Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reorganizing Government? Start Online!

Hope you didn’t miss this. In his State of the Union speech, President Obama talked about reorganizing government to consolidate programs/services.
“There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy. Then there's my favorite example: The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they're in saltwater. I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked…In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America.”
Woot! He’s absolutely right. The overlap and duplication is daunting. Consolidating is a huge challenge – and absolutely the right thing to do. But how? 

Start online!

This is low-hanging fruit. This is not that hard to do – with a top level mandate and ongoing support.
  • Put the Federal Web Managers Council, working with GSA and the staff, in charge of convening topic-based groups. Make sure every agency that has a program or stake in a topic is included. Involve program experts.
  • Charge agencies to work together around topics. Give these task groups reasonable deadlines and adequate support.
  • Consolidate content among agencies. Eliminate duplication. Show the audience where to start, where to go next, and what else they should consider.  Make it easy to find and use top (most requested) tasks.
  • Bring in plain language specialists. Bring in usability specialists. Bring in customer service experts. Bring in citizens (great opportunity for open government).
  • Designate a lead agency to interface with citizens for each topic so customers don’t have to bounce around (and Mr. President – make them play by the rules).
  • Post it on (like they do in the United Kingdom with their DirectGov website).
Bingo – citizens see a more efficient government!

Citizens never need to see those agency silos. They don’t need to know you sit in different buildings, all over the country. They don’t even need to know you’re still working with Congress to consolidate programs. Aggregate the advice and options. Post it on one website and – viola! – the government looks like it’s got its act together.

The Pew Internet and American Life folks tell us Americans access their government through the internet more than any other way. So if you want to reorganize and make government more efficient, why not start online?

Related Posts
Can’t We Have One Federal Government – At Least Online?
Time for a Re-Think of

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What Do Dominos and EPA Have In Common? They LISTEN!

I never had a favorite national pizza chain until recently, when Dominos Pizza rolled out one of the best customer service campaigns I’ve seen. Have you seen the commercial where Dominos CEO, Patrick Doyle, displays a photo that was posted on Domino’s website showing pizza toppings horribly stuck to the top of the box? Patrick looks at the camera and addresses Bryce in Minnesota, who posted the photo, telling him “we’re listening…this isn’t right. We’ve got to fix it.”

It’s part of their “Dominos Pizza Turnaround” effort, where they really pulled out the stops to LISTEN to their customers (focus groups, online surveys with every order, etc.), respect what customers told them, and make changes accordingly. I’ll tell you – they convinced me. I tried their products, and I do think they improved.  This is a smart company. They know if you want satisfied customers, you’ve got to keep listening to them and do something about it when they tell you what needs to be fixed.

That brings me to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Have you looked at lately? You should. They are making terrific changes, based on what their customers want. For one thing, they now have a single design for the entire site. No more different designs for different sub-organizations. A common design makes it so much easier for customers to use the site.

But the feature I’m most excited about is the local information. Go to the EPA home page, find your state on the US map, click, and – bingo – you’ve got easy-to-use information about what’s going on where you live…things you and I actually care about. Or you can put in your zip code, and – presto! – you get info about air, water, and pollutants in your community.

Citizens want that local connection. Heck, we started hearing that back in the 1990s. They want to know what you’re doing to help them in their states and communities. They want to know what services you offer them where they live – not in Washington, DC.

EPA listened and gave their customers what they want. Believe me, I know it wasn’t easy – it took a ton of work (and it will continue to be a lot of work). But they did it because they care about customer service, and it’s what their customers want.

There’s more. On EPA’s front page – right in the middle – are “popular topics.” And you can find top tasks – those things their customers want most – at the top right of each of the three major sections of the site (Learn the Issues, Science and Technology, Laws and Regulations). Helping customers find what they want as fast as possible is a huge part of providing great customer service.

Too many times, federal government agencies force customers to go on a treasure hunt through their huge websites. EPA makes us feel that this big government agency cares about what we want, and they’ve taken steps to make it easy for us to find it and use it. Kudos to Jeffrey Levy, Karen Reshkin, the great EPA web communications team and the EPA executives who are making customers a priority! That’s great public service.

It takes real effort to listen to your customers AND make the changes customers want. And here’s the key - it’s not a one-time thing. It’s an ongoing, iterative process. Dominos and EPA are doing the work, and they’ll be rewarded with satisfied customers.

Dominos nailed it: “We’re still listening. We’re gonna learn. We’re gonna get better.”

Related Post
Customer Service Mantra: Listen, Respect, Follow

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Successful Web Leaders Communicate Successfully

I haven’t talked about leadership for awhile. So let me beat that drum a bit.

Web managers/editors/innovators (I’m still searching for the right moniker) have always been – and must always be – leaders to be successful. We have no delegated authority over all the people we need to get the job done. So we have to rely on our leadership skills to get everyone on the same page. And maybe the most important aspect of being a successful leader is being a successful communicator. You have to be able to motivate, inspire cooperation, persuade, convince, and – sometimes – badger people into seeing what you see and marching to your tune. You have to be a great communicator. How do you do that? Here’s what worked for me.

