Monday, November 29, 2010

Three Thoughts As I Deck the Halls

I’ve been neglecting this blog. Too busy with holiday doings. So before I forget them, here are three quick thoughts that might deserve longer pieces…after the holidays.

1. Dashboards I’m beginning to wonder about the wisdom of all these performance “dashboards.” I understand that, in the spirit of open government, it’s good to have some way for agencies to report what they’re doing. But if your customers aren’t seeing real commensurate improvement in service, does this actually work against public trust? As my sainted grandmother used to remind me, “actions speak louder than words.”

2. Less Is More Ten ago, Sam Gallagher and I started traveling around the country doing web clinics to help HUD’s partners (nonprofits, state and local governments, public housing agencies, etc.) create good websites that deliver the services HUD funds. One of the take-aways we emphasized (before we’d even heard the term “top tasks”) was this: if you do nothing else, go to the person/people who answer your phones, find out the top 5 questions/requests, and put the answers to those on the home page of your website. If you do that, you’ll probably satisfy a significant portion of your web audience.

Hmm. What if we tried that on federal websites? What if you put your top 3-5 tasks on the home page, add a big search box, make sure you’ve written your content in plain language so searches are successful, and be done with it? Forget the complicated navigation. Give up all those hero boxes and photos. Just give them a few big ticket items and a great search. Wouldn’t it be fun to test that?

3. The Power of Leadership Finally, I’ve just got to give huge kudos to GSA for really stepping it up this year to become the strong, strategic, enthusiastic, bonafide leader of federal customer service efforts.

GSA seems to understand the difference between “leadership” and “management.” Customer service is the responsibility of every agency across government, and there are plenty of managers who are (or should be) responsible for making it work. What was lacking was a leader to form strategies and get all the players to work together, to deliver easy-to-find, easy-to-use, high quality services that customers want and need, across government. GSA is coordinating and supporting, without dictating and offending.

But here’s something even more important. GSA is nudging the federal government to look at customer service as a whole, not just a sum of its parts. So not only are they connecting the dots, they’re also causing new thinking about how we can collaborate to restructure customer service across government, across delivery channels, to improve service. Look at the mission statement for the Center for Customer Service Excellence: “…provides support and solutions for web, social media, mobile, phone, e-mail, print and newly evolving media.”

Leadership is a powerful asset – no, make that requirement – for lasting, positive change across government. Well done, GSA!

In case I don’t get back to this blog until 2011, Happy Holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Process Does Not Equal Results

I was talking to a web colleague a few weeks ago, asking what she’s working on. She said, “collaboration, innovation, participation, best practices – all good stuff.” Indeed, good stuff. But then I starting thinking, leading to what? What is she trying to achieve? The other day, I saw a new job posting at a government agency: “Director of Innovation.” At first, I thought, “wow – what a great job that would be!” And then I thought…but will that person innovate? Every time I go to, I notice that slogan at the top: better websites, better government. Better government? Better at what? The problem with all these examples is that they’re focused on process. Process does not equal results. And if you’re focused on process, you may not achieve results.

Citizens – our customers - want one basic result from government: great service. Fast, easy, accurate, best-in-class service that makes us satisfied that our tax money is being used wisely and well. But how many times have you gone to a meeting or a conference or training and spent all the time talking about process, without a single mention of the desired result: great customer service?

One of the reasons I’ve been so enthusiastic about the Federal Web Managers Council’s 2008 white paper, Putting Citizens First – Transforming Online Government, is that it laid out 6 customer service objectives that are the aim of the government web community.

“…when they need government information and services online, (citizens should) be able to:
  • Easily find relevant, accurate, and up-to-date information;
  • Understand information the first time they read it;
  • Complete common tasks efficiently;
  • Get the same answer whether they use the web, phone, email, live chat, read a brochure, or visit in-person;
  • Provide feedback and hear what the government will do with it;
  • Access critical information if they have a disability or aren’t proficient in English"
Brilliant! You’ve articulated your results. You know what success looks like. Now, talk about processes in terms of those results. Use these objectives as your compass.

Let me ask you this: have you sat down with your colleagues, inside and outside of your agency, to talk about how you’ll achieve those objectives? Have you looked at all the processes you’re involved in – all the things you do, day to day…meetings, conferences, training, planning, budgeting – to make sure you’re spending your time and resources on processes that will produce those results? When you’re in one of those long tedious meetings where everyone is quibbling over what you’re going to do, do you raise your hand and ask, “How will this help us achieve our 6 customer service objectives?” to help the group stay focused on the goal?

Look, I spent 24 years in the federal government. Nearly every new administration that came in vowed to improve the process of government. Total Quality Management. Management By Objectives. Reinvention. I know government processes need to be improved. I’m not questioning that. But process does not equal results. And – in my experience - we often got so consumed by the process that we lost sight of the desired results. Where is TQM or MBO or Reinvention today? What were their lasting results? Do you know?  Do citizens know?

So here’s my plea. Stop thinking and talking in terms of process. Start thinking and talking in terms of results. Keep your eyes on the prize. And next time your colleague or your friend or your boss or that reporter or a group of citizens asks what you’re working on, start by saying, “6 customer service objectives that will produce better service for citizens.” Results.