Many problems in government are best solved collaboratively working across multiple agencies. Unfortunately this can be a frustrating and unproductive experience for many government leaders. Sometimes your partners aren’t as interested in the goals as you are. In other cases they don’t want to give up the territory by sharing efforts and then there’s the simple fact that many of the people you are working with are just plain busy and distracted.
If your mission depends on working collaboratively across agencies there are at least 6 things you can do to improve your chances of success:
1. Think about your strategic planning process as a recruiting process. Your chances of getting full support and participation increase greatly when you involve your partners in the development of your strategy. Interview and/or survey them on what their priorities are. If at all possible, pull them into your prioritization process. If they have input on what initiatives or projects get prioritized, they are more likely to contribute resources and provide support for them. Everyone likes a deal they were a part of making.
2. Make your partners’ customers, your allies. Knowing your partners’ customer is one of the best ways to get their attention. If you are able to access information on the needs, requirements, and motivations of that customer and relate it to your effort, you are well on your way to building a successful partnership.
3. Brand your effort. Giving your effort a brand helps to build support. A branded project feels more significant and helps to tell a story about why what you are doing matters. It gives something for people to rally around.
4. Communicate your progress. Many cross-agency projects fail because the participants don’t have a clear sense that progress is being made. As the lynchpin of a collaborative project, you need to continuously tell the story and show forward movement. You need to find interesting ways to communicate that information like infographics, blogs, and/or video to engage your partners.
5. Make quick wins an explicit part of your planning process. I’ve seen many government leaders come out of a strategy session raring to go. They have an ambitious agenda, but once the reality of their day-to-day demands reemerges, the new initiatives can feel overwhelming. Inevitably the overall project peters out soon after this. It is crucial to first pick off some low hanging fruit to show what you can implement. Success breeds success. Find initiatives that require little effort to declare victory and that have the potential to build follow on activities.
6. Resource the strategy. If you take one thing from this whole blog it should be this point. Most strategies fail because they aren’t resourced. Leaders go into a room and come up with a bunch of great ideas and then assign them to team members as add-ons. If you want something done, you have to have someone who focuses on it. That means hiring new people, contractors, or ending other projects to shift resources. It won’t happen magically. You need to talk with your partners and your organization at the beginning about how you are going to resource any outcomes.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think the key elements of cross-agency projects are?
Image via http://www.govloop.com/blogs/5001-6000/5148-Collaborationpyramid.jpg
Government innovators face a unique set of challenges when exploring new ways to deliver on their agency’s mission. Creative thinkers can be hesitant to introduce challenging ideas in a culture that too often rewards the status quo and lacks clear avenues for communicating ingenuity up to leadership. Institutional oversight, risk aversion, and authority limitations help government entities run reliably (most of the time…), but these realities inhibit their ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions or dedicate funding to long-term research & development efforts (R&D).
That being said, it’s not impossible to strike a balance between traditional governance and entrepreneurial curiosity. Agencies like the Department of Defense and NASA have a long, well-documented history of driving green-field R&D that has provided tremendous economic and social benefits to citizens. In fact the Congressional Budget Office reported that the federal government invested $55 billion in R&D unrelated to national defense in 2012. In these non-classified settings, government agencies have begun to embrace an open and collaborative approach to innovation. For example, an agency might award grants to universities pursuing applied chemistry research or sponsor tech transfer between a private firm and federal scientists in a government lab.
Today’s top areas of federal nondefense R&D investment include healthcare, space science, technology, energy, and the environment. To highlight some recent success stories, here are 3 of the most innovative federal R&D programs:
1. Advanced Manufacturing Partnership — $2.2 Billion FY13
President Obama chartered this interdisciplinary consortium in 2011 to “enhance America’s global competitiveness” in next generation manufacturing areas like robotics, sustainable industry and supply chain innovation. The National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), the Department of Energy, NASA and a cadre of Academic thought leaders make up a portion of AMP’s diverse membership. To prioritize areas of investment, AMP evaluates opportunities against criteria such as leveragability across industry sectors and encouraging American workforce demographics.
