Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Make Time to Lead

I first wrote a blog post called Make Time to Lead, more than 5 years ago; and I've written several variations on that theme since then.  It’s a lesson I learned first-hand, as I managed HUD’s web program and co-chaired the Federal Web Managers Council.  It’s easy to get so inundated in process that you lose your direction - and so do those who are following you. 

As I look at all that’s on your plate today, web colleagues – website consolidation, plain language re-writes, social media, mobile apps, customer service initiatives – it seems to be a good time to trot this chestnut out again. 

Whatever else you do, you have to make time to lead.

A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with a very good web friend.  At one point, I looked at her and said, “We’ve been together for 45 minutes, and all you’ve talked about is process.  What new ideas are you thinking about?  What’s next on your agenda?”  She looked at me and froze.  I could tell that nothing came to mind.  She laughed and said, “Candi, you always make me think.”

See, that’s the thing, web leaders.  You have to make time to think.  You never know when your boss may call you in or you might run into your agency head in the elevator or you see a prominent colleague at a meeting and they ask, “what’s next?”  You need to be ready with an answer because you may not get that opening again.  When your team is drowning in process, they need you to inspire them with what's on the horizon.  Put it all into perspective and keep those juices flowing.  You've got to find some time to think.

Equally important, you've got to make time to listen.  We've all heard people say, “my (boss, team leader, project leader, community leader) is so busy I can’t even get 5 minutes with him.”  I understand how busy leaders can be.  You go crazy running from one meeting to another, one phone call to another, one demand to another.

But you cannot succeed if the people who look to you for leadership lose their way, don’t know what to do next, can’t solve a problem, don’t know what the priorities are, or just need some good ol’ encouragement.  You’ve got to make time to listen to them and help them.

So here are a few questions you should ask yourself each week, web leaders:
  1. What’s next?  What problems do we need to solve?  What are others doing that we should try?  What’s the next big thing, and how can we get ready for it?  What is it that nobody is doing that we could pioneer?  What priorities do I need to shift?  Who might help me?  Who do I need to involve?
  2. What do my followers need from me?   What do I need to do this week to keep my (team, group, colleagues) on track?  What do my key lieutenants need from me?  Who needs some individual time?  When was the last time I asked them to tell me what they need?  When was the last time I sat down with them and asked how things are going and took the time to really listen? 
Don’t look at your calendar and sigh and say you don’t have time.  Don't decide that it's OK to just feel guilty because you aren't doing these things.  This is important stuff.  You can’t put it off.  Leading is charting the course…and guiding the troops.   

Make time to think.  Make time to listen.  Make time to lead.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Webbies: You Identified the Problem - Now Create the Solution

The federal web manager community has been hollering – rightly - about the uncontrolled proliferation of federal government websites for at least 7 years.  We’ve known we can’t possibly manage all that content effectively.  We’ve known there’s duplication and redundancy.  We’ve known that a huge percentage of our web content is written poorly, making it hard for our customers to get the fast, efficient service they deserve. 

And now, you’ve got a chance to fix it.  The White House, OMB, and the Chief CIO have heard you. You've triggered the .gov Reform Effort.  Woot!  But now, you've got to finish this thing.  You've got to help find the solution.

The Reform Effort starts with developing and analyzing an inventory of government websites on the .gov domain.  A 17-person task force has been appointed to lead this effort; and since I personally know several of them, I can tell you these are some of the best, smartest people in government. But I also can tell you they are very busy people, with many responsibilities. These 17 people will not have the time to do the analysis to decide "what's next?"  They're looking at others to help.

There’s hope that agencies will weed out this mess...acknowledge unneeded sites and eliminate them.  But I doubt they’ll be calling other agencies, saying, “hey, we duplicate what you have; so let’s join forces.”

There’s hope the public will jump in.  Some of the advocates and lobbying groups surely will see this as an opening to weigh in.  

But you know this problem the best.  And the good news? Your representatives - the Federal Web Managers Council - has been named as a partner in this effort. So you're at the table. You have the floor.  Now show them what you've got!

Will this be easy?  Heck no!  Egos are involved.  Hours and hours of work are involved.  Compromise is involved.  Credibility is involved.  Doing the analysis, forming the recommendations, and – gulp –making those hard calls (I guarantee you – some agencies are NOT going to like being told they have to abandon or merge the websites they control) will not come easy.  But doing the right thing is the essence of "public service." 

More is not better – it’s simply more. Citizen customers deserve better.  They deserve concise, well-written, easy to find, easy-to-use government services.  You’ve identified the problem.  You’ve got the attention and support of people at the highest levels.  So don't stop now. 

Don't sit back and wait for others to solve the problem when you know the issues the best.  Crank up the Forum.  Work with the FWMC.  Commit the time, do the work, and finish this thing.  Find the solution.

This is your moment.  Courage!  Vision!  Passion!     

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Thursday, July 07, 2011

Thinking Mobile

I’ve been thinking about how citizens might use mobile devices to get government services for…well…years.  Sam Gallagher and I started talking about making web content usable on mobile devices way back in 2000, when we were teaching HUD’s partners how to create customer-friendly websites.  Mobile apps are here to stay, and it's a great time for governments to be planning their strategies. 

My friend Gwynne Kostin, at GSA, is leading a discussion – well, several discussions – about how the government could/should get on the mobile bandwagon.  She’s raising important issues, and I hope you’ll take time to weigh in – or at least eavesdrop.  At the top of the list is a discussion about strategy.  So, here are the 3 points I’d offer, as you think about your agency's mobile strategy:
  1. Mobile apps are just another way to deliver the services your customers want and need.  They’re a “how,” not a “what.”  So your mobile strategy should be a subset of your customer service strategy.  Don’t develop it in isolation.  Work with the web managers and call center managers and publications editors and the Customer Service Officer and anyone else who interfaces with the public to decide the best ways to deliver each service.  Don’t reinvent the wheel for each delivery channel.  If you can make one app that can be used on the web, on a mobile device, by call center operators, and by desk receptionists, that’s efficient for the agency and great for customers.
  2. As a rule, it’s a waste of time to try to make your entire website mobile-friendly or to create a separate mobile website.  Most people don’t want to wade through a website while they’re on the go.   They just want to complete a unique task.  So focus on tasks – not websites.
  3. As with everything we do, take your cues from your customers.  Start with top tasks (those tasks your customers want/use most).   Figure out what kinds of things your customers really want to do when they’re on the road, out to lunch, waiting for their kids at soccer practice; and create easy-to-use (and I mean as few words and steps as possible) apps.  Involve customers in the design.  Watch customers use your apps, and measure your success by their success.
A long time ago, I suggested we might one day organize all government web content into just a few sites, with a small “services” site (in other words, tasks or apps) as the centerpiece.  I wonder if we’re getting closer?

Go look at Gwynne’s discussions.  This is good stuff!

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