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Federal Government Employees are Lazy

July 8, 2011

And I know because I was one. Now, one might say that incendiary comments such as this are a bad idea, especially for a blog with a significant readership that happens to work for the federal government. But I’ve never been one to shy away from shameless generalizations. I caveat that not all government employees are lazy. Perhaps not even a majority (that can be argued), but the federal government process – of promotions, advancement, and rewards, doesn’t exactly engender top performance. You can’t completely blame the employees – in the face of a federal hiring freeze, pay caps, and management that doesn’t always deal well with its staff, the incentives to coming into work ready to rock and roll aren’t exactly high.

Another key issue is the fact that you’re often faced with non-stellar employees a cubicle away. Federal Times reports that 11,275 federal employees were fired in FY 2009, out of 2.5 million people. That’s not a lot, and it’s argued many of those firings came out of probationary periods, they weren’t the result of management reviews or disciplinary actions. And just like they say that your friends make you fat, I’ll argue that your co-workers make you lazy.

Most of us work in teams. Regardless of how they’re structured, the ability to do our jobs depends to some extent on how others are doing their jobs. And while any team can drag around dead weight for a time, it doesn’t take long before everyone sinks a little. Judged from the outside, our negative nature generally gravitates toward the dead weight rather than focusing on the shining stars. So even in a federal workforce filled with high performers, with a few too many bad eggs still in the basket, the outside view is that all federal employees are lazy.

I note that I’m a recovering government employee, and just like blonde jokes come across better when told by a blonde than a brunette, making tongue-in-cheek accusations about government employees read better when I actually was one. So, from the outside looking in, I feel your pain, I love your work – I just think federal managers need to fire more people. A lot more people. Once that happens, we’ll notice the cream of the crop and the quality of everyone’s work will improve.

We’re creatures created to love rewards and recognition. A federal workforce that embraced that reality and rewarded the good by weeding out the bad would be well on its way to creating the kind of federal workforce we need more than ever today.

Social Media Needs Editors

June 14, 2011

Media mistakes happen. Even before the days of social media there were certain flubs in the world of public relations – misquotes, misrepresentations, vigilante spokespersons – but the internet age has absolutely had a major ampiflication impact. Enter Rep. Anthony Weiner’s wiener -(don’t worry, this is still a family friendly site) – and the spotlight it puts on social media interactions.

A Wall Street Journal article notes the landmine social media can be for politicians. Not necessarily known for their discretion, or their ability to keep their personal matters private (or in some cases, their private parts personal…sorry – I can’t help myself…), politicians have had more than their share of social media blunders, Weiner-gate aside. It prompts the thought that perhaps political offices and companies alike need to take a strong look at how their social media accounts are managed. Ken Goldstein, liability expert at Chubb Group of Insurance Companies notes that social media outreach should “emulate a newspaper operation.” Meaning there should be editorial oversight and accountability.

It’s a solid argument, and supports my long-held notion that the person responsible for your social media – including strategy, organization, implementation and execution – should make up some of your best, not necessarily your youngest or hippest. Communication is communication, and social media accounts are public correspondence. Even personally held social media accounts represent the “publication” of information. My understanding of this is a big part of the reason why I don’t post many pictures of my son online. When you post information to the web, even to “private” or “personal” accounts you are in a large sense sending out a press release of whatever information your posting. That’s regardless of what your privacy settings are.

Politicians who blend personal and professional – even in more innocuous ways than Representative Weiner – are setting themselves up for trouble. And the same goes for businesses, government agencies and individuals. The personal and professional are blending, to be sure. But you’d best be sure you’re okay with what was once personal being a part of your professional life. Or you’d best hire a good editor to help keep you on track…and in some individual’s cases, maybe they shouldn’t even know their own passwords.

Memorial Day is More Than a Day Off

May 30, 2011

I love a day off as much as the next girl, but it’s important to realize that many of the beloved federal days off, which for many of us mean an opportunity to disconnect from work and connect with families, are meant for more than picnics and parties. Today is Memorial Day, a day to reflect on the service and sacrifice of those who have died as defender’s of our nation’s freedom.