2. Advanced Research Project Agency – Energy (ARPA – E) – $265 Million FY13
Born out of the success of DARPA, this Department of Energy venture takes a rapid, iterative approach to modernizing energy production and consumption. Current priority areas include improving energy storage – something that often blocks the critical path to mobile device innovation – and converting natural gas to transportation fuel. ARPA – E also shows a commitment to delivering lab research to consumers through its Tech-to-Market program (which helps explain how the agency parlayed $70 million of initial investment into $450 million of private sector follow on last year.)
3.Networking and Information Technology Research & Development Program (NITRD) — $1.1 Billion FY13
This program brings together the National Science Foundation, NIH, DARPA, NIST and other heavy hitters you’d expect to be tackling today’s highest profile buzzword – Big Data. About half of NITRD’s projects go to foundational research like data management, mining and machine learning to uncover tactics of broad applicability across government data centers. They also dedicate funding to the development of more sophisticated applications, algorithms and cyber infrastructure necessary to support domain-specific data challenges (i.e. hurricane prediction modeling at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). This two-pronged approach brings welcomed sensibility and a real chance of success to a discipline that has seen too many well-intentioned working groups come and go as of late.
What other federal R&D programs have you seen creating impact lately? Where other areas of R&D investment should government innovators prioritize?
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Image via Huffington Post.
With a new Congress coming in, federal leaders will be experiencing a good deal of change. During times of change, uncertainty and upheaval, one of the most important things you can do l is simply get back to basics. The “basics” exist in three critical elements: Mission, Values, and Commitments.
If I asked what your team’s mission, values and commitments were, would you have an answer? Don’t get nervous, let’s figure them out—and get intentional about each:
1) Mission: What It Is
Most federal managers are familiar with the basics of strategic planning: Vision, Mission, Goals, Objectives, etc. All these elements matter – a lot. During transition, they matter even more. In times of transition it’s important to dig a little deeper and remind ourselves about what’s really at the core of what we do. Simply put, mission is the fundamental reason for an organizations’ existence. You and your whole team should know it without hesitation.
How to Find It:
Try this exercise: Write down what your organization does in 10 words or less. It’s simple—and enlightening. Create a one-pager and specify the words—the jargon—you cannot use in crafting your 10 word mission statement. I’m not suggesting you replace what I’m sure is a great official mission statement. I am suggesting you simplify it and translate it into plain language. Have a “get real” moment with yourself about what you really do. This will prove invaluable during budget talks when you are asked to justify what you do by higher ups who may not share your organization’s language or lexicon. If the people with the money don’t understand what you do (or, worse, if you don’t understand what you do…) you’re in trouble. Make it easy for them to understand—and have fun while doing it.
2) Values: What They Are
Values are often skipped in the strategic planning process. That’s a mistake. Values are important to team success, particularly during times of change. They are the foundation upon which we do the work we do and every action we take, as an individual and as a team, is informed by our values.
How to Identify Them:
If you’ve never identified organizational values, discovering them can be a compelling exercise for you and your team. Try using a free online tool like Ideascale. It allows people to contribute ideas and vote on them in real-time. My firm used Ideascale to identify our values and had a transformative experience as a result of having to really dig deep during a financial crisis a few years ago. We asked ourselves: above all else, what are the values that make up the foundation upon which we do what we do? What are the values that we live by and, that if we practice, will contribute to our individual and organizational success?
Some of what we identified isn’t what you’d expect: Things like Inner Voice, Eating Our Own Dog Food, Transparency, and Stand for Something. In all, we identified 10 key values that, today, are an everyday part of our operation. Many of us wholeheartedly believe that our focus on values during a no-kidding “are we going to make it through this?” period of time is what actually helped us through. Our values are what today help us thrive both individually and as an organization.
3) Commitments: What They Are
The third back to basics element concerns commitment. Think of commitments as doing a really deep dive on priorities. These are the things we are committed to – no matter what. Commitments transcend organizational charts, strategic plans and even mission. There is a staying power—or sticky quality—to commitments. They link the organization to the individual and the individual back to the organization. In times of change, and when ambiguity is a daily fact of life, getting really clear about organizational commitments is powerful. Your commitments are your mission and values in action.
