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Public Affairs vs. Community Relations

My response to a question on GovLoop:

--Public affairs = defensive - respond to inquiries. Generally focus on mitigating potential or actual crises. Not so much about information dissemination other than outreach re specific events or campaigns. Often viewed as a propagandistic function by the public and with disdain internally. Negative image - "spinmeisters." Seen as a necessity. Emphasis on press relations. You don't go anywhere without them. This category does not include New Media, the freaks down the hall who Tweet etc. but who most people still don't understand.

--Community relations - these are the people who embed themselves in the local community through town halls, youth programs and events, etc. Viewed fondly internally and externally. But also seen as an unnecessary expense. Not so much defensive as ongoing stakeholder engagement. Ear to the ground.

(Good or bad, I count myself part of all these communities.)

As always all opinions are my own.

Stop Thinking About Who Gets The Credit


Kathleen Taylor works for the VA. The signature line on her emails is the famous quote by President Harry Truman:

"It's amazing how much you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit."

You probably don't know Kathleen. That's because she lives her values. Like most government employees, she avoids the spotlight and tries to do her best.

Kathleen joined the Federal Communicators Network last year sort of out of the blue. I can't even remember how she got to me, probably through Jeff Brooke. Who has a similar philosophy: Don't brag, just help.

In any case when Kathleen joined up we were transitioning to a new kind of FCN model, more Internet-based etc. I handed her a MailChimp account with a very complicated password and said "Can you do this? We have to do the newsletter." 

Very politely Kathleen said, "Well, I've never used a MailChimp before but I will try."

Kathleen did more than try - she did it. Her newsletters were great. They sounded homey and witty and warm. I loved reading them. But more than that I loved that she was willing to jump right in and roll her sleeves up and help out.

At a certain point she relocated out of D.C. But she offered to help even when she was moving!  That's the kind of person Kathleen is.

Meanwhile, FCN transitioned to its new and also incredible leadership - Britt Ehrhardt and Dave Hebert, who together with the new Board continue the newsletter, GovLoop (see #1 conversations here on GL nearly every week), LinkedIn, Twitter. 

Kathleen, Jeff, Britt, Dave, all the people involved in FCN and those who start and share these conversations generally - they are not looking for any credit. There are so many others with the same humility and generosity: John Verrico, Ellen Crown, Bill Brantley, Jeri Richardson. Pat Wood of course. Who else contacted me awhile back - it was Kitty Wooley - she shares so many good things on LinkedIn. It's an education just to follow her posts.

The point of all this is that everyone listed above, and you too for reading this, is helping the cause of good government. You may not think of yourself as a "champion" or a "leader" or a "trailblazer" and so on. But you are. 

You don't have to be on social media either. There's a lady at work here who is quiet as a church mouse and very "old school." But she has the greatest and heartiest laugh. And her cube is filled with chocolates. That's on purpose. She wants people to stop by and take one. "I know they don't want to talk to me," she said to me the other day, seriously laughing, "and I really don't care. I just love to see them take a Snickers and be happy."

Most people in America will never know the really good people who work for the federal government. But they do not have to. Most leaders will never know what their staff can do either. And that's irrelevant too.

What I am starting to see, what really matters, is that we band together in networks of two or three or six and simply reach across the cubes and offer to help one another. If we can just do that then I think we would see a lot of benefit - in terms of training, morale, productivity, and so on.

Stress can be defined as the gap between "what I expect" and "the reality." We can enjoy ourselves more at work if we lower our expectations of our bosses, and increase our expectations of ourselves. Without waiting for someone to hand us a trophy.

To Break A Bad Habit - Try Simple Cost-Benefit Analysis

"A minute on the lips, forever on the hips."

It never stopped me from eating junk food before, but some other thoughts have:

1. "This might feel good now but I don't want to be weak."

2. "Do I really want to go out and buy new clothes just to eat this now?"

3. "How will I feel when I look in the mirror and my face looks all puffed up?"

All of this is cost-benefit analysis. Immediate gratification now (benefit), emotional and physical discomfort down the road (cost).

You can apply cost-benefit thinking to any bad habit and literally change your life.

The reason it works is that you get out of the drama. In a logical frame of mind you assess: Is this action or reaction worth it?

But when your filter is not so clear you can get stuck in an endless back and forth:

"Am I right or wrong here?"

"I don't want to hurt people's feelings."

"She said this but he said that."

"Which one should I choose?"

A single, simple metric -- resources or risk expended in exchange for return -- works better and saves a lot of time.

Cheat Sheet - How To Run A Focus Group

I had the rare opportunity to observe a highly respected Agency veteran run a focus group and thought to myself, "Better write this down before I forget it." It was one of those educational experiences you cannot ever duplicate in a classroom. 
This leader made the following look natural ("I'll just be winging it") but in fact if you look at the steps it is highly sophisticated.


Step 1: Recruit
Get executives to volunteer people. Reach out to the people with a short email and reassure them that the focus group will not be painful. Choose a non-intimidating setting that feels conversational.

Step 2: Homework
Give people something to think about in advance. Attachments to an email.

Step 3: Schedule & Remind
* If possible, have a third party reach out to the participants to invite them and coordinate date and time. There is a subtle hierarchical distinction between the scheduling and the inviting that should be kept intact if possible.
* Let them know a day ahead of time that you're looking forward to seeing them at the focus group.

