Communication, What Comes From The Heart

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Leaders always seem to be trying to get their message “right”.

They ponder what will it take to win the hearts and minds.

They may hire consultants to tell them what they should say.

They engage fancy speechwriters to say “it” just so.

Then, they monitor the polls to get feedback and see how their message was received.

However a new article in Harvard Business Review (April 2012) throws a curve ball at this whole notion–stating: “It seems almost absurd that how we communicate could be so much more important to success than what we communicate.”

From my perspective, there are many factors that contribute to the success of our communications:

Firstly, let’s face it–personality, likability, charisma, and charm go a long way to influencing others–and yes, it seems like this is the case, almost at times, regardless of the message itself.

Then there is everything else from emotional intelligence and political savvy for “working” the audience to doing your homework in terms of getting your facts right, making your presentation engaging, using back channels to build support, and giving people the opportunity to ask questions, contribute, and buy in.

According to the HBR article, successful communication directly impacts team performance, this occurs through:

– Energy–“the number and nature of exchanges among team members”–with more interactionbeing better.

– Engagement–the distribution of communications among team members–with more equal distributionbeing better (i.e. communication isn’t being dominated by one person or a select few).

– Exploration–this is the communication between a team and other external connections–with more outreachbeing better for creativity and innovation.

For all of us, communicating is as much about the way and how much we interact with others, as with what we actually have to say.

That’s not to say, that what we have to communicate is not important, but rather that the mere act of communicating with others is itself a positive step in the right direction.

We have to genuinely interact and connectwith others–it’s a critical part of the influencing and teaming process.

Only then, does honing the message itself really make the difference we want it to.

People communicate with other people and this happens in  a very direct, personal, and emotional way.

There is a Jewish saying that my wife often tells me that her grandfather used to say, “what comes from the heart goes to the heart.”

I think that is the correct notion–sincerity is at the core of it takes to really communicate effectively with others.

(Source Photo: herewith attribution to VisaAgency)

Dilbert Shows The Way to User-Centric Government

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Scott Adams the talent behind Dilbert comics and numerous books wrote a fascinating column in the Wall Street Journal (5-6 Oct. 2011) called “What if Government Were More Like an iPod.”

Adams has some great ideas and here’s a few:

1) Leverage Group Intelligence–“group intelligence is more important than individual genius…thanks to the Internet we can summon the collective intelligence of millions.” While certainly in government, we are using social media and crowd sourcing to leverage group intelligence by making information available to the public (e.g. Data.gov), engaging the public in innovating new applications (e.g. Apps for Democracy), getting feedback and comments on regulations (e.g. Regulations.gov), soliciting policy ideas and petitions from citizens (e.g. We The People) and more, this is only a start. We can continue to advance engagement with people on everyday issues to come up with solutions for our biggest and toughest challenges. One example for doing this is utilizing more tools like Quora to put out questions to subject matter experts, from every spectrum of our great nation, to come up with the best solutions, rather than just rely on the few, the loud, or the connected.
2) Voting With Understanding–“Voting [the way we currently do] is such a crude tool that half of the time, you can’t tell if you’re voting against your own interests. Change can take years…and elected officials routinely ignore their own campaign promises.” Adams proposes a website to see the “best arguments for and against every issue, with links to support or refute every factual claim. And imagine the professional arbiters would score each argument.” I can empathize with what Adams is saying. Think of the healthcare act in 2010 that was over 2,500 pages or the 72,000 page tax code–there is a reason people are overwhelmed, confused, and calling for plain language in government communications such as the Plain Language Act. There is obviously more to be done here using user-centric communications and citizen engagement, so that the average citizen with bills to pay and a family to care for, can still participate, contribute, and vote with understanding unmarred by gobbledygook, “the weight test”, and politicking.
3) Campaigning More Virtually–Make it “easy for voters to see video clips, interviews, debates, and useful comparisons of the candidates positions. In the modern era, it does’t make sense for a candidate to trek all over the country on a bus.” Too much of the political process is the shaking hands and kissing babies–the showmanship of who looks better and talks more sleekly versus focusing on the policy issues. While it is important to present favorably, lead and influence and bring people together, it is also critical to get the policy issues out there clearly and without flip-flopping (which should be reserved for burgers only). The media plays a role in keeping the political candidates on their toes and honest, but the process itself should vet the issues in written commitments by candidates and not reversible sound bites on TV.
4) Quicken The Innovation Cycle–“I’m fairly certain Ben Franklin wouldn’t be impressed by our pace of innovation. He invented the post office and showed us electricity and it still took us nearly 200 years to come up with email. We’re not good at connecting the dots.” This is an interesting point, but it sort of misses the mark. There are lots of good–even great–ideas out there, but from my perspective on organizations, execution is usually the stumbling block. In fact, according to Wikipedia, the Patent Office has a backlog of over 700,000 patent applications as of October 2010, so new ideas are plentiful, but how we work those ideas and make them come to fruition is a project management and human capital challenge. While email seems like just a dot or few dots away from the post office and electricity, there is obviously a lot of groundwork that needs to be laid to send an email from DC to Jerusalem in split seconds.
In short, Adams summarizes his convictions for government change in advocating a form of User-Centric Government (my term)Adams actually proposes a 4th branch of government (I think he really mean a new agency) to manage “user-interface” or what I understand him to mean as citizen engagement. Adams describes this new agency as “smallish and economical, operating independently, with a mission to build and maintain friendly user-interface for citizens to manage their government.” Adams would advance the achievement of his ideas and hopes for leveraging group intelligence, voting with understanding, campaigning virtually, and quickening innovation. I believe Adams idea builds on the concept of a Federal agency for innovation that has been proposed previously over the years by The Industry Advisory Council and others to be modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA).
While there are arguments for and against creating another government agency for driving user-centric government, creating more and better user engagement through understanding and participation is fundamental and aligns with our core principles of democracy and as a global competitive advantage.
While Government is not Apple, learning from some of the best and brightest like Steve Jobs on how to reach people intuitively and deeply is a great way to go!
(Source Photo: here)