How to Create Them:
My first blog for Excellence in Government was titled “Generate Commitment by Following Through on Yours.” It lays out critical distinctions and questions worth exploring as you consider what it takes to thrive. In getting clear about your commitments, another simple exercise you can do is called: Stop, Start, Continue.
You can do this solo, as a leadership team or organization-wide. Identify those things to start doing, to stop doing, and continue doing. When we are faced with potential cuts and uncertainty, taking the time to be intentional about what’s being done (or not being done) can be compelling. Far too often people and organizations do the “inherited things” without pausing long enough to ask why—or in service of what.
Bringing it Together: The Three Basics in Action
This week we observed Veterans Day. In my mind, nothing better exemplifies the combination of the above three elements than those who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. The guards are motivated by their mission; their actions are sourced by their commitment; and those commitment-based actions are sustained, even in the face of a historic hurricane, by their values. The commitment shown and values demonstrated by those who guarded the tomb is what we’re talking about here: getting back to basics. And, the basics are powerful.
In the midst of ambiguity and uncertainty, are you clear on the basics—your mission, values and commitments—that help organizations thrive?
John Godfrey Saxe, an American poet, introduced the Indian parable “The Blind Men and the Elephant” to a Western audience. In this tale, six blind men touch the same elephant, but each perceives something different about the animal.
“And so these men of Indostan disputed loud and long, each in his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong, though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!”
“The Blind Men and the Elephant” demonstrates that the human ability to ideate is constrained by judgment; we are only able to see what our worldview teaches us to imagine. And that “idea” is only one perspective, one small part of reality.
How many times have you committed to an idea you thought would work, only to discover significant drawbacks too late in the game? There is a method to overcoming information limitations and validate our ideas. The answer is something called rapid prototyping.
Rapid prototyping is a method of testing new ideas that decreases development time and cost by prioritizing early stakeholder feedback. Popularized as an iterative approach to user design (think GoogleGlass and mobile applications), the process allows teams to quickly generate and test multiple ideas, targeting pitfalls before they become a problem.
This process is not about perfection. Most people struggle to give up on an idea they’ve invested significant resources into, but what if the idea just won’t work? Going back to the drawing board is not a bad thing. Rapid prototyping helps you identify the 10-15 percent that will work and discard the rest. Don’t fail, learn.
This powerful technique is not limited to the technical sector as many believe. Prototyping is useful not only for real-life testing of products, but also of services, processes, and even experiences: as long as there is a problem to solve. In tackling a problem through relentless iteration, a team can decide faster if an idea is viable and, if not, how to make it viable. The result? Saved time, money, and aggravation.
To begin you must identify the problem you wish to solve. Once you’ve identified your problem, rapid prototyping is the relentless iteration of the following three-step process:
1. Ideate: Generate as many ideas as possible, however ridiculous, to solve your problem. Do not judge the ideas. Just be creative.
2. Prototype: Convert the best ideas into physical prototypes, or representations of your solution: sketches, mock-ups, diagrams, or even role-play.
3. Refine: Share the prototype with users and seek feedback. Evaluate the 10-15 percent that worked and restart the process to improve your idea. Continue this process relentlessly to mature the prototype.
Eventually, your idea will systematically tackle and overcome any and all challenges relevant to you. No surprises three months down the road because you’ve sought feedback from different perspectives. The blind men can see! This method succeeds in creating a robust output, but some find even more value in turning critics into allies and increasing buy-in beforehand.
Questions about rapid prototyping and how your organization can apply the technique? Email email@example.com or comment below.
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What will the new Congress mean for federal leaders? Even with a new Republican majority in the Senate, we won’t see much of a difference in policy. We’ll most likely experience stalemate/status quo for the next two years. The politics, however, will change. The level of scrutiny for federal leaders will increase with more hearings, investigations and oversight across the board. So what can a federal leader do in this situation? I recommend three things:
1. Get your data drill and Congressional testimony processes down. The Government spends an inordinate amount of money asking for information from itself. Agencies, offices, and programs often have to spend hundreds and in some cases thousands of person hours collecting and vetting the information needed to respond to questions for the record, data requests, and hearing preparation. This can add up to thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars for some programs and agencies.
