A Google search for “methodology” yields the definitions, “the systematic, theoretical analysis of the methods applied to a field of study,” and, “a body of methods, rules, and postulates employed by a discipline.” Most of us don’t use the word, “postulates” in our everyday work lives, but we all use methodologies, whether we are aware of them or not.
As consultants, we frequently rely on methodologies, whether we are developing them for our federal clients or using them ourselves to bring in new business. Even so, the word, “methodology” conjures up images of complicated flow charts, process graphics, and hundred-page process documents. Well-thought out processes can certainly provide sustainability and stability to an organization. However, too much emphasis on process can stamp out innovation and discourage creativity, which can be lethal for both government agencies and small businesses.
So, how do you develop a sustainable but innovative methodology that will help your agency fulfill its mission?
1. Get the right input.
This tip might seem self-explanatory, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Be sure to leave enough time to solicit any input you need at the beginning and along the way from the people who will actually use your methodology.
2. Avoid over-promising and under-performing.
Establish up front what your methodology is, and what it is not. What, if any, is the deliverable that will result from your methodology? Why are you developing this methodology? Who will primarily be using it?
3. Be creative.
Everyone has seen Gantt charts and Excel spreadsheets, but don’t be afraid to be a little more creative in depicting your methodology. Corner Alliance loves to use infographics to depict information and processes creatively. However, it’s important to remember that infographics can’t always stand alone. You may need to provide some context in a separate document, but a good infographic is worth a thousand words.
4. Sketch it out!
While it’s beneficial to use creative tools to depict your methodology, sometimes it’s best to start with a plain old pen and paper and draw it out. This way, you can easily see where you have overlap or redundancies. Corner Alliance has found that using whiteboards to map out processes and methodologies is a great way to start.
5. Be flexible.
A good methodology is comprehensive; a GREAT methodology is comprehensive, adaptable, and easy to update if necessary. The simpler your methodology, the more easily it can be updated to suit new developments in your agency or business. Remember: it’s ok to let your methodology evolve as your mission unfolds.
6. When in doubt, simplify.
We’ve all been there – you are given a task with an accompanying methodology in the form of a massive slide deck or fifty-point process with so many boxes, bubbles, and lines that you feel like you’re going cross-eyed. While it’s true that a comprehensive methodology is important, an exhaustive list of steps and responsibilities is just that – exhausting. Don’t confuse complexity and completeness; sometimes, the simplest approach is the winning one.
At Corner Alliance, we work to make the complicated simple. How have you created simple, creative methodologies?
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Now that we are beginning 2015, many non-profit and government leaders are rethinking their strategies and strategic plans. Just like most New Year’s resolutions, strategic goals are easy to plan but difficult to implement. We have a little advice for leaders trying to get out of that typical cycle. Here are 5 mistakes we typically see:
Not talking with your stakeholders and customers: Planning out what you want to do in a vacuum is a satisfying exercise. If you didn’t need to deal with your customers, you would have a fantastic strategy. Customers and stakeholders force you to make tough decisions and deal with the realities of world. On the positive side, if you can truly understand what they need, it is an inspiring way to ground a strategy. Try to find avenues to interact and talk with your customers and stakeholders through formal interviews, working groups and scan for existing sources of data about them.
Not prioritizing initiatives: Most leaders I’ve worked with get into the planning phase and take on too many things. As they say, the eyes are bigger than the stomach. You only have a finite amount of time, attention, and resources. The more you subdivide those resources, the less impact you have on each initiative. Focus on the magic 3-5 initiatives. Lou Gerstner only had 6 strategic priorities when he turned around IBM in the mid 90s. I think most organizations can do with at least one less.
Not putting a name next to each initiative: Accountability is key and my rule is that if more than one person is accountable, then no one is accountable. You also need to remind that person that (s)he is responsible. Putting their name next to an initiative on a public document is a great way to do it. Put one person’s name next to an initiative and you’ll notice that things get done. It isn’t a gotcha type activity, it is a clear communication of leadership priorities.
