A New Year is a Great Time for a Program Gut Check

The beginning of a new year is a perfect opportunity for you to take some stock of your agency, office, or program. As a government leader, you don’t usually have the luxury of new starts and new budgets. Funding is tight and your fastest and most effective way to funding new priorities is to re-prioritize internal resources. I’m guessing that not everything your agency, office, or program is doing is of the highest value to the customer. If you as a leader can’t justify why your organization is doing something, then it’s time for the program gut check exercise. Here's how you do it.

Make a spreadsheet with three columns. In column A list all of the projects and investments you have ongoing within your agency, office, or program. In Column B write in a brief justification for each one. How does that project support a core need of your customer? Do your customers need and care about this program? If so why? That’s the justification. Using a spreadsheet forces you to keep those justifications short and to the point. Next in Column C estimate the resources dedicated to the project. That estimate can be dollars or FTE or some other combination of those or other factors.

Now you’re ready for some analysis. Reorder the projects based on how compelling the justification is. Usually you can find a natural breakpoint where the justifications start to sound dubious-somewhere about two thirds of the way down the columns. You can put a darker black line at that breakpoint. Total up all the resources below that line. Also look at where the highest resource projects lie in the order. If they are close to the black line, it’s important to think about whether they belong above or below that line. Below the line projects are the people, dollars, and other resources you have to build something new and more relevant in the new year.

Of course, there are lots of barriers to harnessing those resources including resistance to change from those working on the projects, but iIt’s more likely you’ll be able to reorient current resources rather than going through the process to find new ones. The key for any government leader is to build a compelling vision for the future and a reason to change. The more compelling and urgent the reasons for change are, the more likely people will be to get on board. If you are telling someone that his or her pet project has to go away they’ll resist but if you say,"We have to free you up to work on a high profile initiative," resistance can become enthusiasm.



Planning Is More Important than Plans

I've never heard anyone complain about how short government documents are. In fact its the opposite. You often have to wade through dozens if not hundreds of pages of text to decipher the gist of a document. Most people just don't have the time. Most people don't even read short blogs much less multi-page documents. 

Nowhere is this situation more prevalent than in government strategic plans. They cover 4-5 years or more and run on for pages. After you put in your fifth appendix, it's time for a reality check. It could be that the tech editor and the author are the only two people who have ever read the full document. However, agencies and programs should not take the lack of readers as a reason to stop planning.

First, one of the most valuable aspects of creating a plan is the process of planning itself. In the best case, government leaders are able to talk with customers, stakeholders, and their staff. They seek out information and data from a wide variety of sources. They spend time thinking and prioritizing. These activities are invaluable. The tragedy of 5 year strategic plans is that many leaders view them as one time exercises rather than a way to establish an on going planning rhythm. Circumstances and facts change so the process of planning has to continue in response.

The second valuable outcome of a strategic plan is that page or two that outlines the key functions and goals of the agency or program. That page represents the priorities that leadership has established. I recommend that leaders pull those two pages out and find ways to talk about them every day. Do videos and blogs about them. Put them in your PowerPoints. Live those priorities. Line up your resources behind them. Then while your strategic plan is gathering virtual dust on a server somewhere, you can actually get something done about the priorities. 

Applying a Business Strategic Planning Process to the Individual

individual-strategic-planningEarlier this year, Corner Alliance put key consulting practices – facilitation, meeting design, and strategic planning – to use with two extraordinary high school students. Corner Alliance did this in collaboration with Teamesteem, a local non-profit organization, which helps teenagers become entrepreneurs. To facilitate, Corner Alliance applied our unique strategic planning methodology, often used with public and private organizations, to guide the rising high school seniors through a personal planning exercise. Both the teens and facilitators were inspired by the exercise, and it proved how valuable Corner Alliance’s basic strategic planning methodology can be for identifying short- and long-term personal goals. At Corner Alliance, we view strategic planning as a collaborative effort with clients to identify future goals, initiatives to achieve them, and barriers that might impede success. During a strategic planning session, Corner Alliance’s goal is to facilitate a conversation with the client that helps them clarify their existing ideas and generate new ideas. To do this we ask specific questions about how each step will be achieved, and what resources will be needed for each stage of the journey.  We know that the hardest part of strategic planning is the follow through, or individual accountability. It’s too easy to get involved in the daily “fire drills” and forget to dedicate time toward your goals. For this reason, we advocate individual accountability through regular check-ins and adjustments to ensure success.

We adjusted our strategic planning method to help two hard-charging teens map their paths forward. Corner Alliance facilitators brainstormed targeted questions before the meeting to address the teens’ current state, future goals, action items, and how each could maintain accountability. It was important to develop questions that would not only get the teens thinking but also keep them engaged in the conversation. We wanted this session to be valuable to the teens, one critical step toward reaching their goals and a new skill for their tool box to access when goal planning in the future.

