Notes & Planned Talking Points - GovExec #CXSummit, Nov. 2, 2017


Yesterday, November 2, 2017 I participated in an event called "The Customer Experience Summit: Building Trust In Government," on a panel about branding and trust, in a personal capacity. The discussion was sponsored by in Washington, D.C. and included Chuck Young, Managing Director of Public Affairs at GAO, and Jeremy Zilar, Director of the GSA’s DigitalGov. It was facilitated by Frank Konkel, Executive Editor at NextGov. This was a public event with media present.

What I Planned To Say

How Do You Measure A Brand? How Should Agencies Measure Brand?

First Understand Basic Things

  • To measure a brand you first have to define what a brand is. I think of it as your image.
  • To measure a brand you also need to know what your unit of measurement is. To me the brand of an agency is complex because we are measured as part of the federal government as a whole.
  • You also need to know who your audience is, and it’s easy to say “everybody.”
  • Most agencies are not this granular.


  • Brand is measured in terms of equity. It is a math equation. It is the difference between what a consumer would pay for the branded version and what they would pay for the unbranded version. Think of a Sunkist orange.
  • In accounting terms brand is measured as goodwill.
  • There are several methodologies for brand valuation today that aim to capture what is essentially an intangible factor that leads to tangible outcomes.
  • For a consumer product you can look at things like sales, revenue, awareness, loyalty, recruitment and retention but it is often difficult to know what the source of the value is.
  • For a government brand the simplest thing and possibly the most effective is to look at what people are saying about you on social media.
  • This gets you out of your echo chamber and forces you to confront the gap between who you think you are and what your friends tell you, and how you actually appear to the public which does not care to stroke your ego.
  • If you don’t want to go on social media, ask disgruntled employees.

Customer Service and Brand

  • For many federal employees they are providing service to senior leadership. We manage up. The key is not to kiss ass but to provide rational and reasonable assessments backed by data.
  • The concept of customer service is an excellent rallying cry because it makes intuitive sense in a way that branding does not. Branding sounds like brainwashing.
  • To deliver an excellent customer experience is to be operationally sound and accountable and secondarily to provide audience segments with the information they want, need and are entitled to in a manner that makes sense to them and is easy to access.
  • It goes without saying that if the agency is dysfunctional and/or corrupt it will be impossible to build a sustainable brand absent dealing with those issues.
  • The reason is that people talk, they talk out of sight and out of reach, and their words have more impact than yours.

What I Actually Said

Reactions To My Speaking Here

  • Unlike the other speakers I am a government communicator who is frequently critical of government communication, speaking in a personal capacity. Comment: “Do you want the public affairs version or the truth” – public affairs is a mediated reality
  • When I shared this event title people thought the title of this event was a joke (“trust in government”); read an article online that actually lifted slides from an FBI PowerPoint with the message that the government is using “branding” as a form of brainwashing


  • The brand of government is the entire government, not a single agency – you’re affected by perceptions of everybody else
  • The public is equally concerned about corruption as receiving benefits

Social Media

  • Look at how the public receives, consumes, and communicates information on social media
  • The Twitter screenshot of one piece of a document, with words highlighted, can eclipse the nuance of your message – that is what you need to speak to, to get the word out
  • Anticipate and communicate proactively and frequently on social media

Unleash Your People

  • Let employees talk in their personal capacity relatively freely – give them consistent clear guidance (optimally this should be governmentwide) – it is the many messages filtered throughout culture from their personal points of view that has more impact than official speech – the Coast Guard public affairs manual is available online and is a model of excellence
  • Internal communication is optimally a Facebook type environment where employees communicate with each other – formal internal communication is important but undervalued and rarely works as versus organic talk that is unfiltered – particularly important during times of change when there is pressure from outside to streamline vs. pressure from inside to maintain the bureaucracy

Innovation and Creativity

  • A senior executive is not going to take chances on innovative programs unless innovation is in the performance plan – nobody is going to go out on a limb only to fail and be punished.
  • Creativity inside the agency is an important source of value but workplace bullying is frequent, inside and outside the government, and it’s the job of management to root out toxic employees who prevent others from contributing to their fullest (e.g. to make the agency work better, to innovate, to demonstrate great work)

The Town Square Model Of Communication

  • From the perspective of the town square (where people talk about government) public affairs speak is massaged conversation and sounds false – all the more reason to let humans speak in an unofficial capacity (with specificity about areas that are off limits)
  • Don’t focus only on your website, focus on where the public actually goes to find things out – websites and social media not managed by you
  • If you focus on your website, focus on the parts of particular interest to the public – e.g. FOIA

