How to Brief, Briefly: Infographics as Briefing Tools

In my work as a management consultant, I’ve lost track of how many PowerPoint slides I’ve put together, edited, spliced, diced, and repurposed over the years. After a while, they all seem to run together in a blur of bullet points and slide transitions intended to break up the monotony. However, I recently experimented with using an infographic as a briefing tool instead of a PowerPoint deck, with great success. In this case, the data and content on which my client was briefing lent itself to an infographic, as his presentation clearly followed a formula of “Situation, Desired Result, and Options.” More importantly, my client desired a more innovative briefing tool that would stand out from the traditional executive briefings to which his audience was accustomed and sparked an interactive conversation. In building this infographic as a briefing tool, I identified the following best practices: Get a second opinion. While infographics are a great way to brief decision-makers, they aren’t always the right way – you’ve got to know your audience. For example, a lawyer may not respond as well to an infographic if he or she is expecting a policy memo or brief. If you’re not sure how your audience will respond to an infographic, get a second opinion from someone who works for or with your audience or who has briefed him or her before. If you get nodding heads and decide to proceed with the infographic briefing, it never hurts to… Have a backup plan. Even if your audience is open to infographics as a briefing tool, it never hurts to have a backup plan and come prepared with either a PowerPoint deck that corresponds to the infographic, or a memo that builds on your infographic. Building a corresponding deck shouldn’t be a huge lift, if you build the same graphics and text from your infographic into structured PowerPoint slides. Having a backup plan could help put your audience at ease if he or she is accustomed to receiving a policy memo during a briefing presentation and make him or her more open to your innovative briefing ideas in the future, making your backup plan unnecessary in the future. Use graphics to tell a story. An infographic that is mostly text is no different from a policy memo, and probably takes longer to format than a Word document. Take the time to build out creative and informative graphics to aid your presentation. Focus on telling a story instead of turning bullet points into images. For example, I like to outline the problem or situation in the top section of the infographic using lots of images, arrows, and section numbers to guide the reader’s eye. Then throughout...

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3 Things to Know As We Head Into Proposal Season

‘Tis the season! Proposal season, that is. If you’re a government contractor in D.C., you know that summer brings heat waves, humidity, and lots and lots of Requests for Proposals (RFPs). To help you get in a (proposal) seasonal mood, we have collected three tips to reduce your stress and increase your chances of winning work: Follow the Instructions. It may come as a surprise, but just as you put a lot of time and effort into writing proposals, the Government puts a lot of time and effort into writing the RFP. Words are chosen carefully to ensure the right product or service is procured. You may feel the urge to skim through the RFP, focusing on the key elements like the Statement of Work or list of deliverables. As a rule, try to read the RFP from start to finish and carefully note the language that is used—for example, when does the RFP state you “shall” provide information versus when you “should”? The distinction is important and may impact the evaluation of your proposal. Reading closely will also help you show up better in front of the prospective client and the evaluation team. Disregarding instructions may come across as sloppy and indicates you either were not thorough in reading the RFP or that you are unwilling to comply with the prospective client’s requests. Either way, the reader may question whether this lack of quality or care will translate to future work. Avoid this altogether by reading the RFP closely and complying with instructions. If you find any of the instructions confusing or unclear, take advantage of the question and answer period to clarify. Show Your Interest. You may read an RFP and think the work is a perfect fit for your company. The only problem is, you don’t actually know the client. While these RFPs are tempting to bid on—and it’s not unheard of for companies to win work based on “cold bids”— your chances of winning significantly increase if the client knows you. Do your homework and get to know the client, their needs, and their challenges in advance of writing your proposal. Read their website regularly, monitor them in the news, and, if possible, meet with them in person. To prepare for the specific opportunity, take advantage of opportunities such as industry days, partnering lists, and advance documents (e.g., Sources Sought, Requests for Information) to demonstrate your interest. In the end, it quickly becomes evident that proposal evaluations offer a clear understanding to the client and which ones are just regurgitating the RFP. Skip the Fluff. You have a limited number of pages to tell your story. Don’t waste the space with “fluff” marketing language about your...

