So Talking Points Are Evil Now?


I get a call the other day: "How are you?"
"Honestly," I say, slumping down in my Metro seat, "I am exhausted."
And I am exhausted. I'm so exhausted I can't remember what exhausted means. Everybody I know is exhausted. We seem to be running at a faster and faster pace and accomplishing just about...the same as before we were so exhausted.
...back to the conversation. The reply: "Well I can understand that, what with all the talking points going back and forth there in DC."
There I am, shoulders down. Literally waves of tiredness flowing upon me. It is late on a Friday, and the work is not done. Higher volume, limited resources, limited time. So much more to go.
What do I do all day? Make sure the facts are right...get the facts right.
We confuse the outcomes with the tools.
When a patient dies on the operating table, we don't stop doing surgery. We do ask - was the surgery necessary? Doctor qualified? Environment sanitary? Were there complications?
When a car goes over a cliff we do not stop driving either. (Actually I know someone who did stop driving when her car hit a side rail on the Beltway, swirled around and round in the rain, and got totaled. But that was temporary till she could work through all the trauma and the fear.) We do not outlaw cars.
And if a person is kidnapped from a grocery store parking lot, do we shut down all the grocery stores or stop shopping? Or maybe parking lots are bad?
So I ask this question now. 
Why is it that every time there is a complex, sensitive issue or controversy, we veer away from the controversy itself and start questioning the need for standard communication tools?
Talking points are a critical piece of every communicator's knowledge base. Nobody should walk into a briefing without them.
Furthermore, if you're talking to the public in the early aftermath of a horrible and tragic incident, you will of course have to vet those talking points extensively - get everyone's input - and yes, of course you can have a dozen versions or more.
This post is not focused on any particular instance or incident. I'm not trying to secretly advocate a certain point of view. But I do want to call b.s. on the notion that professional communication is somehow suspect simply by the nature of its existence.
No matter what the polls say about trust in government - and it is at a historic low - we do take very seriously the content of our communication. What we say is carved in stone forever.
It's time we stop blaming surgery for malpractice, cars for car accidents, parking lots for kidnapping, and talking points for the content of the messaging.

* As always, all opinions are my own.



Bigger Government Is Not Necessarily Better Government


It took me a long time to figure out what my political views were. It happened through dialogue with friends. We all shared the same kinds of views:
* Socially, "live and let live"
* Results-oriented
* Process-wise, anti-bureaucracy
...and then it dawned on me that I am a Libertarian. 
I had a lot of trouble admitting this to myself. After all:
* The stereotype of a government worker is that you are all in favor of bloated, big government because it personally benefits you.
* The other problem is that there are some people who identify with libertarian views who seem quite nutty.
* Finally it seems like some kind of indictment of government to join a political party that seeks to shrink it.
But after a lot of thought I've realized that there is a kind of logic to my thinking.
* I've always been kind of a reformer in whatever social system I'm in. That's just my nature.
* I'm pretty passionate about the missions of the agencies where I've served - protecting vulnerable people from credit sharks - protecting the border - helping end extreme poverty around the world. I want the money to go to the mission and nowhere else unnecessarily.
* As a taxpayer and a steward of the taxpayer's money I feel a responsibility not to waste it. Those dollars are real!
* As a daughter I want my parents up in New York to be proud of me and not to see me as so many people view government workers stereotypically. Like we are vampires who somehow live off the dole.
* In a bigger way, like so many of us I am also descended from immigrants and there is no country like America, where we have so much freedom. It is a big honor to be chosen to serve.
It also seems to me that we are moving towards a system where strict allegiance to one political party or another is obsolete. What we want is to pick and choose the things we agree with, and discard those we don't.
For example, I agree with my Democratic friends on a lot of things - like righting inequality and helping the disempowered in particular. I also believe we are one world, and that what happens in one part of it is integrally connected with the others.
And my Republican friends make a lot of sense to me as well - the concept of letting business flourish, minimizing unnecessary regulation, keeping taxes low, protecting the Second Amendment. 
So what is the key takeaway here? Well for one thing, breaking the myth that government workers are all cut from a single cloth. And for another, breaking the myth that we all have to be in favor of big government in order to serve the government well. 
* Of course, as always all opinions are my own.

