10 STEPS TO HELP YOU TRANSFORM INTO AN EFFECTIVE GOVERNMENT CONSULTANT

By Leezan Omerbell

 

Government consulting is a big industry. Luckily for you, the industry is not as mysterious as some make it out to be. In fact, it is a profession with very clear expectations and requirements. Most of these expectations are based on common sense that are also shared across other industries. The requirements are tied to your contract’s scope of work, which requires no guessing. However, I would like to point out that there are a lot of consultants providing almost the exact same service as you are planning to provide. In other words, there are thousands of “you.” So, how do you distinguish yourself from the rest? Through lessons learned at Country Intelligence Group, we have compiled a list of the most important things to practice and keep in mind when providing service to your government client:

  1. Understand your client’s organization: Study and understand your client’s organization by researching where their organization falls within the government framework. For example, the Department of Defense is large and contains not only the Military Services but also the Combatant, Geographical, and Functional Commands, as well as the 4th Estates. So, if your client is a DoD “agency,” it falls under the 4th Estates. In addition, research the organization’s mission and how they relate to other DoD and non-DoD entities.
  2. Know the Stakeholders: Knowing the stakeholders is crucial to being a consultant. Pay attention to who the stakeholders are, both internally and externally. Do your due diligence and conduct a stakeholder analysis to understand each stakeholder’s interest, influence, and future participation in your client’s program or project.
  3. Pay attention to the internal culture: This one sound obvious but can be easily overlooked. Pay attention to the internal culture of your client’s organization. This will help you navigate any vague or sensitive situations you might encounter.
  4. Study the rank and grades: If you don’t come from a military background, it would be beneficial for you to study military ranks that are applicable to your client’s organization and stakeholders. It would also be beneficial to learn civilian grades and their military equivalent.
  5. Identify the decision makers: Your client is going to depend on you to help strategize and communicate level of efforts with individuals throughout the organization and across the stakeholder domain. For this purpose, you need to be able to map out and identify decision makers within the crowd. This is where you can help your client make impactful engagements.
  6. Remember, we only “recommend”: This one can be difficult for many to understand. Your job as a consultant is to recommend solutions and options to your client. That is it.
  7. Listen: I am sure you have heard this multiple times, but it really is an overlooked interpersonal skill. If you want to understand your client and their pain points, really listen to what they are saying and even to what they are not saying.
  8. Always follow up: When turning in a product or providing a recommendation, always follow up with your client. Ask questions to figure what whether the product met their expectations or if they have any feedback for you. Did your recommendation cover the pain point or was there an angle you missed? Take this feedback, implement the changes (if any), and re-engage.
  9. You are not part of the staff: Remember, you are not part of the extended staff. You are a hired consultant.
  10. Remain Professional: Always, always, always, remain professional. You are not part of the staff and should not take part in office gossip. This will be hard if staff members come to you and begin such a conversation. But just because they do, does not mean you should contribute to an unprofessional gossip session.

Your value to your client is that you are a consultant with a wide range of expertise to provide. Wear your badge of honor with pride and take lead in the government consulting world!

 

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WHAT DOES A DATA DICTIONARY AND A REFUGEE CAMP HAVE IN COMMON?

By Leezan Omerbell

 

In my last life as a foreign affair professional, I worked as a field volunteer for Un Ponte Per, a non-governmental organization under the United Nations, at the Domiz Refugee Camp in the Kurdish Province of Dohuk, Iraq. As a volunteer, I used my language skills to collect data to help manage and allocate resources. A few days after arriving, I was in one of the trailers looking over my notes when a man entered the trailer. The man was about my age and wanted to know if his grandmother could come inside and sit on one of the empty chairs while waiting to be processed. Without hesitation, I agreed. A few minutes later a young woman entered with him and sat on one of the chairs. When I questioned him about the whereabouts of his grandmother, he simply pointed to the young woman.

As it turned out, the woman was not his grandmother, but his wife. You see, I had failed to take into consideration that even though I spoke the regional languages, there can be variances in vocabulary depending on location and dialect. Although the man thought he was communicating effectively, and I thought I was receiving the information correctly, there was still a disconnect.  To me the word he had used meant someone old, such as a grandmother. But in his dialect, it meant “wife.”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines communication as “a process by which information is exchanged.” This process is the foundation of all relationships, personal and professional. But what we often forget, is that machines too need to communicate and exchange information with one another as an integral part of modern life and business. Broken down to their simplest level, machines such as database systems communicate with one another continuously and need to so do to remain relevant.

