Showing posts from June, 2014

"Corrosive Culture" at VA: 10 Lessons for the Rest Of Us

It is easy to point fingers when others screw up. In reality the problems at Veterans Affairs are fairly common, and the employees are highly dedicated and delivering a high quality of care. This presentation extracts 10 themes from the report prepared by President Obama's Deputy Chief of Staff about excessive wait times, in a way that enables consideration of similar themes by other agencies and organizations.

* As always all opinions are my own.

Will Transparency Take Away Your Job?

Many years ago my daughter did not speak.
She was three years old and I took her to the town pediatrician - these were the days before the Internet - and he told me, the way a revered, patrician, paternalistic doctor has talked to me many times, as though I were ignorant - "Mrs. Blumenthal, she's fine. Lots of kids don't talk before they're three. My own kids didn't talk until late."
We moved to the Washington, D.C. area soon after and I took her to a local doctor who I'm pretty sure has made every issue of Washingtonian since the magazine first started coming out. He is an ear, nose and throat doctor with a hearing problem. There is a gigantic fish tank, with large beautiful fish, at the entrance. A large framed prayer hangs over it, something about "helping everyone who walks through these doors."
The doctor is not patrician, or pedantic, or paternalistic or patronizing. He is elderly and kind and he takes one look at my daughter and rushes her t…

Game Your Training to Get Results

Screenshot of Monica Cornetti via GSummit
At the recent GSummit in San Francisco there was a presentation on the simple principles behind gamification and why it works so well.
The speaker was Monica Cornetti, and the focus of her talk was something like "how corporate trainers can get funding for training." Nevertheless there were ideas that anyone could incorporate into any training session. She is very dynamic, funny and knowledgeable and I would highly recommend actually watching the talk, to learn about these ideas, because you can't really get it from a blog. But this is just a taste:
1) The purpose of training is to produce enhanced results, not to transmit information. (I believe that is a quote.)
2) Turn training into a story with characters, an adventure, a journey, a destination, a challenge. She used the example of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in talking about HR training in a back-office environment. You want to train Snow White to deal with Dopey (the boss&…

10 Tips from Jack Bauer's Leadership Playbook

"Bauer" is of course the main character on "24":
1. Gains permission to make difficult decisions in a respectful but effective way: "Sir, just let me do what I know how to do."
2. Throws terrorists out the window without listening to their nonsense propaganda, because they are dangerous killers and not good or moral.
3. Respects marriage between the love of his life and another man, because he respects that marriage is sacred.
4. Always takes a phone call from people he cares about even when it distracts him from his work. He just keeps it brief.
5. Knows a rat when he smells one, even if the rat seems unconnected to the present infestation.
6. Nevertheless he doesn't act without evidence.
7. Maintains highly qualified and trustworthy friends who help him, and vice versa.
8. Delegates work to the experts - doesn't pretend to know or do it all. Nevertheless, keeps a good working knowledge of the subject matter.
9. Goes it alone when he has to.
10. Serves a h…

Whose fault is it if public service leaves you feeling stifled?

Sharing a comment I posted on GovLoop today, because it feels important.
If an individual employee feels stifled in government, it is up to that employee to manage the situation effectively by finding ways to make a positive difference. Having official boss approval is only one of those ways. Other ways include...well lots of things that you have seen suggested many times no doubt.

What is the boss's job? Not to pretend that every idea, or even every good idea, is going to be considered. That is not "good management" rather it is a pat on the head and it is really condescending and insulting. Or worse, it is dangerous when management just goes "oh sure" and does not give any direction that would rein in some of the kookier concepts that people come up with and actually implement when one is looking the other way. I could name a few but it's better that I don't.