Remove these 5 stubborn obstacles to workflow

If everyone wants to work better-faster-cheaper why don't we?

Wrong answer: We lack staff, funding, tools, training.

Right answer: We can't talk about the real issues holding us back.

These fall into 5 categories of fear: political, social, psychological, economic, biological.

* Political - I will lose power, influence.
* Social - I will lose status, respect.
* Psychological - I will feel anxious, jealous, weak, stupid.
* Economic - I will lose work, my job.
* Biological - I will not survive.

When you want to make a change for the better, focus on addressing the underlying fears.

Get the technical objections out of the way, then approach influential people one at a time.

Find out what the drivers of change really are.

For many, it's a form of cost-benefit: The cost of not learning is greater than the benefit of keeping one's feet stuck firmly in the mud.

You can't force people to change. You can only convince them that efficiency is in their best interests.



Personal Branding (Good), Self-Promotion (Bad)


This is a followup to the earlier post about not hogging the spotlight, which is distinct from the very important personal branding activity that I would recommend for every professional, government or not. Some additional comments in response to a question received on that post--
1) Every professional should be accumulating things they can take credit for - titles, achievements, degrees, certificates, experiences - these are our trophies. A person won't be able to compete without them. I don't want people to confuse my recommendations on personal branding with thoughts on being a successful change agent.
2) As you get more experienced and go up in the ranks, the kinds of changes you want to introduce are subtler, broader and more sweeping. At that point you must let other people think it's their idea. Not just that -- you have to implant in them this evangelistic mission to motivate others themselves. Think about Starbucks -- it is not about Howard Schultz it's about the barista.
3) On internal satisfaction - when you get depressed about how nobody will take you seriously, think about how many inventors and great thinkers were laughed at, ignored, reviled and persecuted during their lives. Now imagine that you are as great as Freud. See how great you feel!!!
4) A special note for women - I have noticed that women tend to shy away from the spotlight and that men tend to hog it. Generally any dominant group tends to speak with a louder voice. I don't want anyone to interpret my advice as reaffirming passivity, shyness, or lack of self confidence. Rather my advice is to focus only on the goal and not on yourself. Moses was a humble guy with a speech impediment and G-d put him in charge.
5) The big message here - in government being a team player who doesn't promote themselves is a core value. In the private sector being self promotional is a given. While it's fine to be recognized for valid achievements you don't want to stick out as the person who is always drawing attention to themselves.

Generation X and Generation Y - Oil & Water?

Some thoughts on what Xers and Yers have in common - where we connect:
  • Sense of humor
  • Idealism
  • Belief in hard work
  • Respect for integrity
  • Persistence
Where there tends to be tension:
  • Gen Yers tend to think of Xers as: somewhat negative, "intense," aggressive, not team players, not totally trustworthy. 
  • Gen Xers tend to think of Yers as having an overinflated opinion of themselves - expecting reward before reward is earned; not bleak enough in their outlook; not willing to speak truth to power; not totally trustworthy. 
How Gen Yers can do well with an Xer boss:
  • Be extremely good at what you do on a technical level.
  • Show that you are hardworking and want to work your way up the chain legitimately.
  • Be respectful. 
  • Be responsive to requests quickly and do the best you can, even if you don't totally know what to do. 
  • Speak up when something is wrong.
If you want to be an absolutely outstanding Gen Y employee:
  • Know that you are part of the "certificate" generation as in you got a certificate or a trophy for simply breathing. Forget about what you're entitled to and get to work.
  • Take more time to get to the heart of the matter. Consider the subtle context around a task before you say something about it.
  • Provide complete work that is fully thought through - not just something half-assed. If you have to do a halfway job because of the time factor, tell your boss about it so they don't get annoyed thinking you did lousy work and then submitted it - making them in effect redo your job.
  • Teach the elders technology in a nice way. They are scared to ask for help. In return they can teach you important institutional knowledge that you can't learn in school.
  • Understand that it takes time to learn the ropes. 
  • Get out of the generational mold and interact with people at all ages, stages and groups across the agency. (This is something Yers are better than Xers at, very naturally.) Don't be put off because somebody else seems very different from you, and unrelatable.
How Gen Xers can do well with Y employees:
  • Let them do things their way.
  • Give them big responsibility and then GIVE THEM CREDIT for their work.
  • Don't be intimidated by their technical expertise.
  • Mentor them on the things they don't easily get - the subtleties that go past them.
  • Explain the larger context behind the task but don't be long-winded.