Step 4: Structure
* Roles and responsibilities - in this case 1) executive/focus group leader 2) support person/subject matter expert (me) 3) note-taker (someone high-level who can capture the essence of what is going on, not just write things down) 4) timekeeper 5) scheduler; participants.
* Note-taker is especially important: Make sure someone is recording comments and action items for later reporting out. The note-taker cannot be the moderator. They can be the timekeeper.
* Have an order of operations ready - what are you trying to accomplish and how will you break that into tasks? (Example - you are talking about Issue A and then turning to Issue B, then coming to closure).
* Have a timeframe that you stick to. We went with 2 hours and it worked. The afternoon seemed to be a good time, it seems like people are more reflective around 2-4 p.m. versus in the morning they're trying to get things done.

Step 5: Handouts
Bring extra copies of the homework for people who forgot them. Have plain white paper and pens on hand.


Step 1: Introductions & Background
* Go around the room. The moderator can start with themselves. Just say name and where you work. Don't introduce rank.
* Take questions about the project.
* The moderator explains what the purpose of the group is, the genesis of the project, and why it's important.

Step 2: Topic A 
Allow an hour to an hour:15 for this one. Participants are asked to take out their homework and review again in the context of the group. Initial comments are requested.
The moderator:
* makes sure to elucidate the members' comments rather than inserting themselves into the comments - they are neutral.
* injects reality into the conversation at strategic points - lightly managing expectations.
* makes sure that quiet members talk and that dominating members don't talk too much.
* repeats back what the participants say to make sure their viewpoint is heard.
* uses the participants' first names and asks to be reminded if they forgot.

Step 3: Short Break
This can be an actual break or the moderator can make small talk as there is a transition from Topic A to Topic B. Five minutes.

Step 4: Topic B
Rinse and repeat Topic A, but a little shorter because people are tired by now. About 30-45 minutes.

Step 5: Closure
* Do a brief exercise to come to some form of closure, even if it's only to solicit final ideas. Have people write down final thoughts on a piece of paper and hand it in.
* Thank the participants and let them know what's going to happen next in a concrete way. Answer the question: The information from this group will go where and matter how and why?
* Note that everything is subject to change - manage expectations.


Step 1: Appreciation
It's nice to send a short note thanking people for their time.

Step 2: After Action Review
Group debrief - how did that go? What are we doing next?

Step 3: Notes
Notes go back to team for synthesis. Group collaboration site is updated. 

Why It Pays To Give A Damn About Your People

The amount of seriousness with which employees are taken increases in direct proportion to their visibility to the public.

They are visible and speaking up on social media.

In addition the public trusts them more than they trust their bosses. So it is in the organization's interest as well to put them front and center as "brand ambassadors."

The metric for organizational goals should solely be return on investment. Win-win is where the employees' interests and the employers' interests align.

Whoever does not take employees seriously - whoever reduces their input to numbers - is not operating in a state of rational self-interest.

3 Sales & Marketing Lessons You Must Know

Random ideas from me and others -- the overarching concept being to entice the customer to come to you first rather than the other way around.

1. "Have breakfast with the customer" -- a former boss taught me this. Excellent salesman, he thought from the client's perspective at all times and actually did have breakfast lunch and dinner with them.

2. "Let it be their idea"--another former supervisor who was brilliant at this. I don't know exactly how she did it.

3. "Solve their immediate problem well" and then they will call you to solve others - e.g. sell them stuff they need.

If we really cared about innovation...

In School

...we would let children go with their parents to work and have childcare and tutors available there.

...we would focus on helping children discover rather than on teaching them.

...we would eliminate standardized tests completely in favor of the essay, the presentation, the model.

At Work

...we would end the distinction between working and learning activities.

...we would embrace noble failures rather than worship success.

...we would work and learn in whatever setting feels natural to us.

In Our Communities

...we would make the outdoors more accessible and safe.

...we would have free, safe libraries and learning labs everywhere.

In The World

...we would unlock the data and use it - to end poverty, sickness, inequality and social repression.

Thoughts on what makes an innovator - in the public sector, private sector, & the organization

Some thoughts in response to a question on GovLoop--
1. Organizational Innovator
  • Always an outlier
  • Can see the whole, the future, the vision - very big picture thinker
  • Future-focused
  • Technology-oriented
  • Put things together that don't seem to connect
  • Idealistic not practical
  • Optimistic
  • Humanitarian on a grand scale but can be rude one on one
  • Not power or money hungry but definitely want to influence others
  • Not diplomatic - it's either innovative (good) or not innovative (bad)
  • Tend to overvalue your contribution and be a poor listener
  • Not swayed by "feeling" arguments - "we can be more efficient but it will hurt people's feelings"
2. Government Innovator
  • You understand and value government for what it is and your agency for what it is uniquely
  • Try to make things better within the subjective logic that is every unique agency system.
  • Achieve innovation that may not be much by private sector standards but that is significant in an agency setting
  • You don't attack or undermine the system because it's slow, bloated or inefficient - you focus only on making things better incrementally
  • You work in a team with other motivated people - you do not try to do it on your own
  • Examples: popularizing alternative dispute resolution or the concept of 24/7 employee staff care; getting people to use collaboration technology not hoard information
3. Private Sector Innovator
  • Focus is on making money
  • Creates a market for a new way of doing things that involves buying a new kind of product (e.g. Kindle when people are used to paper books) or brand (e.g. Lexus when people already buy cars)
  • Or - achieves significant operational efficiencies to cut costs (e.g. robotic surgery or virtual admin assistants; microtasking)