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radical humanism: where's the ROI? [presentation & free dial-in webinar tomorrow]

Check out Rebel Jam 2015 tomorrow morning. I'll be talking about this presentation at 8:30 a.m. - the dial-in is free. (Twitter hashtag: #rebeljam15)


As always - all opinions are my own & don't represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

20-Min. Wakeup: Personal/Professional Branding Thru Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora, Instagram, Facebook

The #1 Dysfunction Preventing Wise Investment In Employee Engagement

You SAY you are bothered by the fact that employees are "checked-out."
You CLAIM you want them to innovate.
You DISCUSS over and over the fact that they just seem to sit there, taking up space, not doing nearly as much as they could or should.
But what, exactly, are you DOING about it?
The fact of the matter is that at any given time, most of the people working for you are doing exactly what you're worried they're doing: sitting there, underutilized and under-motivated, thinking about how soon they can log out, go home and get their sanity back.
You know this. You don't need to see yet another survey confirming this fact, do you?
And you say you want to do something about it. Maybe you really do, who knows: You're willing to consider their requests for a training class, after all.
But it's not clear to me that you REALLY want to motivate your staff, after all.
Because if you did, you would ACTUALLY do something about it.
You don't do anything, even though you know - or you should know - that employees are more than your greatest asset. In reality, they are your ONLY asset.
The reason you hang back, to be honest, is fear. You don't want to know what would happen if they did actually get engaged.
Maybe they'd end up firing me and taking over.
That is a very scary thought, right there. And you can't admit that you're afraid. Of course!
That's why fear is a HIDDEN dysfunction.
So you make up the most logical business reason of all to keep your staff from succeeding: money.
  • "We can't afford for you to take that class."
  • "We can't afford for you to be out of the office."
  • "We can't afford for you to stop doing all the other stuff you're doing and learn something not 100% related to your current job."

What I want to tell you, if you're even remotely in a position to help employees get engaged, is that these fears are not only unfounded.
They're actually KEEPING you, the supervisor, from progressing ahead in your career.
Consider this: A manager who helps employees gain developmental opportunities is BELOVED by them.
That means your staff are LOYAL to you, SUPPORTIVE of you, in SYNC with you, ENGAGED with the work they're doing for you, and most importantly of all, they TRUST you.
That's the first thing to know.
The second is that there are PLENTY of ways they can gain experience at absolutely zero cost to you. If that is truly what you're afraid of. They can:
  1. Get a mentor, inside or outside the organization.
  2. Be a mentor themselves.
  3. Do a rotation somewhere else in the company or agency.
  4. Do a detail outside the agency, part-time or temporarily.
  5. Join a working group.
  6. Attend class at a community college.
  7. Take on a leadership position in a related organization.
  8. Engage in low-cost online training.
  9. Teach themselves material with which to train other employees.
  10. And if you're brave - you can delegate some work to them that they are naturally talented at, but which they lack the skills to complete on their own.
Think about it: People have a natural survival instinct. Instead of fearing it, and trying to smash it down and destroy it, why don't you work with it instead?
Believe me, the stuff I'm telling you here - I didn't make it up on my own. Not at all.
I learned it from brilliant managers, the ones I've had who really understood the way to get the most out of their team.
The philosophy can be summed up in a single sentence, uttered more than a decade ago by one such individual, a chief of staff at an agency within the U.S. Department of the Treasury:
"The pie gets bigger the more you share it."
Consider the source: This is a person who should naturally say the opposite. After all, how can you split a dollar in half?
But he understood that power, like wealth, is never actually in limited supply. That in fact, these things exist not only in substance but in the mind.
And that generosity from the one has an actual physical effect on the other.
That oddly, giving away has an additive effect (or even multiplying) rather than subtracting.
That in the end, helping OTHER PEOPLE to succeed is the best way to boost your career after all.
Photo by via Flickr Creative Commons. All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