What is the boss's job, from a positive perspective? I would say that it's to tea…

An Intern Speaks Out - What Makes A Good Boss (A "10 Things" List)

So we were in the grocery store and my daughter tells me that she likes working for her current boss. (She is an intern at the NIH.)
"What is it you like?" I say. 
I take out my iPhone, ready to take notes. 
"Oh, so now you want to pay attention to what I have to say," she says disapprovingly, shaking her head.
"I like work stuff, so sue me," I respond.
"Well I can't think of all of it now, since you're interviewing me," she says.
But she comes out with her list anyway. 
1. "He sets the stage for what I'm going to be doing - gives me the general idea."
2. "He tells me what the job is very clearly."
3. "If I'm done early, he lets me stop instead of just giving me busywork."
4. "He trust me to do the work. He doesn't stand over me."
5. "He doesn't make a big deal if I'm 15 minutes late once in a while."
The other 5 items on this list came up in conversation, but they seemed importan…

The One Rule For New Supervisors

I sat down and flipped open my computer as I normally lunch alone.
Then a colleague who I knew from minimal interaction struck up a conversation. After a moment or two she sat down.
"Tell me about your job," I said.
"I have a new supervisor. She is making us read 'Who Moved My Cheese.'" 
She said that as though it were a bad thing.
"She is changing everything around. Very strong personality. Doesn't think that any of us know how to do our jobs."
It went on from there.
"One lady can't eat because of her, others can't sleep. It's really bad."
It went on from there.
"She favors her friends, who are ignorant, over the staff people who do a really good job. It's so frustrating."
I nodded.
"And every time one of us says something to another one, she somehow finds out about it."
Yes the workplace can be a small world.
"We're afraid to talk, and now she wants to go on a team-building retreat to build so-called…

Deloitte’s Tech Trends 2014 - Key Takeaways

Deloitte came out with this white paper, and it is rich with good information. However, it's also a lot to take in. Here's my best understanding of the high points of their top 10 trends in IT for this year, Tech Trends 2014
(I have oversimplified for the sake of clarity, so please comment away if you see any errors.)
Type of Change Old Way New Way Capabilities 1. CIO as venture capitalist Reactive purchasing Manage IT as a business asset Talk business not jargon Adapt fast Hire the right people 2. Wearables Sit at desk Total mobility

An Interaction @ Balducci's That Should Be A Textbook Lesson In Customer Service

Feeling a bit rushed I go into the store, which is gorgeous and everything is arranged so that I can pluck really good related items of food off the shelf and go home, which is what I want to do because it's late.
Over at the hot bar I don't see a sign saying how much the food costs, but I figure it can't be all that bad if I just take a few containers. I take some staples for the week that save me from cooking, plain spaghetti and olive oil, mac & cheese and rice pilaf. 
They look fantastic.
The cashier starts ringing it up and these five little containers quickly add up to $45.50. 
I think to myself,  Quick, have them put the food back! I could have made a box of spaghetti for a dollar!
And then I think, There is no way they are going to take this stuff back. Once you touch it, you've touched it.
I decide to be bold and tell the kid ringing up the stuff, "Wait a minute wait a minute."
"What is it?" he asks.
Pointing at the food I say, "That's…

Still #Branding After All These Years

In a time and place when you are scared and isolated, brands are happy and connection and memories and life.

My husband had hip surgery and it is difficult on both of us to be outside of our normal pace of things. The hospital has a Coca-Cola vending machine and I am entranced by the logo as always.

I used to buy Doritos at the cafeteria till my husband told me to stop. I like the nacho cheese flavor. It was forbidden to me as a kid, because it didn't have kosher certification. 

I drink Red Bull to keep going. I like Red Bull. My friend Melanie used to call me RB. At USAID when I left they gave me a box of RB, a box of Starbucks Doubleshot and their famous globe. Good memories.

Condiments are reassuring. Nothing can go wrong when there is ketchup around.

Ask someone why they prefer a certain brand over another. Ask them about a world without brands. 
It wouldn't be possible.
* All opinions my own. Photos by me.

Don't Give Yourself The Credit, & Don't Ever Feel Alone

Photo credit: Chris Dorobek / Flickr
(Note: Updated from an earlier post)

We have to work really hard in this world. Too hard, it sometimes seems like.

When we experience some measure of success, it is easy to pat ourselves on the back and say, "I did it."

But we didn't, not at all. Not really.

