, it will open up.

  • People are estranged because they don't have the tools to heal the relationship. They've got to do the work.

  • You've got to be willing to be wrong about what you thought, what you judged, what you said, what you did.

  • You've got to be willing to see another perspective.





Video #2: "Call A Thing A Thing"



  • The only thing that goes on in your life is what you allow to go on in your life.

  • You want to control people. Because as long as you're in control, you're safe.

  • This is not about them, this is about you.

  • You say one thing, expect something else, and when you get what you (said you wanted), you beat them up about it. And that's your racket.

  • The truth will set you free.

  • But to get to freedom, you've got to climb the barbed wire.





Video #3: "Maia Campbell Confronts Her Shameful Past"



  • If you can't face it, you can't heal it.

  • If you can't say it, you will never come to grips with it.

  • Go there.

  • That's not a picture, that's your life. Look at it. What do you see?



Tuesday, February 19, 2013

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.
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 it's a race against time.

6. Do freelance work, teach or volunteer. It is true that the busier you are doing different things the more you get done. It's like with eating - if you have many different foods on your plate you will eat more than if there was just one food.

7. Entertainment is a great way to unwind and also immerse yourself in another activity with no demands. Also, when you rest your mind in this way, your creativity gets sparked because you get into the story. This enhances the other things you are working on in reality.

Monday, February 18, 2013


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. And because they are so passionate about the mission they will be a change agent's biggest advocates - if, and that's a big IF - they truly believe the change will benefit the organization.
Change agent + constructive traditionalist = meaningful, productive and lasting change.
However - nothing can happen unless you get through the negativity and transform it into positive energy.
And negativity has a way of sounding rational, sometimes. But it's really a pseudo-logic. When you actually write down the "top 10" kinds of excuses negative people make, they seem sort of funny and even pathetic.
Except that in real life the excuses of the "negative Nellies" can and do have really destructive consequences for the very organizations they claim to love.
  1. Difficulty
    • I don’t know how to do that (so I can't evaluate your idea)
    • Sounds nice, but it would be extremely difficult (so we shouldn't try)
    • No matter what we do it won’t matter - we’re just pawns in a larger game - they're out to get us - it's their fault
  1. Dislike
    • I don’t like technology
    • I don’t like your idea
    • I don’t like you
  1. Bias
    • Technology is for the young people
    • Bureaucracy is so old-school (e.g. for older people)
  1. Culture:
    • You haven't been here long enough to understand
    • That would never work around here
    • This is the government not the private sector
  1. False Logic
    • There is a flaw in your thinking (so the whole idea is unworkable)
    • Somebody else has to do it first
    • We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work
    • I would need to see more data on that
    • Everybody knows that's ridiculous
    • I don't see the logic
  1. Blame/Threaten The Messenger
    • You're being a little negative aren't you?
    • You need to be more of a team player (drink the Kool-Aid) (more loyal)
    • Change agents don’t last
    • Why do you care so much?
  1. Invoke “crazy”
    • You’re crazy
    • That’s crazy
    • It’s crazy
  1. I’m Smarter Than You
    • I’ve been around a lot longer so I know...
    • I’m an expert so let me tell you a thing or two
    • Things are more complicated than you realize
  1. False Prophecy
    • That will never happen
    • In a few years it won’t matter because...
  1. It’s A Resource Issue
    • If only we had more money...
    • ...more staff
    • ...more time

* As always, all opinions are my own.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


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 from the posture of defeat to to the mode of observation, then action.

You step outside your heaving body and take a good long look. Why were you hit in the first place? Were you distracted by the iPhone and the mugger caught you unawares? Did you take a bad turn at night down an isolated street?

This is not to suggest that blogging is an exercise in self-blame or a way to gain a false sense of control. It is to say that once you observe and document an experience, you give yourself a chance to learn.

In learning mode, mistakes become part of a bigger picture. The context is your journey in life from being less enlightened to more. The pain you experience at any moment in time is not only unavoidable. It's critical to growing as a human being.

So you write your life, or document it in pictures or music or any method you choose. What happens to all that?

Some people are more reserved - they put those lessons in a box in the drawer.

Others, like me and a lot of people - choose to post online, or publish a book. For a lot of reasons.
  • It keeps me honest. Self-deception is very obvious in a blog.
  • It helps to turn difficult experiences into a story with a meaningful lesson.
  • I gain strength from seeing that effort is worth the result in the long-term.
  • I feel like I'm helping other people and more broadly the community to accomplish positive change.
  • Though a little laborious, it does build a consistent personal brand - which is important professionally.
But the most important thing of all is really none of these. Writing helps me to convince myself, more than anyone else, that there is some sort of master plan. The insights that seem to come from nowhere - I believe that they are a gift from G-d and I've been blessed enough to share them.