5 Services Every Federal Communicator Ought To Know About

This is a photo collage of the FDA TV Studios.
Below is Proxy, their dummy, which they "rescued from a dumpster" and which is used when they need to block out a shot with a human being but don't have one available.
(If you ever get out there, ask them about the time a delivery person actually thought that Proxy was human and got offended when it didn't say "good morning.")
Proxy is one of those characters you only meet when you physically visit an off-the-beaten-track-type-of-place like FDA TV. If you're a federal employee working in any communications capacity, you will definitely want to know about them and the professional television production services they offer.
Don't be put off by the name. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration owns this facility, but any agency can make use of their services. It's #1 on my list of helpful resources for federal communicators that most probably never even heard of.
Here is #2: the Government Publishing Office, which also serves the federal community with services ranging from web design to logo development as well as the e-publishing for which it's already known.
In my current job, I work with both these entities and here are five things I appreciate about them:
  1. High quality work
  2. High level of customer service
  3. Turns the government into a revenue center rather than a cost center, because when you use these services it's the government paying itself
  4. Reduces wasteful spending and increases accountability because because you're only using the services you need, one task order at a time, rather than "spending against budget"
  5. Promotes development of human capital within the government by eliminating reliance on outside vendors 
Service #3, which is also relatively unknown and completely free (don't ask me why, because I think they could and should charge for it) is Sites by the U.S. General Services Administration. Any federal agency can request a website that is secure and reliably hosted. I am also in the process of transitioning two websites to this service.
Of course there is always the issue of how to to get human help. For this there is service #4 on my list, Open Opportunities, a program from the U.S. General Services Administration that allows federal employees to sign up for any number of short-term tasks with supervisory approval.
As someone who learns by doing and not reading, and also as someone who appreciates the importance of constant training, I can't think of a more win-win solution to the problem of highly motivated but underutilized employees with time on their hands whose skills are not up to date.
(Here's a blog post I wrote about my own use of the program as well as a video endorsing it.)
Not to mention that working with other feds has helped me to grow my own skills in communication, remote collaboration, management, leadership, and so on. Or that the program has led to the development of an interagency community of practice around my program in particular.
My own professional network serves to amplify and reinforce the ones that already exist in multiple areas of expertise. These are also free to federal communicators, and their offerings include:
  • Challenges and Prizes
  • Government Contact Center Council
  • Mobile Gov Community of Practice
  • Multilingual Digital Group
  • Social Media Community of Practice
  • User Experience Community
  • Web Content Manager’s Forum
Feds can sign up any of the above here. Or check out another free resource for professional networking: the Federal Communicator's Network. (There is also the National Association of Government Communicators, for which membership rates are reasonable.)
Back to services: #5 on my list, another little-known channel through which federal agencies can obtain free support while engaging the public in their missions, is the U.S. State Department's Virtual Student Foreign Service program. It allows college students to participate in any number of federal government initiatives from remote locations.
I began using VSFS while at USAID, and wound up with seven remote interns, who produced everything from reference websites to new recruit training videos and a heck of a lot more.
It should be noted that these employee development programs are inherently creative and focused on mentoring people. A lot of what you get will stay on the cutting room floor.
But that's still good for the government as far as I am concerned, because morale goes up, engagement goes up and the knowledge and skill level of all participants goes up as well. And when you do get something good, it's explosively and extraordinarily good - something you could never have thought of on your own.
And you get to see your colleagues go on to success and leadership roles in their own right. Which is beautiful.
I could go on and on for days; there is literally is so much more available only for the asking. DigitalGov, for example, has tons of free training available at any given time. The limit is really only your desire to learn.
As a brand person I understand that a lot of people are skeptical. They've been taught that government is inherently inefficient. And they believe that anything free must inherently be of inferior quality.
But as any venture capitalist will tell you, there is equity in buying and then promoting undervalued properties.
This short post is my way of shining a spotlight on what works about the government. So that in five years, shared interagency services and a cadre of highly-trained, nimble and strategic cross-agency communication providers have become the normal way of doing our business. And people routinely remark to one other: "I don't know how we ever got anything done before."

All opinions my own. This post is not written on behalf of any agency or the federal government as a whole. Photos by me. 

Decoding "Mad Max: Fury Road" - A Radical Feminist Vision

It feels important to establish that Mad Max: Fury Road is indeed a radical feminist vision. Because there's so much debate going on right now about what feminism is, and whether we actually need it or not, and even whether feminists are nothing more than a gang of extremist, man-hating fools.

For the sake of clarity, a brief clarification of terms:
  • Feminists believe in the empowerment of women and corresponding end of any inequality based on sex, gender or sexuality:
    • "Sex" - biological identity - whether you're physically a male or female.
    • "Gender" - who you identify with - the socially determined traits of "masculinity" or "femininity"
    • "Sexuality" - whether you want to sleep with men, women, both or neither.
  • There are three basic theories associates with feminism. These are ideas about what strategy will help women to become more equal, or empowered:
    • "Liberal" - adopt the traits associated with maleness and masculinity (the "Hillary Clinton" approach).
    • "Cultural" - celebrate the traits associated with femaleness and femininity (the "Sarah Palin" approach, or think of Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde).
    • "Radical" - destroy the social infrastructures that uphold male superiority and replace them with one that will facilitate an equal partnership between the sexes. 

Mad Max: Fury Road is a rare find: a mainstream social text that portrays radical feminism accurately. Usually this approach is offered up as a kind of women's colony, with a lesbian or seemingly asexual woman in charge, where men are kept inferior; e.g. as on Syfy's Z Nation series.

If you haven't seen the movie, the plot is fairly straightforward: a post-nuclear world where a male dictator has taken over and imprisoned the women, forcing them to serve as "breeders." They get impregnated against their will; they are hooked up to machines to produce breast milk to feed the fighters. (I couldn't help but think of ISIS as I watched.)

One of these women, played by (the totally awesome) Charlize Theron, has attained a position of power, and she uses it to try and help other women escape. Along the way she encounters Max, and together they fight the dictator.

Radical feminism is so thoroughly woven throughout the film that it's hard to pick out specific examples. But the messages matter. Without spoiling the show, here are some basic ideas:

1. Men are not the enemy - oppression of women is the enemy: In the show, women and men-who-treat-women-well work hand-in-hand. When one of the fighters reforms himself, the women take him in and work with him.