So eat a hot dog with you family, say thanks to a living veteran, sleep in if you’d like. But also stop along the way to say a prayer for those who have taken an oath to serve this nation and who died in the pursuit of that committment. Remember the Gold Star Families in our midst. The moms and dads, brothers and sisters, children and spouses who are spending this day remembering the loved one they’ve lost.

A Gold Star Family member shows Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. his father-”a fallen hero,”–during the fourth annual ‘Time of Remembrance’ honoring America’s fallen in Afghanistan and Iraq in ceremonies held at the U.S. Capitol, Sept. 26, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Margaret C. Nelson, OCPA)

Marketing Isn’t Easy

May 27, 2011

It’s not easy being in marketing these days. Never mind the constant need to reinvent yourself and stay on top of trends, and the inherent fact that when you harass people for a living it’s easy to be disliked. The rise in social media has meant that decisions which would once seem basic can now be questioned, reversed and leave you with egg on your face in just a few hours timespan.

Enter stage right the marketing employee from Comcast who recently made the decision to pull $18,000 in funding from the organization “Real Grrls” after they questioned Comcast’s hiring of Meredith Attwell Baker, a former member of the Federal Communications Commission who made a high profile merger decision in Comcast’s favor.

Now, I know in a David versus Goliath story it’s never popular to take the side of Goliath, but you’ll just have to forgive me here. Laying aside the fact that I refuse to take any organization (nonprofit, gearing for youth or otherwise) seriously who uses “OMG” in their communications, Comcast has every right to select who they choose to fund. And given Reel Grrls pursuit of “#mediajustice” I’m shocked they wanted the money (in an update, they refused the cash once it was reinstated – belive me they made way more donations from the media coverage than they were getting from Comcast).

Enter poor, hapless spokesman who saw the tweet, contacted the Reel Grrls and told them Comcast was pulling their donation. In an age before the Internet that probably would have been it. But an organization called Reel Grrls isn’t going to lack for media savvy and pulled out their social media arsenal to fire back at Comcast. Another Comcast Vice President then apologized and promised to return the funding.

Reel Grrls had already been critical of Comcast’s NBC merger (as were a lot of other people), and that’s certainly their right. But I do feel that organizations should be able to donate money where they chose and shouldn’t face a media firestorm for pulling money from an organization who publicly criticizes them. That’s why it’s called a donation – freely given, to an organization the company supports. A donation isn’t buying any loyalty, and an organization or company shouldn’t expect it. But they should also have the right to pull funding from organizations who seem to quite publicly disagree with them without it causing a media firestorm.

No one said marketing would be easy. Expecially not in the digital age.

MilBlogs Make New York Times

May 4, 2011

This year’s MilBlog Conference was another first-rate event, and in my opinion the best-conference so far. From the caliber of speakers (myself excluded) to the attendees I think it represented milbloggers well. You had the original old guard, as well as newer faces – great bloggers all. And not so many PR flaks that the true bloggers were outnumbered.

It was wonderful to see the New York Times’ James Dao there. We know traditional media take bloggers into consideration and frequently find them as news sources – it was great to see one of the best – and last standing – war reporters there to cover this event. And considering he interviewed a number of my milblog favorites I was delighted to be quoted:

Lindy Kyzer, who until last year advised the Army on social media, said military blogging had become more corporate and less irreverent. “When you know your mom or your commanding general are on Facebook, can you really have as much fun?” she asked.

But Ms. Kyzer said military bloggers still played a vital role. As traditional media outlets have laid off reporters or stopped covering Iraq and Afghanistan, bloggers have remained engaged in the tribulations of deployed troops and their families, she said.

“Milbloggers are among the few that actually seem to realize that we’re still at war,” Ms. Kyzer said.

Everything I need to know about social media I learned from Donald Rumsfeld

May 2, 2011

I’m a big fan of getting social media tips from unconventional sources. It’s a part of my philosophy that social media doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it’s simply communication, in a digital format. Good communicators are generally good Facebookers, bloggers, tweeters, etc. There are tips, trends and best practices to be aware of but you can teach someone those – it’s generally much harder to teach someone how to write well (as most graduate professors say these days – it’s a lost art).