The teens’ goals included going to college, getting good grades, and continuing to run their own businesses. These are not ordinary teens – both are entrepreneurs, with uncanny drive for continued success. Each has already started a company, and one was even featured in Inc Magazine.  During the next year, one of the teens would like to get into the real-estate business while also applying to college. The other participating teen, a young woman who moved to the United States during elementary school, has focused her natural artistic abilities through her self-designed clothing line and photography work. They both have big aspirations and the drive to accomplish them; they just need a little support getting there. That’s where the Corner Alliance strategic planning methodology comes in (pictured above). From the strategic planning meeting three primary lessons emerged. These lessons are valuable for anyone trying to create and accomplish meaningful goals for themselves or an organization:


  1. Think about your end game. Creating goals for the long term can seem overwhelming but it is best to assess what your end goals are first and then identify the action items needed to get there. You want each of the action items to work together, creating stepping stones towards a final target. Many books will argue timeframes but we recommend goals targeted around 6 months, one year, and 3 years.
  2. Accountability is key. The accountability factor in strategy execution is essential, even when developing your goals. Developing tangible, structured goals with objectives and deadlines takes time. Have accountability in place at the start of the goal setting process to ensure follow through. Don’t get caught just fighting fires.
  3. Be flexible. Goal setting is intended to be motivating; it should not create additional stress or barriers. When developing your goals understand that they are targets to aspire to but be open to the fact that your goals may…and will likely…change over time. Don’t use the accountability mechanisms noted earlier to identify failures and point out negatives. Instead, recognize what is working and build from there.

The two teens were great to work with – they were both passionate about their futures and focused on figuring out what it would take to achieve their goals. At the end of the session, they each left with renewed energy and documentation of their planning discussions. A follow-up session is scheduled for January of 2017, where Corner Alliance will help each teen assess the steps that they have taken and adjust where/if needed.  We will meet with the teens to assess short-term accomplishments, identify possible adjustments, and continue planning based on their experiences over the next several months. In the meantime, representatives of Teamesteem are checking in with these teens on a regular basis to maintain the accountability.


Prepared for 72 hours. Is it enough?

Most preparedness campaigns share the message that citizens need to be prepared for 72 hours or three days in an emergency—that you need to count on government resources not being able to make it to your household or location within that amount of time. These campaigns ask you to make a plan for reunification and evacuation with your loved ones who may be at work or at school. They also suggest that you prepare a preparedness kit with items such as food, water, flashlights, batteries and even items like a deck of cards. More recently in the current era of social media and the capability to send focused alerts to communities, emergency management partners are encouraging citizens to also get connected—sign up for alerts, join community facebook pages, and know your neighbors. This social connectedness is a strong thread to keep communities together when day-to- day infrastructure and services that we take for granted may not be available. A concerning observation about the 72 hour focus remains that year after year, despite dedicated preparedness campaign investments with tactful messages and delivery, citizens are still not prepared for 7 hours let alone the recommended 72 hours. When it snowed a few feet last year in the DC area (with accurate forecasting), I think 90% of residents went to the store within the first day of the storm to buy the essential items that they should have purchased prior to the storm. What’s even more concerning is that it’s widely recognized by honest public safety officials that in a major disaster (major earthquake, hurricane, blizzard, etc.) that planning for even 72 hours is likely not enough!

If a true disaster strikes cities in the mid-Atlantic at a magnitude larger than our last Snowmaggedon, the big box stores, grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, and banks will not be open. Electricity could be out for days or weeks. With this type of infrastructure down, all local, state, and even Federal government resources will be completely surged to capacity to try to maintain a basic level of public safety in our communities. They will not have the capacity to knock on doors to give people food, water, blankets, or fans.

I am not trying to employ scare tactics by any means, but this is a reality that we need to face and an expectation that we need to communicate. I recommend the following tips to stay prepared beyond 72 hours:

  • Plan to use your electronics but also plan for them to go down. Have backup chargers for your mobile devices charged and ready.
  • Sign up for your local emergency management alert system and join your community Facebook pages and Twitter feeds to improve your family’s situational awareness.
  • Say hi to your neighbors. This seems silly but it helps to build the social fabric of our community and will help you understand what they can help with and what they may need help with in a crisis. You and your neighbors will have to partner to get through a major disaster as public safety will be overwhelmed. You may be each other’s first responders.
  • Gather supplies in your home and make a go bag. Make sure to rotate your food and even water supply once a year or so. Gather batteries, buy a few cheap phone chargers, and flashlights. Plan everything with the assumption that you will not have power or government services.
  • Make a reunification and evacuation plan and make sure your family knows the plan.