Not scheduling accountability and check in meetings: Plans have a tendency to go off into the ether the instant they are created. The only way you and your team will stay on top of them is if you commit to and schedule out regular meetings with set agendas to check in on the implementation process. Our leadership team meets weekly for 90 minutes based on the best practice outlined in a book called Traction. I’d recommend the same for your team. Once a month is too long a gap to create a leadership rhythm and more than once a week is overkill. Make sure to revisit the status of those strategic priorities at every meeting. It takes several repeated check ins for people to believe you are serious about your priorities.
Not communicating your decisions and progress: Organizations, customers and stakeholders have a need to understand what decisions their leadership make and how they make them. As a leader you are in the room so the results seem obvious. That isn’t true for your customers, stakeholders and employees. In many cases it can seem that they have an insatiable need for more information and more communication. Create a short and clear public document about what your priorities are. Then you can send out a leadership communication after each leadership check in on the status of those priorities.
Good luck with your strategic planning efforts and let me know what other mistakes you see.
Photo courtesy of http://pixabay.com/en/users/RyanMcGuire-123690/
2015 promises to be a big year for those working in digital government. Transforming our government into a 21st century one has long been a priority of President Obama, and digital technology is a major component of that goal. With only two years left in his term, the Obama administration is gearing up to make significant changes in a short amount of time.
With this in mind, Corner Alliance is predicting which digital trends will triumph in 2015:
Responsive Web Design
Mobile is quickly becoming king. Just look at the numbers. According to the Pew Research Center, as of January 2014, 58% of American adults have a smartphone. More than 60% of adults are using their mobile devices to access information online and a full third of these users are more likely to use their phones than computers to access the Internet!
Government agencies realize that this is a crucial market they must keep up with. The first step to cornering the mobile market is to transition websites into a format that can adapt to any device—computer, tablet, or smartphone. Known as “responsive design,” this concept is gaining ground among government agencies and industry leaders. In 2014, we saw nearly 19% of websites adopt a responsive design format. More and more federal agencies will follow suit and make responsive design a priority in 2015.
Expanded Social Media Portfolios
At this point, most large federal departments and agencies have the standard toolkit of social media platforms—Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. But did you know that the General Services Administration has negotiated Terms of Service with 75 different platforms for federal use? In 2015, federal agencies—large and small—will take advantage of more of these tools, like Instagram, Pinterest, and Thunderclap, to connect with new audiences.
Focus on Customer Service and Crowdsourcing
President Obama once said, “I want us to ask ourselves every day, how are we using technology to make a real difference in people’s lives.” Government agencies have taken this concept to heart and are striving to make changes in two major ways—providing better customer service and working with the larger community to improve government services and programs. In support of these efforts, GSA will release a Public Participation Playbook to guide agencies on how to engage with and support the public. Additionally, look for more agencies to share their data with the public and pursue crowdsourcing platforms like IdeaScale to spur research and new projects.
A Different Approach to Metrics
Metrics are an integral part of any successful digital strategy, but there’s always the danger that the numbers don’t reflect the reality. Just because a tweet was retweeted 30 times doesn’t mean followers actually clicked on the link or engaged with the content further. In 2015, agencies will move beyond the numbers and look at how the metrics translate into actual impact. Being able to analyze which content produced the greatest impact will help government communicators create more targeted, engaging content.
What is your agency doing with digital in 2015? Share your thoughts in the comments section or contact me on Twitter at @LGBackhaus.
In a recent GovExec article titled “Can Transparency by Legislated,” Paul Eder makes the case that the availability of data in government is not enough to ensure transparency. Eder writes, “One can draw any potential number of conclusions from data in its raw form.” The question for government leaders then is how to provide that context? How do you justify the decisions you make based on the data available?
Government leaders are under scrutiny to show that they are correctly investing their limited resources (time and money), but simply providing the data is not enough. They have to be able to justify these investments to their managers and stakeholders. And if your stakeholders or those beneath you do not understand why the decision was made, your efforts may not be as successful as they could be.
So how do government leaders go about justifying their investments?