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How to Successfully Engage Your Stakeholders

Stakeholder contribution and collaboration are vital components of a successful program. To effectively engage a specific stakeholder community, such as public safety, a project manager needs a detailed engagement plan tailored to that community. Particularly in the public safety realm, gathering input and collaborating with police, firemen, EMT, industry, and academia is a critical but daunting task. Here are three ways to successfully engage your stakeholders: Develop a detailed outreach plan-Ask yourself a few questions. First, what is the purpose of your outreach? In my experience white boarding your vision with key players of your team provides momentum and clarity by visualizing your plan. Next, who is your key audience? You may have a variety of stakeholders that are important to your program and each sub-group requires a different level of outreach. Academia may prefer conference calls while first responders may appreciate more face-to-face interviews. And finally, what is your timeline? Making sure your timeline incorporates both immediate needs and continuous and long-term efforts will allow optimal involvement with stakeholders. Once you’ve identified these basic criteria’s, then you can start developing an outreach plan that is tailored to effectively engage your stakeholders. Execute a comprehensive communication strategy-The first step to achieving a successful communications strategy is dedicating enough time and resources to your mission. Many project managers make the mistake of thinking about communications as an afterthought rather than an equally important part of their project. Next, establish what message you want to convey and which communication platform to utilize. There are a variety of platforms, each with their own benefits and drawbacks, so make sure to determine which will produce optimal stakeholder engagement based on your stakeholders and projects. For example, public safety stakeholders prefer different types of communications – some on the Federal level might favor social media while other localized public safety stakeholders may focus on annual conferences and email. Understanding your specific stakeholder community is fundamental to developing a comprehensive communication strategy. Once you’ve established your ideal communication avenues, push key messages to your targeted audience and maintain communications. “One and done” should never be the answer to an effective communication strategy. Always maintain continuity in your messaging but do not exhaust your audience. Promote two-way collaboration-A brilliant communication strategy can only go so far without collaboration. An absolute must for stakeholder engagement is promoting two-way communications between stakeholders and your program. A great way to collaborate with the public safety community is to convene working groups and utilize innovative platforms like crowd sourcing wiki pages. This allows you to engage and get to know your stakeholders. Most importantly, do not forget to be proactive and maintain consistency in your efforts, this will establish a...

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Improving Monitoring by Developing Better Relationships with Grantees

Creating and maintaining a positive relationship with your grantees can be a tough job. Not only is there an inevitable power imbalance between any given grantor and grantee, that partnership can become even more tense when grantees are working with a Federal entity. As a Federal entity, you have two overarching responsibilities. First and foremost, you have to confirm taxpayer money is being used in accordance with the law. In addition to that, you’re tasked with making sure grant money is used to produce desired results. You want the biggest bang for your buck! If you don’t have a positive relationship with your grantees, what should be a cooperative endeavor can easily devolve into an unproductive and even adversarial back-and-forth. It doesn’t have to be that way! Here are three ways Federal entities can ensure effective monitoring of grant programs by improving their relationships with grantees: Communicate, communicate, communicate! While it might be a buzzword in the consulting world, stakeholder engagement is vital to any effective grant program. From before the grant is awarded, through the life of the grant, and even after the grant is closed, the grantor and grantee must communicate effectively with each other. Expectations should be clear, requirements should be known, and the tone should be respectful. Site visits shouldn’t feel like interrogations. Even though grant reviews are meant to prevent, detect, and correct errors, the grantor shouldn’t focus solely on flaws.  Instead, try a peer-to-peer discussion of what works and what doesn’t. After all, the grantor and grantee, should have the same end goals. Stay Predictable. Nothing frustrates and demoralizes more grantees, than a lack of predictability from the grantor. Too much communication, if lacking predictability and direction, can be just as detrimental to the grantor or grantee relationship. Confusing, contradicting, and generally unhelpful advice not only damages the relationship, but discourages the grantee from doing more than simply meeting the bare minimum compliance requirements. With the Uniform Grants Guidance in full effect in 2016, Federal entities now have just about all responsibilities codified. From audit obligations, to remedies for non-compliance, to standardized forms, it might seem difficult for a Federal entity to not be predictable. However, consider interactions with the grantee. If multiple Federal Program Officers interact with a recipient, make sure they’re on message and don’t give conflicting information or advice. Empower your grantees. As a Federal entity, it should be your goal to develop a trusting, honest, and authentic relationship with your grantees. What better way to do this than entrust the recipient with some self-monitoring responsibilities? The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has shifted emphasis to strong internal controls and reduced specific compliance requirements. By emphasizing “performance” over “compliance” you...