There are many helpful lists available (see FEMA.gov and many state/local emergency management web sites) with guidance for go bags and preparedness kits. What do you think are the most important items to store to get beyond 72 hours?

Traits of a Leader

LeadershipOne of our projects is running an Emerging Leaders program for up-and- coming Emergency Managers from across the country.  Sponsored by Target Corporation and ESRI, this program brings in leaders from each of these companies as well as Directors of Emergency Management from some of the largest cities and jurisdictions in the country to discuss leadership issues. Recently, I had the pleasure of facilitating a panel of such leaders. A question posed by a student was “what are the leadership traits that have made you successful?” Traits noted were:

  •  “Say-do” ratio. If you say you are going to do it, then do it.
  •  Persistence. Don’t give up even in the face of pushback.
  •  Selflessness. It’s not about you. Focusing on your success does not provide success.  Focus on those around you.
  •  Transparent. Don’t hide your thoughts or the situation.
  •  Self awareness. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Know how you show up to others and how you show up in stressful situations.  Do you tend to make quick decisions or make no decisions at all? Do you tend to react with noticeable anger or appear too calm as though there are no issues at all?
  •  Ask for help. This is a collaborative society. Don’t try to do it all and don’t try to do it all alone.
  •  Be calm in a crisis. Leaders can cause chaos if they are not calm. Don’t let the disaster manage you.

What was most amazing to me was the concurrence from senior public and private sector executives that this list is accurate. There was no differentiation based on if you’re part of a for profit business or if you’re a government employee.

Do you have these traits? What are others you would add to this list?

Utilizing Prize Challenges In the Government

You may not associate prize challenges as a technique commonly used by the government to accelerate innovation. However, since 2010, over 690 prizes from 98 federal agencies have offered more than $220 million in prize awards. The concept of running prize challenges in the Federal government is not new. Some prizes stem back several centuries, such as England’s Longitude Prize of 1714. This was a time when maritime trade and exploration were unable to accurately navigate their ships. It was a clock maker by the name of John Harrison, who developed a marine chronometer – the winning solution. This unlikely suspect earned upwards of $2 million in today’s currency and revolutionized subsequent marine travel technology. Even the most unlikely individuals create innovative solutions to the world’s most difficult problems. A major benefit of running a prize challenge is being able to expand beyond your usual audience, and attract diverse talent from a variety of disciplines who come together and solve a problem. There, you can find the most unlikely suspects. Some of the other benefits to running prize challenges are:

  • Running a prize challenge greatly accelerates the timeline of finding innovative solutions to the problem at hand. Rather than investing in one group’s ability to solve a problem, such as with a grant, prize challenges invite many different groups to solve the problem resulting in a wider range of innovative solutions.
  • In addition, prize competitions allow agencies to only pay for winning solutions. Perhaps you award first, second, and third place winners, but you do not need to compensate other participants for their solutions. Prize challenges are cost effective in that agencies are presented with many solutions, and can pick and choose the ones that most closely meet their criteria.
  • Prize challenges help stimulate the market and private sector investments. Depending on intellectual property provisions and the goal of the prize challenge, solutions can be further developed and implemented into the market after a prize challenge has ended. Additionally, winning solutions are not the only solutions that may be developed. Runner ups can also be developed further and create additional investment opportunities.
  • Successful prize challenges thrive from cultivating a collaborative community dedicated to solving important issues. Crowdsourcing and open innovation allow for communities to come together regardless of competition. Teams are able to be formed through networking and community engagement opportunities.

There are many benefits to running a prize challenge, however prize challenges are complex and involve much time and effort. They are not a “one-size-fits-all” to every problem out there.

  • Running a successful prize competition requires a significant amount of research, planning, & resources. Unless your agency has an established prize competition team already, internal resources are not typically well-versed in prize execution. Much time and effort is needed in the development of an experienced prize design team to ensure that your agency runs an effective and engaging prize challenge.
  • Stemming from the previous point, effective communication practices between large groups of people are necessary throughout the entire prize challenge process. Fostering a collaborative environment between the prize team, solvers, judges, the general public, stakeholders, and industry leaders is no easy feat. Developing an efficient communications strategy and a considerable amount of organization is vital in making sure everyone is up to speed.

There are many pros and cons to consider when running prize challenges. Successful government prize challenges are most impactful when agencies dedicate the proper time, resources, and expertise to executing the prize. Success is also largely a result of an agency’s ability to effectively recruit and engage motivated solver communities. As the public sector increases to implement this creative approach to problem-solving, ground-breaking solutions may increase the progress and development of our country as a whole.