10 Ways To Be The Buddha Of Productivity


1. Decide you have had enough of the "overwork high." Some of the problem is that you can't let go of the idea that being frantically busy is good. Forget about what you see others doing.

2. Keep work for work time and weekend for weekend. When you force activity into a time box it gets done.

3. When you focus on one category at a time, one thing at a time you develop the habit of successfully completing things.

4. Adding some social aspect to every day, be it friends or family time, enhances your focus on work.

5. Use a timer app for boring stuff. I like Timer+. It makes elephant noises when the laundry is done.

6. Do certain things the same way every time. If you are constantly reinventing your processes it takes time away from output.

7. Co-create process with others so that the stability is mutually reinforced.

8. Wake up every day and delegate -- yes to your partner and kids too. Then let them delegate to you. Everyone can do something and we all do some things better than others.

9. Before retiring every night get organized for the next day. Eliminate things that don't need to get done.

10. Organize like tasks together "Batching" helps to attack a lot of mundane things at once.

10 Things You Still Don't Get About Generation Y

1. You can't read them. 
As a group they've mastered the skill of being quiet and obedient no matter how insane the adults around them. As a result, you can't tell what exactly they're thinking at work. No matter what, they'll have you convinced that everything is fine until they quit.

2. They dislike abrupt change.
Generation Y was raised on the rubric. This is a grid of rules that covers their school assignments. It is similar to the spreadsheets their carpooling caregivers use to keep track of who's picking up who from school and on what day of the week. When you shuffle the deck abruptly (or refuse to give them a defined role in the first place) it is perpetually annoying.

3. They are overqualified.
This generation is hardworking, enthusiastic, and extremely over-schooled. They think faster than we do. They can do much more on their own than we can think of assigning them. There is a serious gap between their abilities and the challenges given to them in the workplace.

4. They miss the 1990s.
In case you missed it, this was the decade of: Pop-Rocks, Barney, Mary-Kate & Ashley, Boy Meets World, and Hannah Montana. It was all about playgrounds with nannies holding Ziploc bags with apple slices. The '90s was multi-subject preschool and a lot of songs about friends and indoor, carefully supervised play. It was nonjudgmental diversity, but girl bullying, Bring It On and Mean Girls. It was the best of times and the worst of times, and you were not there. Therefore they do not trust you.

5. They hold themselves accountable to their friends.
This weekend I watched Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist on Netflix. The movie was about a lot of things but the theme running through it was the subterranean world of friends. Everyone in the movie had to answer to them. The parents were completely absent, but the friends were standing there as if with a clipboard, keeping everyone honest.

6. They care a lot about how they look.
Gen Y kids spend a lot of time looking in the mirror. They are casually and cruelly, brutally honest about that. They are not so much into branding, but it is very important to them that they look tip-top. If they've given up on how they look then fine, it's a hoodie and that's because they are really really smart. Everyone else has to get out the iron.

7. Career comes first and marriage maybe never.
Sadly from my perspective, Gen Y kids have accepted that they will not be able to have it all. They are hopeful for "long-term, committed relationships" but even that is a stretch for many. They understand that the economy is bad and that they might have to move far away to earn a living. The girls are not willing to go back in time and they want the professions they and their parents have fought for them to have. In addition they are vehemently and vociferously in favor of marriage equality.

8. They are mostly Type B and they like it that way.
This generation is very passionate about what they love doing but for them, money and life's passion do not mix. Rather, earning a living is a necessity. They are as a group laid back and they enjoy taking pleasure in life, their friendships and maybe doing some good in the world. They find aggressiveness a turnoff.

9. Having helicopter parents was nice for them.
Whereas older generations may have resented their parents' interference in their lives, Gen Yers look back on their parents' hovering with nostalgia. Many of them still live at home. They tend to appreciate their parents' efforts on their behalf.

10. They don't mind their parents much, but they view them as peers.
Despite the appreciation that Gen Yers feel towards their parents for their efforts, they do not see them as authority figures but rather as simply older (and perhaps a little clueless) peers. Life decisions happen with some parental input, but more likely on consultation with their friends from school. And they try to keep parental agitation to a minimum.




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