A lot of the time we stumble, too. We suffer, we are attacked, we get sick.

Either way, someone is always with us, pushing us as we fly around on that playground swing.

There is always a reason, and we don't know the reason. But one thing is for sure, we are never really alone.

* All opinions my own.

It's OK To Speak Up For Women, and Men

Photo credit: José Antonio Morcillo ValencianoFlickr
(Note: This is an updated version of an earlier post.)
For the longest time I wanted to be a good girl. Meaning, not a feminist.
Then I heard about a lot of things "nice people" went through. I didn't want to hear about those.

Sexual assault, rape.

Domestic violence.


Mental illness.

Poor medical care.

I learned that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. That women who speak up are better off than those who are quiet.

It is better to be assertive and have people call you names, than mousy and be taken advantage of.
This is especially true if you're a woman working in tech. People aren't out to be sexist necessarily, but there's a lot of machismo (warning: disturbing) in the profession. 
What's happening now, that is wonderful, is that both women and men are speaking up about the ways in which they experience gender insensitivity and outright oppression.
It's not about freeing half the sky, about shari…

Yesterday I Threw An F-Bomb

Photo credit: USMC via Flickr
In a way I feel like the Anthony Bourdain of public service, going from agency to agency every few years and seeing how taken-for-granted the different cultures are. Trying to make things just a little better because otherwise I couldn't get through the day, it would all be meaningless.
What I want to say is this. When you're on the inside, and you're trying so hard, it can feel so lonely and difficult. It can seem like everybody else is just fine, and you're the only one sort of sitting there bewildered and disoriented, like Bourdain in the transgender bar in Thailand when the guy dancer came up and kissed him with Day-Glo lipstick.
What I want to say is that you, and your hard work and the fact that you truly give a damn, are not alone. Do not feel that way at all. Secretly, without saying a word, you have a ton, a ton of support.
Keep fighting the good fight. One day you and your colleagues will be sitting together at some beachfront bar in…

Furniture Is About Fantasy Not Fact

At Arhaus in North Bethesda (near Rockville, MD) today I am pretty sure I had a near death experience.

I took these photos desperately, like a lion being ripped away from her cubs.

It wasn't any one piece but the totality.

I wanted everything. Even the stuff I didn't like.

When you buy furniture you are buying a lifestyle. Not the reality of the material within.

Like the fantasy of being a CEO in a fancy leather chair.

* All opinions my own.

Kane Zipperman & The Science of Virality

(Note: Some of the content may be offensive to certain audiences. Zipperman's tactics are not appropriate for everyone - professional judgment required.)

If you haven't heard about it by now, Kane Zipperman's girlfriend cheated on him. He tweeted the texts. Included memes. As of June 6, there were 75,000 retweets.

Deconstructing the Twitter account, there are at least 5 themes that make it stand out.

If you don't know how to create viral content, you will after reading this post.

1) Funny, Sarcastic, Authentic

This is an epic text conversation. You can't read it and not laugh.

2) Relatable

Everybody can relate to the fear or reality of being cheated on, to the suffering and rage of the cheatee.

3) Includes Everyone

4) Multimedia, Varied Media

5) Shamelessly Self-Promotional

* All opinions my own.

Engage The Trolls

"That's interracial. I hope nobody sees a picture of that. I'll be through."  - White man, hugging filmmaker Mo Asumang in The Aryans, her documentary about confronting racism (2014) 
Conventional wisdom says you shouldn't engage with "trolls," meaning people dedicated to "bashing and degrading others." See this chart from the Air Force.

Multiracial filmmaker Mo Asumang turned this idea on its head when she decided to engage directly with White supremacists in Europe and the U.S.
Asumang understands, rightly, that haters operate by dehumanizing the object of their hatred. Thus, as shown in the clip from BBC News, she thrusts herself right in the middle of the action. Not yelling or chastising, but rather seeking to understand.
They are at turns degrading, bewildered, and friendly. It's fascinating to watch, and it's hard to pick out the best clip even from the short four-minute extract. One of them is when she gets a hug from the White supr…