Information Sharing in the Public Safety Community

There is a lot of energy in the public safety sector today around the term information sharing. Information is everywhere and with the build out of the Internet of Things (IoT) our public safety friends will continue to be flooded with too much information.  Information, is great if it’s accurate, relevant and provided at the right time.  There are a lot of Federal initiatives that have been stood up to help the public safety community with this issue.  At the same time, many local departments are coordinating with other disciplines and jurisdictions in an attempt to improve information sharing at their level, but often invest in systems that only provide them part of the solution that is required. While we won’t solve public safety’s information sharing issues overnight (and that is part of the problem), here are four ideas to consider when standing up a public safety information sharing initiative:

  1. You must work out the governance first.  Who needs what data and when? Who has that data? Who else needs that data to make decisions? Locals want to own their data. They want to be able to turn it on and off, and the ability to share their data with others.
  2. You must then develop and operationalize standard operating procedures (SOPs).  Do you have standard operating procedures (SOPs)? Are the public safety partners that will be responding aware of the procedures, so they can show up and respond in alignment? Having SOPs is one thing. Having SOPs that you actually use is another. Documents that sit on a shelf and are only pulled for big incidents are essentially worthless.
  3. You must exercise and train. Would a big time athlete show up for a game not having practiced for many hours? Nope. And, if she did, she likely wouldn’t be at her best. Public safety needs to take the same approach to information sharing.
  4. Finally, if you’re not using your information sharing system/applications on a daily basis, then when the sh*t hits the fan you’re efforts to share information will likely fall short of expectations. Unlike a land mobile radio (LMR) system that is used for voice communications, there are normally many different systems that provide data for a more complete information-sharing environment. Think of this as a systems-of-systems. During the event or incident is not the time to think about the governance, determine who has the data you need or what systems are relevant, or write an SOP.

Notice that I did not say anything about the technology used for information sharing. Technology will not solve the problem. There are tons and tons of technology vendors selling you the solution that will “solve all of your problems”.  If you don’t address the full system -- governance, SOPs, exercises and training, and usage (see the SAFECOM Continuum) -- then your information sharing initiatives will fall short. When it comes to information sharing in the public safety environment, are there any other considerations I’m missing? How would you approach this complex issue given the tight budgets of today’s state, local, and federal budgets?


Understanding the Role of Emergency Managers

I have had the pleasure of supporting Emergency Managers for a few years now and I've seen that they have a serious problem. Not many people understand their role. They are constantly selling their services to elected officials and the public they serve. It’s really easy to understand what Big Blue (law enforcement) does. They uphold our laws. They arrive in fast blue cars and carry guns and handcuffs. It’s also really easy to understand what Big Red (fire/rescue) does. They arrive in large red trucks, pull out hoses, and put out fires. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) also provide easy-to-understand support, to our communities. They provide triage and medical services until the patient(s) can get to the hospital.  All of these services are vital to our communities. What do Emergency Managers do? What do they drive, what do they carry, and what do they own? A video the New York City Office of Emergency Management (NYC OEM) put together a few years ago does a great job of describing its role.

The reality is that Emergency Managers don’t usually own anything and their job is to work the scene behind the scenes. They don’t have tactical teams protecting our citizens or big red trucks with flashy lights that put out fires. They don’t usually carry guns (unless you’re from Texas) and they don’t arrest people. They’re rarely needed in a response to a normal, everyday event or incident. Whether it is a house fire, a high speed chase, or a normal 911 call for a suspected heart attack, Emergency Managers don’t have a role.

Emergency Managers are masters in planning, logistics, collaboration, communications, and coordination. They are vital to the success of any community handling large planned events, significant weather (think of the floods in Texas right now) and multi-agency/multi-jurisdictional incidents, etc. Their job is to coordinate and communicate across departments for senior leadership.  They anticipate what will be needed tomorrow, determine who has the resources, and advise senior leadership on the logical path forward absent cultural constraints of specific job functions. They promote Federal efforts such as the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command Structure (ICS) when other disciplines question these efforts because they know a level of consistency across operations will help everyone’s ability to provide mutual aid to their neighbor. As an Emergency Manager from a very large county mentioned to me recently, “In the world of Big Red and Big Blue...Emergency Managers are Big Purple. They’re Sweden.”

Emergency Managers have an important role in the incident planning, response, and recovery cycle. They’re vital in the design, organization, and execution of cross discipline planning and exercise efforts. When it comes to large response and recovery efforts, their value is in finding the right resources to apply at the right time, regardless of where they fit, the organizational structure, and to provide elected officials the information they need to communicate a holistic approach to their citizens.