Start with your bosses.

Who are your “bosses?” I know – you think, “duh!” But guess what…when you’re an agency web manager – and relying on/accountable to an entire agency – you have a ton of bosses. Who are they?
  • Your direct supervisor. Of course.
  • Managers and executives above your supervisor.
  • The top management official at the agency.
  • Maybe some top aides or special assistants. Hmm. Had you considered that?  Sometimes, special assistants or top aides represent your boss's interests.  Or sometimes they are in a great position to influence what your boss does.  Never, ever underestimate the power of a special assistant or top aide.
Here’s the thing. Know who your bosses are! It’s better to treat someone like a boss who isn’t than to assume someone isn’t a boss who is.

So…what do bosses want? Well, they want to look good, personally. They want their organization to look good. They want to solve problems. They want to be the first to know something. They want to be the first one to do something. They want public recognition. So, the key to communicating with bosses? Give them something they want...because when you do, they will want you.

Now…some other tips for communicating with bosses.
  • Check your image! Your image – how you are perceived – is critical to your success. Do you look like someone your agency head would want to put on his/her team? Do you need to brush up on your presentation skills? Can you articulate – in words that are meaningful to your boss – what you do? Do your bosses see you the way you see yourself? Perception is everything. So manage your boss’s perception of you.
  • Introduce yourself! See a boss in the cafeteria? Go meet him/her! Offer some great tidbit about one of your top tasks. “Thought you’d like to know that we reduced the time it takes to submit a change of address online by 10% this year!” Help them remember you as a can-do contributor. Be the first one in the door – new bosses look for allies.
  • Make appointments with your bosses. Make it about them – not you. Show you understand what they want to accomplish. Tell them how they can save resources or work better, smarter, faster. Suggest ways to improve customer service, achieve management goals, engage the public, make the agency more transparent. Ask how you can help them. If they don’t know, offer some suggestions. But remember – make it about meeting their needs.
  • Share information. Describe your customers. Tell your boss what most people looking for (top tasks).  Tell your boss how much money or time are you saving on a particular process. Tell your boss about that idea you are working on that could make your agency look good. Inspire your bosses with possibilities.
  • Listen to what your bosses say! Remember – you’re trying to sell them on you. And a key to selling is listening to what they want/need.
  • Get yourself on the agenda of management meetings. Don’t wait to be invited – propose a briefing. Tell how you’re supporting their objectives and the administration’s goals. Show how you’re improving customer service. Facts and figures can dazzle! Offer additional briefings or brainstorm sessions. Show websites of similar organizations and challenge them to help you do the same. Suggest ways to use social media to further goals.
  • Keep your bosses current. Write email/memos to follow up on meetings and briefings. Let them know that you kept your promises. Share “good news!” Bosses LOVE to hear good news. Do it routinely.
  • Need their help? Tell them exactly what you need. Here’s the problem. Here are the possible solutions. Here’s the memo (or the phone call you need to make or the email you need to send) to deal with the problem. This is so important. Don’t leave it up to your bosses to figure it out. Do the staff work. Write the memo. Craft the strategy. Make it easy for them to do what you need them to do. Don’t delegate up.
  • Volunteer. If you hear about a new initiative, let your boss know you’d like to help - there’s always a web angle. It’s so much better to be in on the planning than to be told what to do, after the fact.
  • Make it fun! Boss has a negative attitude? Turn it into a positive. Talk about possibilities…not limits. Be grateful…not dissatisfied. Never, ever whine. Bosses hate whiners. Make it fun for your bosses to deal with you.
One more thing on bosses.  In my experience, bosses want to - and will - make the right decisions if you have communicated with them effectively.  So if you feel your boss isn't supportive, maybe you need to take another look at your communications strategy.

OK…more tips on communicating.

Be timely.

If you don’t communicate in a timely manner, then your organization can’t be effective and your credibility will suffer. Don’t put off to tomorrow what you need to do today! Start with your web team/web colleagues. Have you updated them on what you’re doing? Shared information that could impact them? Never, ever assume they know by osmosis.

Tell your agency what’s going on.

Use your intranet or your agency newsletter to inform and excite. Don't have one of those vehicles?  Start one.  Show mission achievement, service to citizens, accomplishment of the President’s goals. Document cost benefit/savings, improved timeliness, improved efficiency. Tell about upcoming initiatives and opportunities.

Reinforce positive behavior.

Call that staff member who reacted favorably to your suggestion at the management meeting. Tell your teammates when they do a good job. Let your bosses know when your team does well. Lead with praise.  Share the credit.

Successful communication doesn’t just happen. You have to plan it. You have to do it effectively. 
  • With bosses…so you can help them and they can help you.
  • With everyone in your web organization…so they know where you’re leading them, so they know the rules, and so they can carry out their roles.
  • With everyone in your agency…so they know where you’re going, what you’ve achieved. So they know what you’ve learned.
  • Across agencies…to share, to help, to learn, to collaborate.
Great web leaders communicate strategically and routinely. That’s how you spell “success.”