Collect and Understand the Data – There is an explosion of data available today to government leaders. It provides a fertile field from which to begin your planning effort. But you also need to understand the limitations of that data. Know how it was collected and for what purpose. Those factors will shape your understanding of it. In other cases, you won’t have access to large data sets. As we’ve written before, not all data needs to be big data. There are many ways to interact with your stakeholders and customers to collect data points that are low cost, effective, and do not violate Paperwork Reduction Act or the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
Involve Customers and Stakeholders in the Data Analysis Process – Once you’ve collected your data, use your customers and stakeholders to help you provide context and meaning for it. Start by theming your data or consider visualizing it to uncover connections and relationships. This will help your customers and stakeholders better understand the data and provide input on what conclusions can be draw from and ultimately what actions can be taken based on it. In this phase, you want to cast a wide net and get all the input you can.
Use Weighted Criteria to Prioritize – Now that you have broad input on what kinds of conclusions, hypotheses, and actions you can take based on your data, these need to be judged against a set of criteria. What are the most likely factors to affect the prioritization of your range of actions? This can include many factors: potential rewards, how big are the potential benefits of this action; feasibility, how easily can this action be achieved; impact, how far reaching will this action be, and many more. After you land on a given set of criteria, give each of them a weight. Then you can judge all available options against the weighted criteria and score your options.
Once a government leader has used his or her stakeholders to gather data, thought about all possible actions based on the data, and weighted them against a determined set of criteria, you’ve taken a large step to justifying the investments and decisions you are making.
The digital and online worlds offer government leaders new opportunities to measure citizen and stakeholder engagement and the effectiveness of their programs. Unfortunately, that same ability to measure many new things can create a glut of data that leaves leaders at a loss for what is important. At Corner Alliance, we recommend a three-step strategy for government leaders looking to measure their digital strategies more effectively.
1. Link your measures to strategic priorities
One of the real benefits of the online world is the ability to track and measure. This was much harder in the offline world and led to the famous quote from the department store pioneer John Wanamaker, “Half my advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half.” Using the tools available, federal managers can now bring new data about what citizens and stakeholders are engaging with to the table.
But what are the most important measures for the content you are creating: Is it shares? Retweets? Or how many times a Facebook post is liked? Is it engagement indicated by how much time a unique user spends reading a piece of content? Is it the bounce rate for a webpage? The number of people signing up for a webinar you offer or is the profile or background of those people more important?
These are all legitimate measures but you need to connect them to a strategic objective. If your program or agency is prioritizing a webinar, then you might measure how effectively a tweet or a blog post converts stakeholders to your webinar. If, for instance, you are looking to broaden public knowledge about how to respond to a tornado warning, then social media shares and webpage visitors might be more relevant. Or you could decide to include time on your page as a factor that might indicate more deep reading and engagement with your content.
2. Implement a few key measurement tools
Once you know what you want to measure, you’ll need to implement some of the multitude of tools out there to help you gather and analyze the data. The list of potential tools is daunting. Social Media Examiner writes blogs like this: 50 Top Tools for Social Media. Mind you, those are only the “top” tools. It’s difficult to find your way through the deluge of options and more arrive on the scene each day.
I’d suggest prioritizing just two types and focusing on getting access to the data they provide. First is Google Analytics. This simple and free tool gives you tons of data about your webpage: the number of unique visitors, time on page, bounce rate, and where your visitors are coming to your site from (social media, organic search, etc.). Anyone with a webpage can access it.
Second, I’d recommend a social media posting tool like Buffer, SproutSocial, or Hootsuite. There are free versions of Buffer and Hootsuite but to get access to the best analytics and capabilities, you’ll need to pay anywhere from $10-$100 per month. These tools will help you post to multiple social media networks and then analyze how many people tweet, like, or otherwise engage with you content. You might also want to look at a tool like SumAll. It is currently free and provides a single dashboard view of all your different social media platforms.
There are many other tools out there but these two should be enough to get you started and a long way down the track.
3. Experiment and adjust
No matter what tools you implement, you’ll need to try different approaches and adjust based on results. For example, we continually experiment with posting to social media at different times of the day or week. We just began a video series based on our blogs to see whether that changed or increased engagement. We continuously tweak blog titles to see which get the most interest and we jump on top of anything that results in conversions to our newsletter, which is a key priority for us. You’ll need to conduct similar experiments and tweaks. No one ever starts out with the exact right plan.