My advice to elected officials is to give your Emergency Manager a voice. If your Emergency Manager has been set up with the proper authorities, she’ll be able to provide the coordination, communications, and situational awareness required to support you in making the right decisions. I realize this viewpoint will stir some pots. Across the country in smaller communities Emergency Management is often an 'additional duty as assigned’. Yes, that’s a problem as it’s often a person from fire or police who is already maxed out.

I know there are many views regarding the role of Emergency Managers and how best they can support their communities/citizens.  What’s your perspective? How can Emergency Managers do a better job of communicating their value?


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:

  1. 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…

  1. 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.

  1. 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 the rest of the infographic I tie the options or solution I’m advocating back to the initial problem. You may find that tying the problem and the solution together is even easier with graphics than long memos – check out this blog and this blog outlining how infographics and dashboards can help tell a story.

  1. Don’t let creativity compromise clarity.

Infographics are a great executive briefing tool, but they are useless if your message is lost in the shuffle of too many images, colors, fonts, or words. Whatever briefing mechanism you use, your time is wasted if creativity compromises clarity. It never hurts to structure a flow to your infographic by including section numbers or arrows guiding the reader’s eye, denoting each section with a specific background or font color, or including section titles if appropriate. Check out this blog for more tips on developing clear infographics that communicate your value without compromising clarity.

  1. Develop (and stick to) detailed talking points.

After you’ve developed your briefing infographic, you may be tempted to think that it’s good enough to stand-alone. While that may be true while you’re admiring it at your desk, you don’t want to be caught in a scenario where you don’t have a response when your audience asks you to explain it. Along with developing your infographic, develop detailed talking points that speak to each section and provide any necessary context. As with traditional briefings, be prepared to answer questions as you go and explain the nuances of specific graphics. For instance, if you’ve included graphs or charts in your infographic you may be asked to explain what the charts signify, or why you used certain color designations – sometimes, using the color red versus the color blue can have unintended connotations. It’s also even more important when presenting with an infographic to stick to your talking points and ensure they flow logically from one section of the infographic to another. If you aren’t confident in your delivery, your audience may not be open to infographic briefings in the future.

How have you used infographics as briefing tools, or what other innovative briefing tools have you developed?

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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 company. Instead, focus on the solution you are proposing and the steps it will take to implement. This is the best way to show the client you understand their environment and how to operate in it.

Another piece of advice—just because there is a page limit does not mean you have to meet it. If you can share the same information in one sentence versus one paragraph, your message is likely to be clearer and better received by the client.

And with that, we wish you a very happy (and lucrative) proposal season!



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 good rapport for your program and will continuously boost stakeholder engagement. Implementing this three-pronged approach will increase stakeholder involvement, generate a developed understanding of your stakeholder needs, build energy in and around your program, and promote collaboration driven towards results.

What other techniques do you use to engage with stakeholders?










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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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 can achieve accountability without the grantee feeling like they are perpetually under the microscope. This means the relationship should be more goal-oriented and collaborative than compliance-focused and paternalistic. If you don’t trust your grantee, it will show and the grantee will be less forthcoming in the end. Make sure recipients know what the expectations are, but allow them enough flexibility of meeting their responsibilities in their own right.

By using these three tips, a federal entity can both make their own job easier, and ensure grant programs are properly monitored. Grantees can be intimidated by Federal entities, but they don’t have to be. If you engage stakeholders about what issues matter most to them, it will make grantees feel heard, and it gives them some control over the process.  You will end up with a more cooperative, collaborative, and trustworthy relationship.


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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.





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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?



“9-1-1 – What’s Your Emergency?” It’s Security.

Simple connectivity is no longer enough to meet the needs of emergency responders. The Internet of Things (IoT) and iterative improvements to wireless IP-based communications technology necessitate a need for more advanced emergency communications systems. Enhanced 9-1-1 (E9-1-1), designed to link Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) to first responders, is no longer capable of performing the services citizens expect from modern utilities, such as simple text. The identified solution is Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1), an upgraded system that not only supports voice calling for wire line, cellular, and VoIP, but added capabilities including text messaging, photo, video, and sensory data. The shift to NG9-1-1 will address a myriad of needs for both public safety and citizens. Some states already boast functional Emergency Services IP Networks (ESINets) or can receive texts, increasing efficiency and lowering risk. Yet numerous challenges face the 911 communities as it makes the transition from legacy systems to IP-based technologies: interoperable systems, funding, governance models, coordination, and accuracy are just a few.

While many of these challenges seem familiar for this type of technological transition, IP-based databases fundamentally change the nature of one threat in particular: security. Moving from a closed analog system to an interconnected IP network demands not just physical security, but more complex compliance for the protection of networks and data.