This weekend was my birthday (don’t tell me – the card is in the mail, right?), and I had the privilege of spending it with a group I know, love and am honored to be a part of – milbloggers (military bloggers for those of you not in the know). I’ve followed milblogs since before I started working for the Army, made outreach to them a priority while I was there and am now honored to be a blogger myself. Milbloggers present some of the best on the scene war reporting out there and despite media fatigue, have remain committed to telling the stories of our service members. (So, in a week when most people forget it was a group of Navy Seals who killed Osama Bin Ladin and not a politician, military bloggers will still be telling their story).

A perk of spending my birthday with a group of bloggers was being able to meet former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. At 78, Rumsfeld is not what you’d call social media savvy – all the more reason to be impressed that he agreed to speak to a group of bloggers. But listening to his remarks – which were not focused on communications – I definitely pulled some tips we could all consider.

1. Appreciate the irony – and have a long-term perspective. In speaking about criticism of corruption in the Afghan government, Rumsfeld said “Oh my god, there’s gambling in the casino.” Meaning, we’ve had our fair share of corrupt politicians in this country, haven’t we? We can’t expect Iraq or Afghanistan to instantly step into democracy without growing pains (we had a bloody civil war in the states, if you recall).

For a social media application I think it’s incredibly important to keep your sense of humor. Even militaries and government organizations need to keep a humorous perspective. We take ourselves a little too seriously and it can impact our jobs. A favorite quote of mine is from Dwight Eisenhower “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” The other point is the importance of keeping a long-term perspective. I feel like people with short attention spans are often drawn to social media – and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Building a social media presence and an online identity – whether you’re a brand, government agency or individual – takes time. Best not to rush it.

2. Don’t give too much advice. Asked about soon-to-retire Secretary Robert Gates, Rumsfeld said “I’m not a big advice giver.” Smart man. We all have great ideas. Crowdsourcing is a big part of social media and most of us in this genre love feedback. But I think we’re lying to ourselves a bit if we say we enjoy criticism, especially when it’s not constructive. Social media can tend to open the floodgates – and we’re all more critical online than we would be in person, often to our detriment. Give feedback and advice, but do so cautiously, carefully and kindly.

3. “What’s our strategic interest?” Rumsfeld made that comment when discussing U.S. intentions in Libya and the Middle East. It’s definitely a point to consider in social media and why I harp on the need for goals before you even consider launching an online campaign. “The mission has to determine the coalition…what’s the goal, what are we trying to accomplish,” he stated. Good points in foreign policy, good points in communication.

4. “Ambiguity is a major problem with our current foreign policy.” Ambiguity is also a major problem in communications. Shiny object syndrome is an issue for many leaders and professional communicators alike. When a tool, platform or message seems “hot” it’s hard not to jump on the bandwagon. But moving with the ebb and flow of public opinion or changing your mind (and your strategy) every few weeks or months is generally not the best course. Make a committment, and strive to follow it.

Hello blog, it’s me, Lindy

April 29, 2011

You may have noticed a serious lapse in postings here over the past month. In fact, there has been absolute radio silence. Such a lengthy break in posting without any notification to my loyal readership violates one of my social media rules about posting regularity. But when social media is a big part of your job – you find that your own brand is always the first to go.

Don’t think I’ve been lazy this past month – I’ve actually been busier than ever, raising Lee, working with clients and most importantly taking on a new role as editor of ClearanceJobs.com. Heard of it? As I began letting folks know about the company I was surprised by how many of my friends were already familiar with ClearanceJobs – receiving their newsletters, following their news, and having profiles on their site. As editor, I’m responsible for socializing their social media sites, and keeping a steady stream of useful content flowing to the website and newsletters.

It’s a great company for quite a few reasons, not the least of which that they’re headquartered in my home state of Iowa. It has been interesting learning more about defense contracting and the job market. What’s great is that I have a constant source of insider information from my husband – as a security cleared IT consultant he is a great source of news (and he taught me everything I know about cloud computing). Runner up for useful folks in this position is Marjorie Censer. I must have facilitated a few dozen interviews for Marjorie when whe was with Inside the Army and I was at the Pentagon. Now she’s a major source of useful newsbites for ClearanceJobs.com. Which just goes to show you – never lose out on an opportunity to learn by not paying attention.