Your agency or program needs to start thinking about a digital measurement strategy. In a limited resource environment, this type of data can help you stand out from the pack. It will also help you fine-tune the services and content you provide to your customers and stakeholders.
What types of measurement strategies do you employ?
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I’m sure you’ve noticed a bit of chatter lately surrounding federal agencies’ pursuit of smartphone apps, data portals and other stakeholder engagement platforms. Leaders intend these innovations to attract visibility to agency activities and establish themselves as digital leaders in an industry that typically has been slow to deploy consumer-facing technology. The underlying enthusiasm behind improving stakeholders’ digital experience is well intended – government should always seek better ways to understand the needs and expertise of constituents. However, too often agencies will rush to procure a new toy without doing proper due diligence. Questions regarding cost of investment, cost of ownership, potential readership and application maintenance need to be considered before acquiring any digital tool. Without sincere requirements gathering, a new engagement platform might be seen as a leader’s pet project and negate the benefits of transparency, co-authorship, time effectiveness and stakeholder satisfaction that were originally intended.
I have written about the upside of experimenting with low cost or Open Source solutions, and these gains are especially apparent when considering a stakeholder engagement platform.
Here are 4 success factors to incorporate into your online stakeholder engagement strategy:
1. Defined Intention: Market demand should prompt the launch of a new stakeholder engagement platform, not technology push from in-house decision makers. Agencies should gauge the success of “engagement” by the community it fosters, so it only makes sense to make sure that the platform satisfies a stakeholder or programmatic need before rolling it out. Be specific in defining why your organization needs stakeholder input, how much access you want to provide them, and what types of interaction they’ll respond positively to. This helps narrow the myriad of nuanced, low-cost technology options that are at your disposal. For instance, a content aggregator might fit if your agency wants to establish itself as the nexus of an emerging thought leadership community. A crowdsourcing Wiki page is best suited for data collection and stakeholder authorship on a topic that internal staff doesn’t have the bandwidth or expertise to master.
Sadly, most citizens won’t download an app only to read about new contract awards and speaking engagements. And that’s okay since you wouldn’t want to use this one-way engagement model anyway. Most agencies’ missions are too complex to define success by simply counting clicks or pages per visit in isolation. Modern engagement in the public sector renders technology into sustained, positive relationships with stakeholders that improve the discourse surrounding an organization or program. Aim for an engagement platform to foster two-way communication – where agency leaders raise public awareness on agency vision and receive direction from stakeholders.
2. Avoid Unnecessary Cost: Entry-level web development shells to build these engagement communities are available for (next to) nothing, and allow staff without HTML and CSS experience to build clean, functional platforms. These development engines alone won’t get you all of the capabilities that modern web users want without a little work, but they’re quick to market and avoid sunk time, cost and productivity. Plus, nearly all can be easily integrated with free, off-the-shelf plugins like Google Apps, jQuery, and these landing pages. These low-cost additions will invite more conversation and traffic to your cause without the time or headache that results from manual development.
Web-hosted communities will also save your agency countless hours by reducing the need for 1-on-1 conference calls and out of town meetings by engaging stakeholders at scale. Pairing this convenience factor with minimal tech overhead will boost productivity, budget execution and goodwill with stakeholders.
3. Transparency & Visibility: Regardless of their level of involvement, executives, staff and stakeholders can continuously monitor progress on an effort when an engagement community is hosted online. Entire teams can contribute ideas, pose questions and network amongst themselves at their own convenience – and all parties involved will thank you for it.
The online collaboration model also harnesses the power of peer Review and the “Wisdom of Crowds”. Gathering as many data points as possible from a diverse stakeholder base will stress-test your agency’s direction without the need for separate research efforts.
4. Motivated Coalition: Transparent, web-based platforms allow your core stakeholders to invite peers to the cause, creating self-sustaining momentum around your program. Transform an ordinary working group into motivated evangelists by capturing this momentum in final products and strategic development. Stakeholder advocates represent trusted communication channels to state and local constituencies, and ensures that your agency’s knowledge products gain traction (and don’t just gather dust on a shelf somewhere.)