2. Women must fight for their own equality, on every level: Obviously they fight with guns. But they also fight "false consciousness," meaning the belief in male superiority and the consequential deference to them. The film shows the women working together to "wake up" one of their peers who can't get over her cultural brainwashing. In a nice touch, they also literally spit in the dictator's face.

3. Liberating nature is linked with liberating women: The movie shows women as natural resources, literally, for breast milk. They're natural resources for the birthing of children as well. A recurring question in the movie is "who killed Earth?" It's not just about surviving, it's about respecting the sources of life as holy - not just using them for what you can get.

4. Trying to control another human being is always wrong: One of the rebel women literally says this to the dictator in the movie. It might seem obvious but some people who call themselves religious try to control the behavior of others in the name of "saving" them. This is always unethical.

5. The meaning of life is helping other people: In the beginning of the movie Max is all about survival. By the end, he's dedicated himself to helping other people survive even if it's not in his own interest. Selflessness and generosity and the feminist ethos go hand in hand. This is the essence of motherhood.

All opinions my own and not those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Screenshot via the Mad Max: Fury Road official website.

Your Brand As A Moral Decision Filter

"Why are we here? TO WORSHIP ME." -comedienne Judy Tenuta (photo via her website)
Every other year, the National Science Foundation does the General Social Survey to discover how Americans are thinking and feeling. The combination of quantitative and qualitative methods easily makes this survey "the gold standard" of sociological research in America, as Tobin Grant puts it. And the NSF is carefully attuned to the methodology it uses.
The 2014 interview panels alone included 30 randomly selected national samples totaling 59,599 respondents and 5,900 variables.
A 2015 research paper by Michael Hout (New York University and the social science research center NORC) and Tom W. Smith (NORC) analyzed trends in religious belief, drawing on the most recent NSS dataset.
For the past 20 years or so, the relative percentage of believers hasn't changed much.(Normally a change of 10 percentage points is considered statistically significant.) A majority, 58%, believe definitively that a Creator exists, down only 6% from 1991. See screenshot of table from their study.
At the same time, there is a significant rise in the percentage of Americans claiming "no religious preference" Between 1972-2014, that figure more than quadrupled, from 5% to 21%.
In the last two years alone (2012-2014), according to an NSS analysis by Tobin Grant, 7.5 million Americans "left religion" altogether.
It seems that people are willing to believe in G-d, but they are increasingly disenchanted with religion.
Obviously, religion involves people, and where there are people there is disagreement.
A classic Jewish joke (here, slightly abridged; via Wikipedia) illustrates this well:
A man is rescued from a desert island after 20 years. He is interviewed by reporters. "How did you survive? How did you keep sane?" 
"I had my faith. My faith as a Jew kept me strong. Come." He shows them a synagogue he's built. "This took me five years."
"Amazing! And what did you do for the next fifteen years?"
He shows them another synagogue, on the other side of the island. "This one took me twelve years."
"Why did you build two temples?"
"This is the temple I attend. That other place? Hah! I wouldn't set foot in that other temple if you PAID me!"  
I've never met a person who wants to be bad.
So perhaps where religion has failed, brand can succeed.
Think about it: your brand is a kind of moral decision filter.
The mid-1900s sociologist Erving Goffman built an entire framework of thinking about social interaction around the idea of dramaturgy -- more specifically "front stage/backstage" --the idea that we act one way in public and another in private because we care about what others will say about us.
In a sense, he argued, we we use the judgments of other people as a means of stopping ourselves from "sinning," at least as we each individually understand that concept. Because we don't want to be shamed (or worse).
More than half a century later it's getting hard to find any personal space at all. With the multiple invasions of social media into our personal space, the plethora of Big Data tools to track our buying behaviors, the growth of corresponding data analytics capabilities, and the explosion of the surveillance state, you are pretty much a known quantity if you are located anywhere on the grid.
The result is we're all living in the equivalent of glass houses. And behavior that was formerly hidden from view is more than ever likely to become public. 
Goffman's theory has become impossible.
In this kind of situation, it is inevitable that you'll be asked to justify your personal choices on more than one occasion that would have been totally unthinkable before.
To give just one simple example, I read a recent Facebook interchange between a religious rights activist and a civil rights activist. The civil rights activist was outraged because the religious rights activist had ignored the Charleston shooting altogether.
While from a certain perspective it seems crazy to question what someone posts on Facebook, from another it makes perfect sense: it's about brand.
People think about you, your company, and most organizations from the perspective of the messages you send every day. If you consistently talk about human rights from any point of view, you'll be attacked for failing to uphold that standard.
In a way this kind of environment is heavy and oppressive. But from another point of view, it is actually very liberating.
We are all free to choose our brand affiliation. We can buy what we want, work where we want, love who we want, and believe what we want as well.
When it comes to morality, more than ever the choice is your own.
The key to being credible is to stick with it.
All opinions my own and not those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by Kevin Dooley via Flickr.