Another hidden cost is the time and attention of senior people who should be implementing programs and focusing on strategy. They often need to contribute to and review anything going out of the agency, office, or program. If you streamline your processes and deploy tools to help automate those processes, you can get your costs and the distractions down.
2. Stay close to your customer. The best line of defense any federal leader has is the ability to show impact on a key customer need or requirement. Your best advocate is a happy customer telling a Congressional Committee how important your work is. It’s hard to argue with customers. Make sure you have defined requirements and can show the breadcrumbs leading from those requirements to your projects and investments.
3. Outreach, outreach, outreach. In a time of stalemate, many leaders chose to burrow in and hide. They hope they can weather the storm unnoticed. In actual fact, times of stalemate make it all the more important to get your message out. You need a strong customer and stakeholder community that knows and appreciates what you are doing as I mentioned in Tip 1 to maintain a stable budget. When it comes to distributing resources in a constrained environment, the programs with better outreach usually win.
The next Congress might not be productive in terms of policy, but it will be active politically. The federal leaders that prepare for this reality will come out in better shape. We’d like to hear what your strategies for dealing with increased scrutiny are.
Image via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procedures_of_the_U.S._Congress#mediaviewer/File:US_House_Committee.jpg
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Today, it seems like everyone is talking about data visualization and infographics. Some may say that infographics are an easy way out of providing detail in a report or memo. However, I’ve found the opposite to be true. Infographics are an effective way to distill large amounts of data into smaller pieces that are more easily digested. More importantly, they capture the attention of a reader who might easily be distracted while reading a bunch of numbers in a long report. Good infographics can stand alone, but they can also complement a formal report, blog post, or memo. Think of an infographic as a way to communicate your value creatively and efficiently.
If you’re new to creating infographics, or would like to know how to make your infographics more effective, here are five tips for creating an effective infographic to communicate your value:
1. Know Your Data
Most of us know what it’s like to stare at a blank computer screen trying to figure out how to visualize your data points when you’re on a tight timeline. This tip may seem obvious, but before you draft your infographic, take the time to get to know your data. Do you have one data point or several sets of interlocking data points? What is the nature of your variables? Are you aiming to depict percent change, frequency, or a set of numbers? The type of graphics you create will largely depend on your answers to these questions.
For instance, if you want to depict percent change, you could use a classic bar graph or even a series of pie charts. If you are showing frequency, consider using a triangle graph, with the variable with the highest frequency at the wide base of the triangle and the lowest frequency nearest the point (think of the food pyramid).
2. Tell YOUR Story
The why of an infographic is just as important as the what. Spend some time thinking about the purpose of your infographic. Are you bragging on yourself or your office to your agency’s higher-ups? If so, you will want to draw special attention to your most impressive metrics. Are you highlighting ways that your agency or office could improve? If this is the case, you’ll want to draw attention to the areas in which you could have done better and consider including projections for “change” and “no change” scenarios. Finally, know your intended audience and the circumstances under which your audience will be viewing your infographic. If your audience is your time-strapped boss who doesn’t have time to read a memo, be sure to include sufficient information on the infographic to tell your story, but not so much that your meaning is lost. If your audience is someone you’ve never met or who may not be familiar with your office’s mission, consider including a brief appendix with your infographic that defines key terms or includes a brief mission statement. Bottom line, you always want your infographic to leave your audience wanting more information.
3. Connect the Dots
Almost everyone has heard of the statistical principles of correlation and causation. Basically, seemingly disparate variables may connect in that one may directly lead to another, or they are both affected by the same external impetus. Likewise, if you’ve got several data points, it’s likely that they will intersect or at least be correlated. Your infographic will be much more effective if you highlight the connections between metrics instead of showing each data point independently. For instance, try showing the relationship between money spent and program milestones met. Or, you could show how your investment in social media marketing or outreach has reached the maximum number of stakeholders with minimal funds expended. Often, the most effective way to get your message out is through highlighting these cause-and-effect relationships between variables. As I wrote in a previous blog post about dashboards, one of the chief indicators of your program’s priorities is where you are spending your money, and one of the chief indicators of your success is where you are getting the most value for that money.