Ask Your Communication Experts

  • Internally it is a problem when leaders think they can communicate without any input or with minimal input from the communicators.
  • The federal government has many extremely intelligent and well-trained employees who can tell you when a message is unclear, inaccurate, misleading – use them.
  • Consider working with GSA because GSA is able to apply governmentwide standards to bear on very agency-specific environments


  • Customer service is uneven across agencies, but it works where it’s measured continuously and consistently

What The Other Experts Said

Note: Obviously they said a lot more than this...just sharing what I could recall. - DB 

Frank Konkel, NextGov, Facilitator

  • Often very difficult to understand what the government is saying
  • Difficult to get access to government subject matter experts – times have changed
  • Trust in government is obviously low – data on this is plentiful
  • How do you measure your brand – something to think about
  • Government brands don’t rank high when you look at which brands have a positive perception

Chuck Young, GAO Managing Director of Public Affairs, Co-Panelist

  • Important to get the word out about the work you’re doing
  • Important to defend your brand
  • Social media is important – “digital natives” across the agency can convene and advise on social media
  • Meticulousness about content of information versus responding to the Twitter version, which may be wildly inaccurate or may be accurate but bring up difficult points

Jeremy Zilar, GSA, Director of DigitalGov, Co-Panelist

  • Highlight the good work that is often hidden from the public
  • Focus on changing the one thing that is very annoying
  • Brand is built from a series of interactions, optimize the interactions
  • Work with agency counsel, they are your partner
  • User testing doesn’t have to be complicated; key is to incorporate this type of thinking into your communication efforts - how does it work for the user

For More Highlights From The Panel

Watch the video here or search for #cxsummit on Twitter.
Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy of GovExec.

Your Mind Believes What You Tell It (Brief)

If you tell yourself negative things about yourself or the world then that’s what you believe, and vice versa.

The mind works through stories.

You are always telling yourself a story about your life.

The key is to reframe reality in a more positive light.

Accept reality, but plan for a positive future

Like this: “I may be overweight now but I am eating healthy and if I keep this up I will be thinner.”

Like my daughter says: Live in the present. It's a journey. Enjoy it while you're here.

Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. All rights reserved. Photo by rawpixel via Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons).

Unlocking Innovation In Government

The government is not built for innovation. It is built for taking orders. To create a culture of innovation we will have to fundamentally reconstruct government such that it is an incubator for new ideas and not an automatic blocker of them.

But first we will need to make the case that government should be innovative. It has to become an urgent need. Either we get better at what we're doing (e.g., innovate for improvement) or we die.

Unfortunately the government does not tend to act when things are calm. Rather, it takes one of two scenarios: a crisis to respond to (not what we want!) or there is an absolute, top-down requirement. And in the latter case, the absolute top-down requirement may generate superficial conformity absent a real commitment to change, unless people are motivated. (When someone's job is on the line, or they stand to be embarrassed, they tend to get motivated.)

Worse yet, the impenetrable tangle of laws, policies, rules and regulations makes it practically impossible for anyone to innovate in an orderly, disciplined manner. To give a very simple example, it is classic government practice to design websites badly due to the challenge of simply getting input from the users; and due to the lack of creativity around what it means to design a website in the first place. 

For my part, I would create one website for most of the government to which all agencies contribute, because customers think of the government as a unit. They should not need to know which agency does what. They should be able to type something into a Google-type search bar and find only government results. DREAM SCENARIO.

Why can't I send that idea forward? The short answer is that I can; I remember sometime this past year there was a call for new ideas and participated. Each one got a rejection of some type. Because there, again, the government is too limited in its thinking: I don't need to know what you did with my idea. It's not about assigning someone to get back to me. It's about putting the ideas out there, in a public space, where others can see them, rate them, and build off of them. For some byzantine reason that I cannot understand, we currently do not have this.

Here's another example of a concept that would better serve the customer, in my view: A single customer service portal that works across the Federal government. If you have any question about anything, it should be as simple as: Tweeting, calling, emailing, sending a text, or sending an IM. To one number: USGOV (87468). There should be 1,000 people on the other end of that communication who can start a ticket, refer it to the appropriate party, and get a response back to the customer along with a link to the appropriate URL. Every individual gets a customer number; every inquiry gets a case number. SO SIMPLE.

Most of the ideas considered innovative for government are already well entrenched in the private sector. pioneered the idea of user reviews nearly 20 years ago. This is a crucial part of customer service because it reduces the burden on the taxpayer of funding FTEs to answer questions that the public can handle.