In 2010, the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) developed the Security for NG9-1-1 Standard to establish security criteria for ESINets with full IP connectivity. Since then, there has been much discussion around planning, policies, training, monitoring, and auditing NG9-1-1 systems. Privacy and protection of citizens’ personal information from hackers is the biggest concern. But the real emergency is not what happens when a hacker obtains data, it's what happens when a hacker manipulates it.

Public safety personnel intend to leverage the IoT and incoming interconnected data to improve situational awareness, protect emergency callers, and reduce the risks to responders seeking to assist them. Imagine the consequences of a first responder receiving false information, and wholly trusting the data, before entering an emergency.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told Congress “PSAP's are being thrust into the same cyber fight that have proven so challenging to both government and commercial organizations, but without the necessary tools.” If public safety does not trust the security of its system, adoption is unlikely despite its numerous benefits. Therefore, it is imperative that government, industry, and subject matter experts (SMEs) work together to develop world-class defense mechanisms that are fiscally and institutionally appropriate for nationwide adoption by PSAP's. But the need begs the question, how do you balance the need for security and ease of usability?

Innovation Is About Process As Much As Ideas

When we think about change and innovation, we tend to think about the idea or the inspiration that drives that change. We think that if we can just find the perfect goal, then everything else will fall into place around it. Based on my experience working with multiple leaders across government and in my own work leading a company, nothing can be further from the truth. Ideas and inspiration are important, no doubt, but without a disciplined process to put that idea into action, you really have nothing but words. As you create a strategy, spend 10% of your time on the vision and 90% of your time building the structure to implement it. Most likely the vision will morph and change as you go through the process of implementation so you shouldn’t spend too much time perfecting it up front. One resource that has shaped the way I approach implementing change is a popular business book called, Traction. I’ve adapted some of the lessons from the book for my own company, Corner Alliance, and I regularly apply its lessons to client environments. Here are four lessons that I have seen help my own and many other organizations in implementing new strategies.

Right People, Right Seats: I’ve yet to meet a leader who doesn’t think that having good people isn't important or more accurately the most important priority for an organization. Traction takes that idea one step further. You should seek out people who fit with the skills needed and the values of your organization, but you should also pay close attention to whether those people are in the right positions. You’ll often find someone who is a great cultural fit and is strongly aligned with the organization’s vision but they struggle in their position. At other times you might look to the outside for an “experienced” resource when an internal candidate without all the skills could be a more effective option. Hire for fit and train for skill as they say. 

It could be that by allowing a current employee to explore other roles or adjusting his or her responsibilities could yield tremendous benefits. Would the person with an internal compliance role be better off in the field with stakeholders or vice versa? Would someone be more effective with fewer staff management responsibilities or more? A key difference maker for organizations it to make sure the people you have aligned with your organization and its goals are in the best roles for them. As a leader, it’s far more important that you look around the table and feel confident that you have the right people in the right seats than it is to have the most optimized strategy.

The one-page strategy: Don’t overcomplicate things. The more clearly and consistently you can communicate the vision you are trying to achieve, the more likely you are to make progress. Traction has a two-page plan and organizer, but I challenge leaders to boil what they are trying to do down into one page if at all possible. Complicated, multi-phased plans are hard to digest. The urge to be thorough often ensures that few people can digest the contents of a plan. There are effective ways to communicate your vision, goals, initiatives, and metrics concisely. What, a one-page plan lacks in thoroughness will be made up for many fold in its effectiveness.

The weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly meeting cycle: Create a rhythm for checking in on implementation and a set process for refreshing the strategy. I recommend starting with a yearly planning session to establish the one-page strategic plan. Set the vision, yearly goals, and quarterly initiatives to reach those goals. Once your plan is set, you begin your implementation process.

We’ve found that weekly leadership team meetings are essential. If you meet less frequently, you can’t stay on top of the key issues affecting the organization. People will simply find other ways to get their problems addressed. If you meet more frequently, it’s an overkill. On a monthly basis, it’s also good to do an organization wide meeting to communicate progress on the plan and field questions. Quarterly you meet for a long time to assess your progress and to refresh the initiatives the organization will take on for the next quarter. The weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly meeting cycle creates a rhythm that can help propel a strategy and organization forward.