If you have the impulse to express yourself, I hope that you take it that way too.

Trust in the Universe, trust in your gift, go forth and share it.

Friday, February 15, 2013

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.

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 less important to do so.

At the very least you can recognize - when you interact with anyone - that there is a wealth of background on their part, shaping their perceptions of you.

To find out who they are all you have to do is focus. Take the time to listen, question and observe. Try to find out what makes the clock tick -- the history in all its seen and unseen drama.

If you really take the time to work with others as human beings, they will likely give you the same privilege. And when you screw up, as everybody does, your character -- as exhibited through steady interaction over time -- will bear witness.

Slow down, pay attention, and pull up a chair. Sometimes the best thing you can communicate is nothing. Preferring instead to let others share a bit of themselves with you.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013




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 (the "me.")
When you have a good flow of dialogue, that is organizational mental health and the communication decisions that get made are more likely to move the brand forward (increase its value over and above a commodity).
There is a more advanced level of SI that addresses the interaction between self and perception - if you're interested you may want to read the work of Georg Simmel. I wrote a paper about this a while back, and you can download it here (fee).
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 not a great excuse for its avoidance.

Instead, what's helpful is to learn better tools for sharing what we think. Emotional intelligence. Judgment. Creativity. Timing.

It is very very hard to say tough things. It can be dangerous if you swing that blade the wrong way.

But at the end of the day I think most recipients of that feedback know your true intentions.

If you say it sincerely, appropriately and you mean it for the good, most of the time you should be OK.

Even if it happens that you get misunderstood - and it will because no communication is perfect - you can persist and use the moment to start dialogue.

Life is a relay race, not a marathon or a sprint. You owe it to the team to pass that baton with best effort.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


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. 
  1. Short but doable deadlines: Pressure makes for action. But if there's no chance of meeting the deadline people won't bother.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Clarify Your Authority: Unless they're especially kind, most people will not give much weight to your request unless they feel they must respond. Explain explicitly or implicitly why you have the right to ask.
  5. Be Polite: Really, you're not G-d. Be nice. 
  6. Restrict The Hours: Unless it's an emergency, bother people during a defined timeframe if possible. People can be trained to expect your interruptions, but if you are constantly and unpredictably intruding on their work, they will start to ignore you.
  7. Minimize Email Attachments: Store primary documents in the cloud and refer people to the link. Don't get stuck in the mini-mass email drama where someone has the latest version and it's impossible to track down.
  8. Use a POC: While it's convenient in theory to reach out directly to subject matter experts, a designated point of contact for inquiries is preferable. This person will be closer to the experts and will know when it's OK to ping them, and when to leave them alone. They will also be more likely to distribute your question to the right people.
  9. Check The Process: While it's important to deal with the matter at hand, it's even more important to make things better for next time. If you see that things tend to get stuck at a certain point in the process, apply Drano and then think like a plumber. How can you and the team get rid of the clog?
  10. Don't Overuse The Panic Button: There are always quick-response data calls. But if you're constantly asking for things as though the need were dire, then your words become not believable.
How do you get the answers you need? If you have any tips or suggestions, please share.

Monday, February 11, 2013

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.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

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.


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 mortality. At a certain point the Universe starts to show you your own death is coming, and in demonstrable ways. Like a leaf fallen from the tree, you too are going to crumble back into the Earth. You realize:
* You don't own the environment.
* You don't own your loved ones.
* You don't even own your own body.
The personal is professional in that at work, we tend to think we own things:
* Our cubes.
* Our job titles.
* Our functions.
But the fact is we don't own anything at all. It's called "employment at will" for a reason.
If you work for the government like I do, there's one other thing to remember:
We don't own the data.
Everything we do belongs to the public.
If there are things they can't see, it's not because it belongs to us. But rather it's that they have vested us with the power to hold on to it - like a bank - to protect the collective from disaster.
As a government communicator it's important to me to hold this understanding in my mind at all times. 
My job is to be a steward of the taxpayer's assets. The citizens are my ultimate boss.
So the laws that are in place to protect the data, and citizens' access to that data, are really a responsibility. To be taken very gravely.
In every organization information is power, and there is an ongoing conversational buzz about it.
* What is happening?
* Who should know about it?
* What will we say?
* And what is the right timing?
All of that is well and good.
But at the end of the day, we should not confuse those conversations - which are really about efficiency and appropriateness - with any fundamental shift in the ownership of data.
Everything the government says - every piece of data it collects, all the information it generates, and the research and insights that result from that - are in the end the property of the citizens.
It is therefore the government's job - speaking as a whole - to make sure the public can get to the publicly accessible data it's paid for. In a way that makes sense to them. In a way that shows its significance.
And where the public cannot access data, for reasons of national security, for example, that those boundary lines are drawn clearly and publicly, without fanfare and in plain English. The bank has restrictions on how deposits are withdrawn because you the customer need to be protected. 
I'm not talking here about an action shift, but perhaps a reflection on attitude. Are we always cognizant of our role and whom we serve? Or do we spend too much time getting lost in the day-to-day issues of the moment - looking inward instead of outside-in?
___
* Note: As always, all opinions are my own.