Imagine this scenario (not currently in use by Amazon): When I send in my question, it automatically goes into the user database where someone else may respond and I can track those responses using my US citizen customer number. (If we want to get very innovative about it, we can use people's fingerprints as their identifiers; attach a little scanner to your laptop or mobile device and log in to the government portal).

I don't know, none of these things seem like rocket science to me, but there is a perception in the government somehow that if you're not in the Senior Executive Service or you're not in charge of that particular function in that particular agency then you have no business even suggesting such things. I know this because very early in my career I suggested that an agency set up a new media "war room" where they could track social media mentions, interactions, questions, comments etc.; and then merge the communication functions seamlessly so that incoming data could receive an integrated response. My supervisor at the time was absolutely furious that I had dared to submit an organization chart for something that was not only above my pay grade, but the supervisor's pay grade as well.

In terms of diversity, the people who generate creative ideas nonstop, who are generally a bit quirky (I count myself in this group) tend to be put into a corner where they will not create too much trouble. Because the norm for government is a team player who goes along to get along, who follows rules well, who is pleasant, who learns the system and functions well within it.

I have been extremely fortunate to have "grown up" professionally in the federal government and to have worked with a variety of anomalous mentors who saw and appreciated my unique qualities and nurtured them. Their support compensated for everything else, and everyone else, that did not understand where I was coming from and/or didn't like it.

Also, I would add that working for the government has exposed me to some brilliant people. There is a serious lack of understanding among the public about how smart government employees are as well as how dedicated they are -- this is true, I have found, of most.

Further, working for the government means that you have some inspiration (public service) as well as some thoughtful time -- your hours are structured and regular. In the private sector, it truly is all about money, money, money and ruthlessly cutting so as to improve the bottom line.

I have great faith that we will move forward and upward and onward and get where we need to be.

Posted November 2, 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. This post is public domain. Photo by Weinstock via Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons):

Godliness & Forced Religion -- They Cannot Coexist

As an emanation of holiness our souls are naturally tied to God and long to be one with His oneness.

It therefore follows that we do not need to be compelled to bathe in His light.

In fact, it's just the opposite.

We innately seek out His presence.

Without God in our lives, we fall into depression. Despair.

Without a higher presence overseeing all that goes on, the suffering of this world is incomprehensible.

Without the knowledge that there is an end to all of it, that justice will eventually occur, how can one even function?

The answer is this: Without God, all there is, is nothingness. As it says in Genesis, before God created the world it was "without form," meaning that no physical thing was distinguishable from any other thing. It was also "void," meaning that there was no substance to it, no meaning in it -- nothing.

Many years ago I went to the Lubavitcher Rebbe for a blessing. I was the type of person people called "intense," and while that is still true, I also had a tendency toward depression. He blessed me to have good cheer. Though life is never perfect, that blessing largely stayed with me.

When you see the world through depressed eyes, everything looks bleak. Everything looks meaningless. It's actually painful to recall, and it's something I'd rather not think about, because I never, ever want to go back there.

For me, faith in God is the antidote for depression. I know there is meaning in the world. God animates us. God is what makes things work.

The antidote of formlessness and the void, is faith.

In just the same way as the body gasps and dies without oxygen, our souls literally cannot breathe without that connection to God.

So it is misguided for any religion to try and force faith on its children. I know intellectually that several things lead to the attempt. Number one, there is the belief that evil is tempting. And so one must brainwash ("indoctrinate" a.k.a. "teach") children the right values so that they don't fall victim too easily.

Another, less positive issue is that people in power tend to want to stay in power. They therefore promulgate the notion that they have a special knowledge about how one should conduct oneself at all times so as to be "good with God."

As such, innocent people, who sincerely desire to walk in His way, become susceptible to being "led," and "leadership" at some point becomes "force." Both women and men suffer from this kind of spiritual leadership.

As a Jew who was raised in the context of Orthodoxy, I understand and believe that God gave us the Torah as a very clear roadmap to morality. I believe that God rewards the good people and punishes the bad people as well.

However, I do not believe that God ever wanted or intended for religious leaders to "weaponize" the Torah so as to oppress their fellow Jewry. (And it follows that the same would hold true for members of other religions.)

Here's to the day when we let people express their spirituality naturally, and when religious leaders view themselves as enablers of that natural human need, rather than becoming obstacles.

We don't need corrupt leaders, in any religion, who add unnecessary obstacles and complexity, so as to create a role for themselves that otherwise would not exist.


Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. All rights reserved. Photo by basker_dhandapani via Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons).

Search This Blog