4. Use Text Boxes Sparingly
We’ve all sat through PowerPoint presentations with way too much text on each slide that leave us wondering, “what was the point of that presentation?” The same danger can occur with infographics. Try to avoid the temptation to fill each empty space with text. Rather, view text boxes as a way to complement your graphics instead of having text boxes tell your story for you. There is a fine line between a well-placed call-out box and a block of unreadable text.
5. Keep It Simple
Don’t let your formatting be louder than the story you’re trying to tell. No matter how great your program is, if your audience can’t read it because the background color and text color don’t complement one another, your message will be lost. Keep your color scheme to one or two main colors. You can still use a bright, bold color to highlight your most impressive or important metrics, but be sure to complement your bold colors with more neutral shades of grey or taupe. I’ve found that putting a bold color against a light grey background is less harsh than using a white background.
The same is true for any fonts you use. Try to use no more than two font styles to keep your infographic from looking disorganized and messy. Better yet, use one classic font for your main text or headings and a fun or more “interesting” font for call-outs. That’s not to say that your main font has to be Times New Roman; most infographic tools have a range of sleek, modern, and readable fonts that would be suitable for your main text. Don’t forget about your purpose and audience, though! If your audience would be put off by font that isn’t standard fare, be mindful of the font you choose.
Here at Corner Alliance, we like to use Piktochart for creating infographics. However, there are a number of other platforms out there. Most of them have several templates you can choose from to build your infographic, or you can start from scratch on a blank canvas. And, most offer free trials. There are also lots of data visualization blogs that can give you some ideas. It’s never too early, or too late, to try building an infographic!
What tips do you have for building infographics to communicate your program’s value?
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If you’re anything like me, you didn’t spend much time thinking about what your wedding would look like until you were actually engaged. I didn’t pass the time between classes by daydreaming about wedding dresses or drawing flower arrangements in the margins of my math homework. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t really prepared for all of the research and decision-making that goes in to planning a wedding. My fiancé and I have been on a steep learning curve throughout the process, and it hasn’t always been easy. I’d like to think we’ve been able to achieve most of our goals, and I’m genuinely excited to see how our plans turnout.
As I look back on the processes we used to plan our wedding, I was struck by how useful some of them would be in promoting organizational development. Here are three tips for achieving your organization’s strategic goals and improving its efficiency:
Establish and abide by budget boundaries
Making wedding plans before setting a budget is a recipe for disaster. It’s important to set your priorities and know how much you are willing and able to spend in each category to ensure that your priorities are realized. Similarly, before you start planning how you’re going to make organizational improvements, you need to know what resources are available. Will this effort be done entirely in-house, or can you hire outside help? Will everyone in the office participate, or are you going to have to focus on a few key individuals? Establish the scope of what’s possible by first determining how much you’re able to spend. Then you can decide which activities are the most important to achieving your goals and allocate resources accordingly. If your budget is tight, focus on acquiring resources that give you the most value. For example, it may be more expensive to hire a full-time consultant than a part-time one, but someone working full time can devote more energy and concentrate exclusively on your project.
Don’t feel beholden to lingering ideas of how things should be done
There are hundreds of websites, magazines, and television shows dedicated to telling you what traditions you “must” include in order to have the perfect wedding. It’s easy to be torn between wanting to include time-honored traditions while still wanting to maintain your own creativity and identity. Likewise, most organizations have established methodologies for undertaking all kinds of projects. There may be one-pagers and walk-throughs that outline how things need to be done, and it’s a good idea to reference these when you’re first starting out. Outside of legal guidance, however, don’t feel like you have to follow in the exact footsteps of previous efforts. This is your opportunity to shake things up a bit—after all, your organization needs a bit of change in order to get back on the right track. So why not use the opportunity to try something different? Adopt best practices from previous projects and then put your own spin on organizational development. Your new ideas may provide the necessary energy and direction to ensure success.