What challenges does your organization face when engaging stakeholders? How could low-cost online platforms help mitigate these challenges?
Image courtesy of https://campwithme.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/crowdsourcing.jpg
The start of a new year is always a good time to take a look in the mirror, and coincidentally that’s also what Corner Alliance’s top blog of 2014 asks you to do. As we move into the New Year, Corner Alliance is taking a look back at the top 10 blogs from 2014. Thank you to all our readers, you can expect many more blogs like these in 2015.
- You Need to Take a Look in the Mirror: 3 Tips for Improving Your Self-Awareness as a Leader
- We Can’t Hear You: 7 Tips on Standing Out and Speaking Up
- 5 Tips for Being More Decisive in 2014
- Three Tips for Improving Federal Employee Morale
- Presentation Tools and Tactics to Avoid Saying, “I’ll Get Back to You on That”
- Five Leadership Lessons from the Land
- 10 Government Trends for 2014
- Inbound for Government: 3 Reasons It’s the Future of Government Communications
- Wellness on the Road: How to Maintain Healthy Habits When You Leave Your Comfort Zone (and Your Time Zone) Behind
- What’s in an Agenda? 4 Reasons Why Your Agenda Can Make or Break Your Meetings
In 2014, federal agencies felt pressure to do more with less. In 2015, those same agencies must better communicate their value in order to achieve their goals. Crafting compelling and digestible content across multiple platforms assists in justifying investments, increasing external awareness, and creating buy-in. The wide use of online platforms is growing, with a few strong federal contenders and more than a few flops. Blogging is especially challenging, but a valuable asset to government entities. When executing your successful digital plan this New Year, build a robust blogging strategy and don’t make these common six mistakes.
1. Lacking a mission focus: There are millions of blogs on the web. If you want to be the authoritative voice on your agency’s focus area or niche, keep the blog focused. Clarity is the first step to achieving big success.
2. Inconsistency: Readers are drawn to quality blogs with a consistent publishing schedule. Don’t post sloppy work or go long periods without posting. One well thought out blog a week, at the same time of day, is a good start. Blogging is a long-term commitment and you won’t see a return on investment immediately, so be patient. Build trust with readers so they give you more of their time in the future.
3. Audience disconnect: Who is your targeted audience? How can you connect with them? Hint: it’s not always by writing about what you are interested in. Write on topics in your focus area that your readers want to hear about and then interact with them.
4. Jargon: Authors think complexity is a sign of intelligence. It’s not. Cut the jargon and write simply, succinctly, and with sophistication.
5. Social media: In the current digital age, it’s not enough to write a blog and publish it. With so much useful content out there, your blog will go unnoticed unless you create multiple avenues for readers to access it.
6. Obvious advertising: There is a dark side to communicating your value through blogs or other online platforms. Sure, this is a great opportunity to create buy-in, but don’t sell yourself all the time. A good rule: if you don’t have something interesting to post, don’t post at all.
7. Publishing Press Releases: It’s tempting to simply post press releases on your blog. They’re already written and contain all the information you want to publish. But press releases are formatted for journalists and formal publications. Your readers and stakeholders want information that is easy to digest. When posting information from a press release to your blog make sure to edit the content for a blog.
If you avoid these common mistakes, followers will struggle not to read on. Above all, remember that your audience wants to learn from your experience in, and knowledge of, the federal space.
Like many people who grew up in the south, I am somewhat obsessed with college football. This year, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) system is being replaced by the College Football Playoff, which means the top four teams will play each other to see which two will progress to the national championship game. There’s a big caveat to this system, however: the top four teams are selected by an official committee instead of automatically qualifying based on their ranking in the national polls. In fact, the committee did not select one team ranked nationally in the top four because this team did not meet their criteria. This has sparked a fair amount of debate among college football fans, who feel that the committee hasn’t given enough insight into the criteria and decision-making process they used to choose the four teams progressing to the playoffs.