Regular Communications: This is the hardest lesson to learn. As a leader, you often get trapped by your own perspective. You assume that other people know the status of key initiatives or the state of the organization because that’s largely what you talk about all the time. Of course people know, right? Wrong, in reality, you need to over-communicate. I recommend sending out weekly summaries of the key outcomes from the leadership team meetings that are appropriate to share. This helps those in the organization who aren’t in leadership meetings to keep tabs on the strategy. The monthly meetings mentioned above are also important tools in your communications strategy. We also recommend cloud based tools like Yammer and in particular, Slack, that enhances team and cross-company communication. These are certainly not the only lessons from Traction or other sources for creating a process to implement change and innovation. These are just a few I’ve found that are relatively easy to implement and can make a huge difference. In my experience, if you know that you have a great team, a clear strategy, accountability, and good communications you are light years ahead of most organizations.

Technology is Converging

“Today we’re introducing three revolutionary devices; an iPod, a phone, and an Internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communications device. Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. These are one device and we are calling it “iPhone.”  This is how Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007 and it perfectly encapsulates the trend that is changing our world: communications or technological convergence. Traditionally, we see many technologies as distinct silos. You received phone calls through dedicated phone lines. You bought a single purpose camera. You watched TV on something with rabbit ears. Now each of those things are done with “apps” and on a single device. 

This is the reason why technology companies continually invade each other’s markets. It’s hard now to completely distinguish the markets Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon, and other tech giants inhabit. Economist compared their competition to the HBO series, Game of Thrones. At the beginning of this century Amazon was a seller of physical books and other retail items and now it is the largest provider of cloud computing services to corporate America. Before it competed with Barnes and Noble, Walmart, and Target. Now Amazon has added IBM, Google, Microsoft, and others to its list of competitors not to mention Apple with whom it competes on selling media content and devices like the Kindle.

These examples show how technological convergence disrupts traditional silos. The process is now profoundly affecting government. Cloud computing and cyber security are now primary concerns of government IT shops. Most agencies are working to adapt to the changing way their customers and stakeholders interact and consume information with new digital initiatives. 

For example, my company, Corner Alliance, does a lot of work in the public safety communications space. For many decades, first responders felt that voice was separate from data. The data services available were slow and of limited use. Now broadband networks and the potential created by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) are converging these technologies. Voice will soon be just another “app” that a responder uses. In fact, mirroring what is happening with the commercial Internet of Things, most “communication” for responders will be between devices or “things” like sensors, cameras, and analytical engines. That is not to diminish the importance of voice communications to responders. It is still essential that when a responder is in trouble they have the ability to talk. However, technological convergence and advancement will reduce the need, provide redundancy, and automate procedures to improve safety. Public safety communications is just one example of where the phenomenon of technological convergence is transforming government. As a government leader, it’s important to keep in mind that the traditional silos that kept IT issues separate from policy issues are breaking down. New players who you never considered before will suddenly become important parts of your stakeholder base.

Research and Development takes a Community

Research and Development (R&D) is a function of government that has been transforming over the last several decades. Federal R&D now accounts for just under 1% of GDP versus 2% for private sector R&D. As a result, it is now more important than ever for government R&D to partner with and leverage its commercial equivalent. In fact the most successful R&D programs focus on creating communities of actors from academia, the commercial sector, and at times even hobbyists, who can join together to revolutionize technology. This approach has several advantages. Government funding can seed a topic area and attract attention and effort from private industry and academia. For example, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) followed this strategy with its DARPA Grand Challenge. Over several iterations in 2004, 2005, and 2007, DARPA sponsored a driverless car challenge first in the desert and later in an urban environment. It didn’t go well at first. No team could even qualify in the first round. No car made it more than 7.5 miles. However, very quickly the technology developed. 

DARPA tweaked the criteria and in the end spawned an industry that now look like the future of transportation. Companies like Uber and Lyft and Ford are exploring ride hailing services with autonomous vehicles that could eliminate the need to own a car reducing carbon emissions and traffic congestion. In fact, Tesla already has a driverless capability operating in its cars right now. 

We went from 7.5 miles in a desert to a car driving itself down the George Washington Parkway in live traffic conditions in 11 years. DARPA effectively seeded the market with its competition. It rewarded a few teams to keep them going but also attracted other teams who used their own resources. It iterated and accepted failures along the way. By providing focus and proofs of concept, it was able to build the critical mass to attract large commercial R&D investments. Now we are at a transformational moment and it was done at a fraction of the cost and with a far broader set of contributors than a wholly government-driven effort could have supported. DARPA is now attempting a similar methodology with its Robotics Challenge. 

The rise of prize competitions across the government is a promising sign. However, programs should make sure they have thought through how to build a sustainable community around their efforts. More successful efforts will allow for iteration and adjust over time. They will seek to bring in outside players who might not actually receive funding from the government and they will work to create an industry rather than just a one off widget.