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 separate documents.

Why LinkedIn?
The colleagues you work with every day look to your LinkedIn profile to establish your credibility. Not to Facebook where you post pictures of your cute kids, cat and dog and where you don’t want them to find you. Not to Twitter which is crowded. Not to email where they’re drowning with day-to-day work responsibilities.

Why Status Updates?
Status updates are the most important aspect of your LinkedIn profile after your photo, headline and basic information. They show you’re a thinking person who is committed to their profession consistently.  If you used to use Twitter for status updates, note that it doesn’t send your status updates to LinkedIn anymore, but LinkedIn goes to Twitter.

Note that status updates do not imply original thinking. They can be you sharing original thinking, too. When you come across a headline that strikes you and that is relevant to your field, share it along with the link and let it go to your Twitter. (Make sure your profile photo matches on both sites, and that your name on Twitter relates to your personal brand.)

Update your status at least once a day.

The Profile: What To Focus On, Most Important First
  1. Profile photo. Don’t want to think about this? Embarrassed? Choose a day when you’re wearing a grownup outfit (shirt with collar, blazer, etc.) anyway. Get a smartphone, stand in where natural light is facing you, aim the camera at yourself, point and shoot. Email the photo to yourself. Crop it. Now you can post the photo to LinkedIn. We need to see your face. Don’t be all weird and shadowy.
  1. Headline. This is not your job title. Make something up that describes very well who you are and what you do well professionally. I was torn between “Brand Savant” and “Problem-Solver.” I chose the former because it’s unique. Both phrases could have worked.
  1. Current position. If you’re unemployed, it should show that you volunteer or are engaged in some career-worthy, financially in demand pursuit. For example let’s say you are in school learning to sell real estate. This is your current position. Do not write “student of life.”
  1. Previous positions. Do not provide a laundry list of every single thing you’ve ever done in an unfocused way. The narrative should tell a consistent story. Mine is about breaking through barriers with communication as the tool. You’ve done amazing things. Don’t be shy about sharing them.
  1. Additional information. A lot of people ignore this. Do not ignore it. You have done, over the course of your life, tons of things that are professionally interesting and useful. Were you around during the Y2K computer coding crisis? Did you stay at work all night fixing things so the systems wouldn’t shut down? That is a major project! Own it.

Complex Issues and How To Deal With Them
  • Personal Brand vs. Professional Brand: Representing your organization is very tricky. If you do it, you’ve just tied your personal brand with your professional brand. Only do this if you are a C-level executive or if you own your company and the two reputations are tied together anyway. (If you choose to go this route make it very clear that the profile is a hybrid and distinguish what elements of it are your own, e.g. your status updates.)
  • Quality vs. Quantity of Contacts: You want to connect with the right people not the right number of people. However, keep in mind that contacts are a gateway to other important contacts you don’t even know yet. These can be people who teach you, not just people who give you a job.
  • “It Doesn’t Sound Like Me”: People are very self-conscious about promoting themselves. That’s natural. But often that leads them to write very badly when it comes to their own resumes. That is essentially what LinkedIn is - a living, breathing resume. If you don’t feel comfortable promoting yourself there, find someone who can help.
  • Nasty Exchanges: It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen that people say nasty things to you on LinkedIn. Usually this is when you’re participating in a group discussion. If you work for the government and participate in an open forum expect to be personally attacked. My favorite is: “Since when does the government need a Ph.D. in marketing?” (I have a Ph.D. in sociology.) You do not have to respond to these. On the bright side, sometimes a seemingly nasty person can wind up a valuable teacher. One such person wound up sharing so much genuine insight in a group that it was like attending a graduate seminar in branding - priceless information. Plus she gave me good, free advice about my profile and how I sounded online. Finally, know that most exchanges are positive.

Paying For Help
Don’t get soaked, but don’t expect to pay peanuts either. A really good profile should take about 5-10 hours to put together; an excellent writer charges about $125 an hour; so at the most expensive end of the scale you would pay $1250. It will take more time, and more money, if you want to optimize your personal brand across Twitter, Facebook, etc. and make everything consistent. 

If you are an executive, and you can’t write for a hill of beans, you should consider paying for your profile like buying a good suit - a necessary expense.

If you are not an executive, but you need some help, look around you. You probably have a professional colleague, friend or family member willing to help out, if you will let them. If that won’t work, try a freelance service like Elance.com where you can get writing help for a modest charge. Any objective advice, taken sensibly, will elevate your professional presence about 50%.