So, I won’t be giving up blogging but you may notice I’m not writing as frequently as I used to – it’s a part of my quest to make sure whenever I write it’s actually something useful, and something you’d want to read. In the meantime, follow me at ClearanceJobs – check out their website, their social media accounts, their blog, and tell me what you think. You know I love feedback!

Sharing is social but ownership still rules

March 16, 2011

In many organizations social media is still suffering from a lot of shiny object syndrome. A lot of organizations, including those in federal government, know they want social media but they’re not sure who should do it. Is it a marketing function or an IT function? Better to outsource or use internal assets?

Like most communication dilemmas the answers will vary between offices, and leaders should look carefully at their business processes and goals to find the right solutions. Several organizations, however, have learned that no matter what choice you make you had better make sure you own the messaging, and that you have a crisis communications strategy that you are ready to implement at a moment’s notice.

Chrysler recently learned the hard way that outsourcing social media comes with pitfalls. A contractor with New Media Strategies accidentally tweeted a profanity laced post criticizing Detroit drivers from Chrysler’s official Twitter account. Oops. Bad because of the profanity but also bad because this sad soul also felt compelled to use the hashtag #motorcity, which references a Chrysler campaign. For me as a social media consultant it points to a reality I discuss with peers a lot – even if this had been tweeted from a personal account, as was the intent, it exemplified poor judgment that should have raised eyebrows.

Note to communications consultants everywhere: you are the brand in any public communication, regardless of whether it’s an official medium. If you don’t like it, find another brand to work for.

The issue for Chrysler came in clean up. It appears they weren’t prepared for a social media snafu and the corporate communications department struggled to synch up with their contracted social media team. It’s nothing new; “ownership” of social media remains a serious struggle for almost any office.

This week Information Week highlighted the continued disconnect between IT and marketing departments when it comes to social media ownership. What should in many ways be a shared responsibility becomes a liability when internal offices are fighting over responsibility or worse yet, embarking on completely separate efforts. As a professional communicator I’m biased, but I see social media as a majority communications/marketing function, with involvement and participation by IT a requirement. Regardless of who’s responsible, however, the fact that there continues to be such strong disagreement as to who is in charge, even within the same company, spells trouble.

In Chrysler’s case there were tandem social media efforts being undertaken by the company communications department and the consulting firm. Perhaps multiple accounts were called for but they should have been operating under the same umbrella and in almost every case there should be an in-house leadership team, composed of both IT and marketing, and solid oversight over any consultants or outsourced agencies.

Good social media should build community and increase organizational transparency. If even the organization doesn’t know who’s communicating on their behalf, or what’s being said, there should be no surprise that mistakes will be made. Don’t let your company or agency be caught in that situation.

Negotiating non-monetary benefits in a tough economy

February 25, 2011

Also posted at OhMyGov

Today’s economy is making the workplace a perilous place for many. Even those with good employment may find themselves anxious about potential job cuts or living without expected promotions or pay increases. And gone are the days with the federal government was the lone refuge of those hoping for regular (if not steep) advances in salary. President Obama and Congress pushed forward a two-year federal government pay freeze that, while largely symbolic, signals that expectations for any advancement – even in the federal workforce – aren’t a given.

Fortunately, not all benefits are monetary and whether you’re in government or the private sector there may be some you can take advantage of even in this fledgling economy.

1. Telework. I’ve already discussed my love of telework so it should be no surprise that I consider it one of the biggest perks any employee can vie for. As a mom, working from home has meant I never miss out on a milestone in my son’s life. And regardless of your stage in life there are benefits I think we all can agree on – including wearing pajamas to work.

2. Flexible schedules. Never been a morning person? Maybe now is the time to ask your employer if you can work that 10-6 PM schedule you’ve always dreamed of. Never take lunch? Maybe your employer will agree and let you leave work 30 minutes early. Flexible schedules can be a real advantage especially if you live in an area where traffic can make a regular commute a nightmare.

3. Casual Fridays (or Tuesdays). Casual dress doesn’t work in every office (and can clearly go too far), but it can definitely be a workplace perk and save money on that dry cleaning bill which is increasingly pinching your stretched budget. I’m personally a fan of Hawaiian shirt Friday in any office environment (it’s also a popular look just about any day of the week for the Pentagon’s military retired government contractor set).