After reading many fan grievances, I’ve come up with a list of three things that managers can learn from the College Football Playoff committee’s first annual selection:
Establish expectations up front
At the beginning of the season, the committee did say that national rankings wouldn’t necessarily guarantee a spot in the playoffs. They hinted at some of the things they’d be looking for when making their playoff selections, but failed to provide enough specific direction. The key takeaway for managers is to create clear expectations for how you want people to perform to ensure that they work towards your desired goals. At the start of a new project or quarter, take time to meet with your staff and let them know the specific tasks they need to achieve. Explain what success looks like for the team and how individuals can contribute. Establishing your expectations up front will ensure your team knows what they’re driving towards, and will save you time in the long run.
Make sure your metrics can be measured
After selecting the top four teams, the College Football Playoff committee provided a bit more insight into how they reached their decision. One of the things they looked at was strength of schedule- how well each team’s opponents performed during the season. This metric can be a bit vague, however, since there’s no real way to compare all teams equally. Managers should strive to work with metrics that are easily measured, since this leaves less opportunity for uncertainty and confusion among staff. When people know exactly how they’re going to be measured and can track their performance, they’re better able to concentrate on making progress. It also ensures that there are no surprises during review time, and gives people confidence in the system. Clear, measurable metrics are a surefire way to help empower your team to achieve success.
Communicate often to allow for course correction
The committee waited until the end of the season to provide insight on how they selected the top four teams. While this timeframe was a bit frustrating in that it didn’t allow for mid-season adjustments, it makes sense given the cycle of college football. Teams can’t add more difficult opponents to their schedules once the season has started, and conferences can’t suddenly add a championship game at the last second. Course correcting takes years for football programs, but managers don’t need to wait so long. Once you’ve established clear metrics, check in periodically with your team to make sure that no one is falling short for long periods of time. Waiting until the end of the project or review period to let staff know how they’re doing allows potential problems to persist longer than necessary. Work out a timeframe for informal check-ins with your staff to let them know that you’re invested in their success. It also allows you to address any issues as they arise rather than waiting until something big goes awry.
With those three tips in mind, you and your team are on the way to success! What other methods do you use to keep things on track?
Effective communication with Congress, partners, financial backers, and stakeholders is critical to the organizational success of Federal agencies. We have developed several blogs about communicating your value and the web is full of tips for communicating with stakeholders and tools for effective communication to achieve your mission. But what if your ability to communicate effectively is stymied by forces beyond your control?
In today’s Federal climate interagency collaboration is a key strategy to cut costs and minimize redundancy. Agencies often work together to solve a problem or support a shared stakeholder. However, bureaucracy both within and outside your agency can be the biggest roadblock to effective communication. Each agency has its own bureaucratic structure and therefore its own system of vetting and approving information for release. If your organization must collaborate with outside partners and must communicate with stakeholders you are probably familiar with the following challenges:
- Keeping Secrets – There is a lag between when you know something and when you can provide that information to those who need it
- The rumor mill – Lack of information leads to misinformation
- Are we there yet? – Stakeholders ask the same question over and over
All of these challenges can have serious consequences, including informational leaks, anger over widespread bad information, and frustration for those asking and answering the same questions over and over.
Here are three tips for overcoming the challenges caused by communication roadblocks.
1. Manage Expectations
Hey, the Federal government moves slowly. That is a fact. You can say it. Your stakeholders might forget that the Federal government may not be able to provide information at the same speed as local government, and especially not as fast as private industry. Once you call out that fact you have “named it and claimed it.” Your stakeholders will know what to expect and can start to work within your limitations accordingly.
2. Stick to the 3 “Cs” – Clear, Consistent, and Concise
When information is hard to get out, it is important that what does get out is clear, consistent, and concise. Every person involved in delivering your message should speak with one voice, so that there is no confusion. When your stakeholders get together to compare notes, you want them to say, “Yeah, I heard that too.” If not, they will come back to you over and over for clarification, or worse, rumors will spread and your credibility will be called into question.
3. Stop Talking
In the absence of information, it is not uncommon for people to talk in circles to fill the void. This can create confusion and frustration on the part of the listener. Just stop talking. Let your stakeholders tell you what they need and why they are frustrated. All you have to say is, “I understand and I will give you more information as soon as I am able.” Your stakeholders will probably keep asking you for more information, but they will feel confident that you are working to get it for them.
Tell us—how does your organization overcome bureaucratic challenges to getting information out?
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