Thursday, February 7, 2013

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.
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' foibles more objectively. Appreciate the good we've inherited. And stop making mistakes we have the power to control ourselves.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


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?"
For one thing a lot of people hate their jobs, their bosses or just don't care. Or they like the secrecy a little bit. After all, a certain amount of mystery lends them value.
From the perspective of the employee, sharing of work is more enticing when the organization encourages it, the user interface is friendly and if there's peer pressure that makes it weird to always work in isolation.
However, employers still resist the social workplace. They don't fund knowledge management, they don't implement it as part of standard operating procedures along side "regular work," and they don't like for work to be overtly social. For it implies that nothing productive is being done.
Employers like the idea of an assembly line out of which work emerges. Which is of course a very faulty vision. Since people are not machines and what we produce is the result of our unpredictable, creative and inspired brains. Creativity and inspiration often come from interacting with other people.
Inevitably social work involves conversation. Employers are worried about what people will say. Not only will they discuss fluff but very likely they'll say rude things, things that offend, inappropriate things. And how will you moderate that? Will there be legal problems? It feels like a big headache.
Knowledge management as a function does exist to make sense of our work data in theory. The problem is that old-fashioned tools - or tools implemented in an old-fashioned way, with extensive controls and lockdowns - make it absolutely miserable to share.
"Yes, let's sit around all day and upload documents and "tag" them. That is just so fun."
From a rational perspective it is time for employer and employee to take social work very seriously. Time to get over the irrational fears and teach people how to impose security controls and then loosen them as needed.  More broadly to teach people technology in an immersive and continuous type of way rather than turning them loose on it.
Handing someone powerful sharing technology without giving them continuous access to training is like putting a child behind the wheel of a car - no driver's ed, no testing. 
But you can't use the excuse of a car accident to keep growing people at home.
What we need to do is get to a place where work is both social and secure. Where people are sufficiently skilled in the technologies and trained to know what's appropriate to do and not do. Where the technology itself is a help and not an impediment to actually accomplishing the task. 
To get to this place it is necessary for all of us to get over unfounded fears and address the founded ones.
On the employee side, it's not going to be possible to hide a lack of tangible value forever. You can play cat and mouse for so long by pretending to be busy, and keeping information to yourself, but sooner versus later the organization simply won't be able to afford keeping people who aren't clear producers.
On the organizational side, failing to promote the social workplace means a lot of duplicated effort, unnecessary work and competition to fight for and keep turf that really doesn't belong to one stovepipe or another, but is shared.
I once worked for someone who said, "Fighting for a piece of the pie is stupid. Because when you share, the pie actually gets bigger." 
Conceptually that is hard to believe. But in reality, I have found that to be true. Sharing creates new ideas, new projects, new directions and leads to new and valuable activities all around that are actually in touch with what the customer wants - a sign that the organization is mentally healthy.
In the end the shared work environment doesn't have to lead to disaster. But it is a new kind of place, with different metrics for value. The world isn't waiting for employer and employee to play catch-up. We can put our stake in the ground, now, or we can feel the pain later. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

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 relationships as well as on understanding the way things traditionally have been done.

There should be ample time built in for questions and for things to get off track.

People who resist the change usually have a good reason for doing so. Listening to and engaging with them means they will convince everybody else to go along.

You don't talk about trying to do a culture change when you're doing it. That much is axiomatic. You can tout it when you write the case study at the end.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


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 similar cloud-based work solution that easily enables secure work anywhere, anytime.
6) Stand up an Office of Employee Mobility to enable telework, virtual collaboration, use of mobile devices.
7) Stand up a separate Office of Internal Communication to enable two-way feedback between Agency and employee. Staff it, fund it, etc.
8) Stand up an Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution to help deal with workplace conflict before it escalates into time-consuming formal complaints, litigation, etc.
9) Stand up an Office of Public-Private Partnerships to bring in the private sector, academia and government-watching organizations that can help the Agency function more optimally.
10) Implement a powerful electronic customer service helpdesk solution to handle inquiries internally and externally. It should include chat, text, email, and telephone support. It should guide people to parts of the website that can answer inquiries.
The above 10 steps would go a long way to optimizing the functions of the agency and retaining talented people who want to be a part of the solution to the problems that currently exist.
Note: Of course, all opinions are my own and every Agency varies.

Friday, February 1, 2013

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.

And that's because you've spent so much time and energy building up toward that moment. Against every obstacle, you stayed the course, even plowed ahead.

Don't think you have to be Zuckerberg or Branson or Trump to be a winner. Not everything can, or even should, go on your résumé.

In the end the biggest winners in life walk around with quiet contentment on their faces. They put in the effort and climbed the mountain. And it shows.




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.