Apps–The World At Your Fingertips

I came across this great video by the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP)
The video demonstrates a vision for connecting people with applications and using these “to communicate, educate, and engage–beyond the gates of every embassy on the planet.”
I like the way they detailed out specific use cases for the apps, where “Applications can be anything from trivia to media kits, visa procedures and event management to English language tutorials.”
The video describes how everyone from a consular officer to a public affairs specialist and a college student to a journalist can take advantage of these. 
I can see that one of the principles behind Apps@State is to maximize the sharing and re-use of content through an apps catalogue and the ability to customize the apps to local and individual needs. 
The mobile and webs apps content will be made available through SMS, smartphones, and social networks.  
This framework for a cloud computing platform can bring efficiency and effectiveness to foreign service officers and audiences world-wide that depend on and can benefit from these programs.
This is very much user-centric design in action, and I believe very much on target with the “25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal IT Management.”
Other agencies are also developing significant apps catalogues, such as GSA with the Apps.Gov website, which now has more than fifty free social media applications for federal agencies in everything from analytics and search to blogs, contests, document sharing, video and photo sharing, idea generation, social media, wikis, and more. 
Perhaps it is not too early to say that the Federal government is on a roll and that it will only get better with time. 
(Note: All opinions my own)

>Bringing Back The Passion

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Typically, success is attributed to nature, nurture, hard work, persistence; plain old luck, and of course, Divine intervention—always. But another, often overlooked, critical determinant of organizational and personal success is passion.

Passion is the deep desire, compelling feeling, and driving force that motivates us. It is our call to action that we are compelled to heed.

An undertaking done without passion is often mere mental or physical drudgery and considered time killed until we can extricate ourselves and do what we really want to be doing. In contrast, when we have passion for what we are doing it is a “labor of love” and is considered “time well spent”—an investment that we make with joy in our hearts and the feeling that we are engaged in what we are meant to be doing.

I remember growing up as a kid and being advised to chose a career that “you feel passionate about.” “Remember,” they used to say, “this is what you are going to be doing for the next 30 or 40 years!”

Too bad, that in the beginning of my career, I didn’t exactly listen. Fortunately, I found my true passion in leadership, innovation, and technology and was able to course correct.

Over time, I have learned that those who are passionate for their work have a huge “leg up” over those who don’t, and that it is a tangible differentiator in performance. Organizations and people that are truly passionate for what they do are simply more engaged, committed, and willing to do what it takes—because they love it!

In light of how important passion is, I read with great interest an editorial in ComputerWorld, 8 February 2010 by Thornton A. May, titled “Where Has IT’s Passion Gone?”

The article provides alarming statistics from the Corporate Executive Board that in 2009 only 4% of IT employees were considered “highly engaged” in their work.

The author questions: Can “IT [workers] crawl out from under the ambition-crushing, innovation sucking, soul-destroying minutiae of just keeping the digital lights on?”

“Trance-walking zombies” just go to work to keep the proverbial “lights on,” but passionate employees come to work to enhance the mission, delight their customers, and innovatively solve problems.

While IT leaders cannot waive a magic wand and make their employees feel passionate about their work, from my experience, when IT leaders themselves are passionate, the passion is often contagious! When we are truly “feeling it,” others start to feel it too.

Now, it’s unrealistic to take it upon ourselves to make everyone happy, but we can certainly do our part by putting leaders in charge that are passionate, letting them lead by example, and allowing them to create a culture of productivity and engagement that everyone can get excited about and be proud of.

One of the big challenges that leaders face when they try to motivate employees is that often there are many good people who were once passionate, but who have lost their inner-drive because of various set-backs, prior poor leadership, or even burn-out. One way to help bring the spark back is to empower these people to lead their own initiatives and to help them succeed where once they were thwarted.

Without passion, what are we all really doing except taking up space?