Be true to your vision
When planning a wedding, the temptation to get bogged down in the details is very strong, and you risk losing sight of the reason you’re planning the wedding in the first place. Just as the “end game” of planning a wedding is celebrating your marriage, at the end of the day any organizational development effort has to meet your office’s needs. Work with leadership and coworkers early on to develop a shared vision of success; then revisit it often to ensure that you’re staying on track. Other suggestions may arise during the process, so it’s important to have established goals to determine if and how new ideas may help achieve what you’ve set out to accomplish. Listen to what others have to say, but don’t feel obligated to incorporate their suggestions if it doesn’t fit with your vision of success. Organizational development is a big project to take on, so be sure to focus your limited time and energy on achieving the goals that you established in the beginning.
What processes have you used when working on organizational development?
Image courtesy of Manners and Moxie
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My colleague, March Leh, made a great point in his blog published earlier this month: “key audiences care most about progress towards project completion and visionary goals.” I wanted to hone in on a few critical points that form the basis of the most hard-hitting performance measurement for your government program or organization. While it is harder to track and then articulate progress made towards achieving an organization’s mission and vision, it is worth the investment of resources. Performance measurement and then sharing the facts can seem like a daunting task, but I have found success by focusing on the following:
Identify what is most important to your most important audience(s): This step is all about narrowing in on the aspects of performance that will show the value of your program or organization. This can be a tremendous opportunity to engage emerging leaders in your organization to take the reins. I have observed that engaging the full team with many diverse perspectives (and ownership roles) is very valuable in moving this chess piece forward. As a team, brainstorm and narrow: What are we currently measuring that shows the value of our organization to this key group(s)? What are we trying to measure that shows our value, but may not be hitting the mark? What important points are not even on our radar that would mean the world if we could track them and articulate them?
Explicitly link everything to the mission and vision: One of the most poignant phrases in the performance measurement world is ‘So what?’ After you have identified or even re-evaluated the essential components of your program or organization to enhance measurement and sharing, make sure the story of why these facts are important in supporting your organization’s progress to meet its mission and vision is crystal clear.
Break it down into simple and visual facts: Once organized around the content, one of the most challenging final stretch considerations is how to share this vital information with the people that matter most. Just last week I transformed a perfectly informative (and boring) word document into a tool that resonated with my core audience. I used an infographic, but there is a world of options. By simply changing the format and presentation of this content using dynamic shapes, color, and images, the information was transformed into a tool that resonated with my intended audience. The message was not just delivered; it was received. And it does not take an artist, just some intentional brainstorming about the key points to convey and how to truly convey them.
And don’t forget to infuse this effort with regular updates! Stale facts mean nothing.
What powerful performance measurement and sharing tips do you find valuable?
Image via saleshq.monster.com
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Halloween isn’t the only thing to be scared of in October. Recently there have been a number of administration officials called to testify on topics such as Secret Service security lapses and the Ebola virus. Julia Pierson, the former Director of the Secret Service, found herself out of the job the day after she testified to Congress. Ms. Pierson’s inability to answer questions by a frustrated bi-partisan Congress ultimately led to her resignation. Thomas Frieden, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), faced a grueling line of questioning on his agency’s efforts to combat the Ebola virus. At times, Dr. Frieden struggled to provide satisfactory answers to the questions being asked of him by both sides of the aisle.
The scary truth about testifying on Capitol Hill is that the questions being asked by Congress are not easy and intentionally designed to trip you up. When leaders are unable to provide specific details and answer questions on the fly their agency’s credibility suffers and many leaders face damage to their reputation. Testifying in front of Congress can be daunting for anyone, yet there are a number of ways a leader can mitigate the risks:
1. Do the Prep Work
Of course, a presenter should research and be prepared for as many questions asked of them as possible. Agency leaders are expected to be aware of large and small details, and a presenter should be well versed in all aspects surrounding an issue, especially those being discussed by the media or general public. In reality though, you can never predict every question and given the scope of issues most federal agencies encompass, it’s impossible to know everything.
2. Know Your Committee
Do the research on who the committee members are, where they are from and their interests. Have they introduced legislation or amendments in your area? Do they have pet causes? Do they have personal connections to your work?
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
A presenter should practice in front of a live audience before the real event. Any practice session should be as similar to the real setting as possible, and the audience members should ask difficult questions and interrupt without warning to give the presenter experience of being in a difficult setting. Also, it can be helpful to prepare a list of hot topics that could come up during a rehearsal and practice how to best respond.