Be Prepared: Technology Disruption is Coming

We see a lot of headlines in the commercial sector about the consequences of technology disruption. Barnes and Noble disrupted the local book store and then Amazon disrupted them. Apple disrupted music and the personal camera market which had already been through a disruption as film gave way to digital. The list goes on with taxis and Uber, hotels and Airbnb, and in countless other arenas. We often think that government is somewhat immune to this form of disruption. It is true that government moves a bit slower given divided powers, rules and regulations, and bureaucratic inertia, but that doesn’t stop disruption from happening. Terrorists and adversaries find asymmetric ways to cause havoc and criminals have fully embraced the disruptive technologies of the Internet and the Cloud for their own ends. Additionally,citizen expectations of what government can and should be able to do and demands from industry for better and smarter regulation are also often driven by disruptive technological innovation. No one is immune.

In our work with federal programs and agencies, I’ve seen many struggle with aligning their missions and visions in the face of technological disruption. In my view, the programs that successfully embrace the change will survive and thrive and those that don’t will find themselves starved for resources or on the chopping block with little stakeholder support. The successful leaders I’ve worked with do at least three things to manage this process.

They see the world through the eyes of their customer. Inside a federal organization it is too easy to slip into the trap of seeing the world from your own perspective. You have reporting demands from higher ups, the daily grind, and internal staff issues to deal with. Seeing the world from a different perspective takes a good deal of effort. I recommend that you spend some time with your customers. Find out what their needs and concerns are. If you aren’t regularly checking the pulse of these core stakeholders you need to find the right mechanism for you. Is it networking at key conferences, putting together working groups on core issues, building personal relationships with key stakeholders, or some combination of each?

Know the broader climate. The government leaders who stay on top of the key trends and drivers in their space are far better positioned to respond to technological disruption. The micro trend of today could be the disruptive force of tomorrow so you need to stay on top of a broad range of issues. Of course, regularly taking the pulse of your customers helps with this process but in some cases they aren’t even aware of how innovations in adjacent spaces are poised to affect them. Remain curious about the broader commercial AND government climate. Taking some time to think through how your environment is and could be shaped by the prevailing trends can be an energizing and productive process.

Find the internal champions who can help. Getting the right talent and managing that talent well is a constant challenge for government leaders. You can’t do everything yourself. We often find that there are hidden leaders throughout an organization who are willing and able to embrace change and help the organization adapt. Those people might not line up with your organizational chart but you need to find ways to empower them. Those internal champions often make or break your effort.

Whether or not you are able to embrace disruption can determine your success as a government leader. These are just a few of the things you can do to be prepared. What have you seen successful leaders and organizations do?

Don't Over Collaborate

Collaboration is something almost everyone agrees is a good thing. It’s become almost axiomatic in management and leadership literature that collaboration is an unalloyed good. Surely, knowing how to collaborate well is something that will set you and your organization apart. At Corner Alliance, it is one of our 7 fundamental values. We embrace it wholeheartedly. However, any strength overused can become a weakness.  

I have seen managers fall into the trap of over collaboration. Many leaders want to see solutions and strategies bubble up from their organizations. They want consensus and buy in. Many times that approach will work. Your team will know where it needs to go and what your stakeholders want and it will form a consensus if you let it. However, there are other times when the team doesn’t know which direction to go or when there are serious disagreements about the right steps to take. I’ve seen organizations broken into factions around disparate strategies or where internal teams have lost touch with stakeholder needs.


If you find yourself in one of these situations, it makes sense to begin with collaboration. You need to hear what each side is saying and let them give voice to their opinions. You need to listen but avoid simply becoming the facilitator between factions or switching from side to side based on the last conversation you had. Hear all the viewpoints but at a certain point the organization needs you to stop collaborating and make a decision. When team members sense that the organization is adrift and rudderless, they disengage quickly. Even if they do not 100% agree with the decisions made, most team members in a unfocused organization want the leader to set the strategy and point everyone in the same direction. That doesn’t make it easy though. It can be a vulnerable moment for many leaders leaving them feeling exposed and open to criticism.


The way I’ve seen some of the best leaders navigate this situation is by reconnecting with their customers and stakeholders. If you can understand and articulate the results they want your organization to deliver that becomes the kernel of the strategy you set. It also helps to explain why you’ve made the decisions you have and avoids feeling arbitrary. Once you’ve defined the direction, you need to communicate it clearly along with processes you will put in place to maintain accountability. Again, this is a time where you should collaborate but be careful. People need to be heard and you need to make sure they understand the vision but you are also the guardian of the strategy. Don’t fall into the trap of over collaboration and allow your forward progress to get bogged down. Make sure you stay on course and maintain that accountability.  

It’s a difficult balancing act but essential to good leadership.