4. Mentoring programs and community service. This may be a tough sell in an office where fewer employees are doing more work, but the productivity and morale benefits may win over early skeptics. The better you feel about the work you’re doing – regardless of the salary you’re making – will make you look forward to coming to work and give you an appreciation for your colleagues. So consider implementing internal mentoring programs that pair younger employees with more experienced staff. Or look for ways you can get involved in community service with organizations that could benefit from your expertise, and ask you’re employer’s permission in dedicating limited office hours to the task.

4. More parties. May sound silly, but I’m the kind of girl who thinks a little laughter is the best medicine. Maintaining a pleasant and positive office environment is always a good idea and formalizing a little revelry into the company schedule isn’t all bad. Consider monthly potlucks, lunches, or even happy hours. No one does this better than Capitol Hill, where a young staffer set, long hours and low wages mean that filling the office fridge with libations and breaking out a drink when the hours get long is a definite workplace perk.

5. Education. With budgets tapped your agency may not be willing to send you to Georgetown for your master’s, but they might be willing to designate time for online training or pay your way to a conference you (and your office or agency) would benefit from. Look into free training opportunities that are already available, as well. As a Department of Army civilian, for instance, I was able to take advantage of Rosetta Stone language courses and a number of other online training programs and courses, right from my workplace PC.

6. Agency or office employee swap. This is done in both the federal and private sectors, and can be a great way to get another perspective and some very useful professional development. In most cases your current employer pays your salary and you simply swap desks and experiences with another employee. It’s a great professional development advantage for you and can provide benefits for your agency or office, as well.

Considering the rough employment climate some of you may be thinking you’re pushing your luck asking for any favors from your employer. I argue that if your work is valued and you’ve proven yourself, your employer will embrace your desire to find benefits outside of the compensation you may otherwise be expecting. Think outside of the box, consider what workplace changes would make you happier and more productive and sit down and discuss them with your supervisor. Even if a pay increase isn’t on the table due to a hiring freeze or other circumstances, that doesn’t mean other perks shouldn’t be considered.

Have a workplace perk I haven’t considered here? Let me know in the comments section!

My name is Lindy…

February 22, 2011

…and I admit it – I watched The Bachelor last night. Not even a whole episode, just the last 30 minutes. I’m not entirely sure why I did it. I suppose it was because my husband was out of town and I had the remote to myself. And it seems to be the trendy thing to watch for females in my age demographic. And quite frankly there is so little on TV of any merit that if I wanted to watch anything last night at 8:30 PM, that was it. 

The premise of a dozen women chasing after one man is pretty off-putting for me. And I had a hard time taking the woman who got the boot on last night’s show seriously as she described how she’d been treated “like a princess.” Really? How many princesses you know spend weeks auditioning and competing for their prince charming (I thought it was supposed to be the other way around).

I suppose what really bothered me about last night’s show was the fact that the bachelor had the opportunity to meet all of his ladies’ families. And each family seemed to wholeheartedly support the notion that their daughter might actually consider a serious relationship with a man they met on a television show, while he was courting an entire house of women.

My family was in town this weekend and they’re always a reminder of what a blessing it is to be a part of a loving, nurturing family. But a part of that loving is also honesty – as most daughters can attest no one tells you what you need to hear better than your mom. I count on my family for advice and feedback. Regardless of whether or not you’re close with your family we all need individuals we can count on to give us honest assessments. It’s called accountability and it’s often a lost commodity in today’s touchy-feely-don’t-harm-my-self-esteem culture.

Whether it’s business or the home a lot of mistakes could be avoided if we took the wise counsel of trusted agents a bit more often. Good decisions (or governments) are not created within a vacuum. If we can’t count on the friends and relatives around us to provide good counsel it’s time to step outside of our inner circle and find someone who will.

Maybe good counsel wouldn’t save this last bit of bachelorette’s any heartache. And perhaps their families (and the ladies themselves) are just a part of some great reality TV acting and we won’t really know what they think until the season concludes. But I would have much preferred to have seen a bit more skepticism and concern – that’s what good family, and good counsel, is for.