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Batten down the hatches – a new Administration is on the way: How mid-level leaders in the federal government can prepare their teams for change

No matter how things shake out this November, one thing is certain – a new Administration will be moving into the Oval Office. It’s no secret that the new Administration, regardless of which party they represent, will make a large number of political appointments at senior leadership levels throughout the federal government. In fact, the United States has more political appointees than any other industrialized democracy. The virtues of the political appointee system have been debated for decades, if not centuries (when they were referred to as Spoils or Patronage). Efficiency of the system aside, mid-level leaders in the federal government are expected to continue delivering value to the American public in the midst of sometimes sweeping changes in agency direction, vision, and priorities. Here are three things that mid-level government leaders can do now to prepare their teams for the change: Reevaluate your organization’s strategic plan and organize it into near-term, midterm, and long-term strategic objectives or goals that you hope to achieve. These goals should be grounded in the value you are providing your stakeholders and the impact your work is making. Make them achievable and measurable. Communicate them to leadership early and often. Get buy-in from your stakeholders. The most important thing you can do to ensure your organization’s vision continues to be a priority for senior leadership is to build support within your key stakeholder communities. Engage with them at every step of your processes and projects. Bring them to the table and truly listen to what they need and want from your organization. Keep them engaged and they will become your biggest champions. Your organization’s impact will increase exponentially and your strategic objectives will have traceability and grassroots support, making them difficult to abandon by new leadership. Create momentum by executing an implementation strategy. Don’t wait until new leadership is in place to execute your strategic plan. Create an implementation strategy that lays out your 30, 60, 90, or 120-Day Plan. After all, objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Your organization can be creating immediate wins for new leadership to be proud of and rally behind. Be sure that your implementation strategy is flexible and can adapt to small shifts while remaining relevant. There is no way to avoid the impending changes on the horizon. Mid-level government leaders should be preparing their teams now to ensure that no matter what happens after Inauguration Day, their programs are aligned with stakeholder needs and their teams are empowered to deliver regardless of an ever-shifting leadership landscape.      ...

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Making Promotion Possible in the Federal Government

‘Marketing’, ‘Advertising’, ‘Promotion’, and ‘Branding’ – the Federal Government tends to shy away from these terms. While some areas of government, such as Medicare and Armed Forces recruitment justifiably spend large amounts on advertising, other areas tend to target communications or outreach to specific stakeholders through static websites or presentations/booths at conferences. More savvy organizations may also tweet or place updates on Facebook, but they lack promotion to attract followers. Federal program managers desperately want to convey the value of their programs for citizens and stakeholders, but don’t have a mechanism to do it. So, what can a Federal program do to garner attention? – Here are a few tips: Do work that makes an impact – When your program does work that matters to your stakeholders, they will promote your work for you. Word of mouth is still a very effective way to get your message out – just make sure you have a place for stakeholders to go to learn more. Figure out your message and say it over and over again – Make your message your brand and make that message compelling for the audience you are trying to reach. Consistency across all your outreach methods will help stakeholders get to know your program and know what to expect from the program’s agenda. Try new avenues for reaching your stakeholders – Have you gone to the same three conferences year after year? In all likelihood you are running into the same people each time. Mix in new and unique events to talk about your programs and the impact you are having on the day-to-day lives of stakeholders. Make your presentations noticeably different – Consider a visual recording of the session, interactive presentations, and a panel discussion rather than your standard presentation. By delivering differently, you can create a buzz and interest in your program that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. Don’t spin your wheels. If something isn’t working, try something else – If you consistently feel like you aren’t reaching your stakeholders it is time to push the pause button on your communications strategy. Retool the strategy focusing on new mechanisms for reaching your stakeholder communities. What are the ways you have seen the Federal Government successfully ‘promote’ their programs without crossing the line into advertising?  ...

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