4. Use Support Tools and Techniques
When sitting in the hot seat, it’s always better to know that there are lifelines you can use when you don’t know the answer. For some leaders, having a quick reference guide on a laptop can provide the support needed to answer difficult questions in the moment. For others, having succinct key messages prepared ahead of time can be helpful. There are some leaders who have found that using innovative presentation software give them the competitive edge needed to thrive in a difficult situation.
As a leader, you may not always have the answers but with preparation and organization, you should always know where to find them. If you take a few proactive steps to be better prepared, know your facts, and find support tools that give you confidence, then you can minimize the chances that your failed testimony will be the story of the day.
What are some ways you have overcome the fear of giving high stakes presentations or testimonies on Capitol Hill?
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At Corner Alliance one of our core values is “Inner Voice”. We internalize and implement this value in many ways, but the gist is: ‘Say what you’re really thinking.’ We encourage every single one of our employees, no matter what their title or role is, to speak up and voice their opinions, concerns, questions, reflections, etc. By putting these genuine and unfiltered thoughts out in the open, we can have honest and meaningful conversations that move a project or process forward. Rebecca Knight’s recent Harvard Business Review article, “How to Get Your Employees to Speak Up”, reminded me how hard this can be when we’re working with our government clients. Knight notes how fear and lack of ownership are two major factors that prevent people from airing their concerns or opinions. Indeed, the last thing most of us want to do is “overstep”, cause problems on a project, or get on our managers’ bad side. But the truth is, constructive criticism (negative feedback) is equally if not more important than positive feedback throughout all levels of an organization. Just because we don’t want to hear something, doesn’t mean we don’t need to.
Giving and receiving feedback is not easy; most people find it inherently uncomfortable and shy away from it at all costs. Unfortunately, this tends to result in an environment where nothing can be criticized or questioned and resentment boils just below the surface, affecting team morale and productivity. At Corner Alliance, we’ve implemented several processes that have helped us foster a feedback-centric culture that we also bring to our clients:
1. Training. At a recent company All Hands, we had a facilitated training session focused on how to give and receive effective feedback. Here are a few of our main takeaways: No one likes giving feedback, but most people say they like receiving it. This creates a lop-sided environment where everyone is yearning for feedback but no one is comfortable or willing to provide it. When giving feedback, provide the feedback immediately (or as soon as possible and appropriate). Waiting until days, weeks, or months after an event to provide feedback is less effective and will make your team think you are holding on to past issues. Also, be specific. In order for that person to improve, you have to be clear that you are providing feedback and also provide specific examples of what went wrong or what needs to be improved next time.
When receiving feedback, the number one thing to remember is not to take it personally. For most of us, our first instinct is to get defensive and assume that the feedback is a reflection of our worth or value to the team. We have to be mindful that the person providing the feedback is doing so in our best interest and is trying to be helpful. Also, don’t just brush it off. Even if you think the feedback is misguided, recognize the effort that person took to provide the information and then think through exactly how you could improve in that area in the future. Lastly, put a plan in place to address the feedback and consider following up with the person who provided you feedback once you’ve implemented your plan to show that you took them seriously.
2. Practice makes perfect. The more often you give and receive feedback, the easier and more natural it feels. Asking your peers, reports, and managers for feedback increases the likelihood of them offering it more frequently. Offering unsolicited feedback shows your team that you are willing to give (and thus, receive) feedback.
3. Continue fostering a transparent environment and encourage feedback from all directions. Try implementing 360-degree reviews; they can be a great way to show your team that you want to hear what everyone has to say. Be sure to recognize your team members that are actively providing feedback, and offer different mechanisms or avenues for giving and receiving feedback. Some people are comfortable speaking up in a group setting, whereas others are more comfortable in a one-on-one setting.
We believe that creating a feedback-centric culture is crucial to our company and clients’ success—if you’re struggling to get your team members to be honest and speak up, try implementing some of these tips and let us know how it goes. And for more advice, check out this great video about “Giving Feedback for Strong Performance”.
Images courtesy of Ambro/freedigitalphotos.net and Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net