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Process Improvement: Making the Complicated Simple

A Google search for “methodology” yields these definitions: “the systematic, theoretical analysis of the methods applied to a field of study” and “a body of methods, rules, and postulates employed by a discipline.” Most of us don’t use the word “postulates” in our everyday work lives, but we all use methodologies, whether we are aware of them or not.

As consultants, we frequently rely on methodologies, whether we are developing them for our federal clients or using them ourselves to bring in new business. Even so, the word “methodology” conjures up images of complicated flow charts, process graphics and hundred-page process documents. Well-thought out processes can certainly provide sustainability and stability to an organization. However, too much emphasis on process can stamp out innovation and discourage creativity, which can be lethal for both government agencies and small businesses.

So, how do you develop a sustainable but innovative methodology that will help your agency fulfill its mission?

Get the right input. This tip might seem self-explanatory, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Be sure to leave enough time to solicit any input you need at the beginning and along the way from the people who will actually ...

The Incredibly Simple Trick to Effective Work Email

Let’s face it. In-person workplace communication is fading with the growth of chat programs and remote work environments. That means more and more of our efforts to influence our co-workers and bosses is done virtually.

Here’s a simple, quick way to do it a little bit better that was spotlighted in a recent University of North Carolina qualitative study (paywall) on how people influence others in online work environments. The authors of the study interviewed 23 members of virtual teams about previous attempts to influence other members of their virtual teams. One technique? A well-crafted email consisting solely of a subject line. (Such emails are sometimes known as “zen mail.”) And, they found, the word “urgent” helped.

“Zen Mail with the word Urgent and the entire message in the subject line provides a quick jolt of pressure to get a target to realize the importance of a particular task,” the authors wrote.

An example:

Urgent: Final project approval needed before 6pm

That’s the whole email, but it’s all that’s needed. The key, of course, is the time-dependent quality of the “urgent,” which implies something must be dealt with forthwith. A MailChimp study from 2013 of ...

How to Get It All Done

How we work is as important as what we do.

Reflecting back on my week, there were a number of meetings (some great, some not great), a bunch of informal conversations, one very brief review of a management memo followed by oh-so-informed comments, and some sweet time for independent analysis and writing. All in all a good week made up mostly of activities I like or, at least, don't feel compelled to start screaming into my half-caff.

I believe the frustration we all have from time to time is less about what we're working on and more about feeling a lack of control over how we spend our days. And this isn’t just driven by demanding bosses. Mandates, time sinks, and distractions come from all angles. Whether its staff, a peer, a potential vendor or partner, everyone just needs a quick minute or your time and attention.

To get a better sense of what exactly was going on, I scanned my calendar, then made this simple model. The goal was to get a visual picture of how I've been spending my time at work. The categories were intentionally broad and the percentages are rough guesses. Precision ...

CHCOs Can Vastly Improve Their Agencies’ Curb Appeal

With the start of a New Year, federal chief human capital officers should take time to reflect on their goals and resolutions. A number of insightful questions speak to their legacy: Have I made my agency better than it was before I arrived? Am I distinguishing myself as a key contributor of strategic leadership? What will I be remembered for?

In a sense, legacy you build at an agency is much like the value you bring to your home: If there are two owners in the same neighborhood getting ready to sell, for example, you may see two widely divergent approaches to stewardship of the houses. Let’s say both properties are equivalent in terms of square footage, acreage, number of bedrooms/bathrooms, location, etc. However, one owner is content to live for years without ever addressing drafty windows, leaky faucets and outdated appliances, shrugging his shoulders in resignation and saying, “Well, that’s simply the way this house is.” But the second owner not only resolves every issue—he tackles it proactively, before it becomes a problem. He knows ahead of time when appliances, water heaters, the roof, etc. need replacing, and he plans accordingly.

The first owner is ...

What’s It Going to Be This Year? Doing or Being?

One of the unexpected pleasures of completing a yoga teacher training course a couple of years ago, was that I had to learn a little bit of Sanskrit – the language of the people who first came up with yoga thousands of years ago. And when I say I learned a little bit of Sanskrit, I mean like a thimbleful. Most of my very limited repertoire is focused on the names of different poses and a few words that represent some of the key concepts from the tradition. The fun part has been making a connection between some of the ancient words I’ve learned and very modern day situations.

For instance, one of my favorite Sanskrit words is vritti. There are a lot of different ways to define that word. The one I like best is mental chatter. Another way to describe it is monkey mind. In some weird way, I find it comforting that even though they didn’t have smart phones to distract them, ancient sages recognized the challenge of monkey mind so much that they came up with a name for it.

This month, I’ve learned a new Sanskrit word that I think is a perfect ...