But how do we prevent miscommunication between these machines? If humans can have such misunderstandings, like the one that took place between that young man and myself, then machines can most certainly experience miscommunication too. As a solution, data dictionaries for database systems were created to enable clear and correct exchanges of information. For your own systems, before accurate exchanges can take place, you should do your due diligence, and do some database dictionary “house cleaning.”

  1. Update your data dictionary: Update your data dictionary to reflect your database as it changes. Databases change…a lot. Columns and fields become irrelevant; some are taken out while new ones are added. So, before you begin exchanging data with another database, make sure your own data dictionary is up to date.
  2. Make your data dictionary readable: This isn’t corporate law where you must write policy in a language no one can read. The point of your data dictionary is so that others can clearly understand what your database is about. If others can’t read it or understand it, then you have failed to create a working data dictionary. Make your data dictionary simple and easily readable.
  3. Answer questions: This might sound like common sense, but if an individual who is working with your data dictionary has a question, answer it. And set up time to provide clarifications. Learn from these instances and update your dictionary accordingly to prevent similar questions in future.

Again, the whole purpose of your data dictionary is so your database can communicate with another system. This allows everyone involved, machines included, to get on the same page. If it fails to accomplish this, your data dictionary needs work. Small improvements to your data dictionary can yield huge benefits for your database.

 

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LEADERSHIP VS. MANAGEMENT IN WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT

by Chelsea Salyer

 

A major focus of workforce development, a service offered by CountryIntel, is helping an individual develop the skills and abilities required to succeed within their workplace. Some of those skills and abilities may relate to leadership and/or management.

People often mistake leadership and management to be one and the same, but fundamentally they are very different. Yet both practices are essential to running a business. Certain business scenarios require diverse skills. Distinguishing between leadership and management can help a business efficiently employ its resources to achieve success.

Leadership is about inspiring, motivating, and empowering others to work toward a shared vision, while management is concerned with administrative responsibilities and ensuring day-to-day operations run smoothly.

One of the main differences between leadership and management is seen when executing the business’ vision. Leadership is more strategic while management is more operational. Leaders examine where the business stands, set a vision for future organizational growth, and develop a strategic plan for how to move from the present to the future. Leaders, by nature, are innovative. Alternatively, managers implement processes and procedures that help the business achieve the objectives set by the leaders. Simply put, leaders ask “what” and “why” whereas managers ask “how” and “when.”

Another difference between leadership and management lies within how they either inspire or manage their followers and subordinates. Leaders inspire trust among employees and rely on that relationship to build a following. When communicating the vision, leaders are responsible for helping employees see themselves within the bigger organizational picture. They connect an employee’s goals and aspirations with the company’s vision, giving meaning to the day-to-day functions while aligning short-term and long-term direction.

Separately, managers rely on the authority of their job description to effectively manage employees and maintain compliance. Managers coordinate activities among subordinates and organize staff to optimize efficiency and play to the strengths of each individual. Managers break down big projects into smaller milestones and assign tasks according to resource limitations such as schedule and budget. They are more focused on the tactical responsibilities required to meet the organization’s objectives.

Despite the differences between leadership and management, the two practices often organically intertwine within a business structure. Both leadership and management structures are needed to engage a workforce toward a shared vision and achieve organizational success. While it is crucial to understand their differences, it would be unwise to purposefully try to separate one from the other. Rather, the focus should be on how these two practices will coincide and how to harness their differences to complement one another. Together, leadership and management help bridge the gaps in scenarios where reliance on one skill alone might fall short. Developing a workforce with both leadership and management functions is crucial to the overarching success of the business. Even more critical is developing skills uniquely tailored to each individual employee’s role.

 

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BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS IN CONSULTING

by Leezan Omerbell

 

There are many consulting agencies saturating the market today. As a result, being knowledgeable in a particular field is not enough to set a company apart. I have known consulting firms that were experts in their field yet failed to provide adequate services because they did not take time to truly understand their clients’ needs. These companies make two novice mistakes.  First, they assumed their services and products were adequate to meet the clients’ demands. Second, they did not listen to the clients’ concerns regarding product usability and clarity. While the consulting firm initially had the client’s business, it is doubtful the client would return to that firm in the future. Consulting is an art form. It is a precise balance between knowledge and client relations.  In this article we’ll cover the three main pillars of how to successfully build and manage client relations.  

 

Relationship Management:

It is vital for consultants to establish a professional but genuine relationship with clients. Client-consultant relations require a strong foundation, and foundations are built over time. It is important to express sincere interest in the client and an innate desire to serve. This desire to serve motivates you to learn and address your clients’ needs. Optimize each engagement by practicing active listening and being truly present in the conversation. Active engagement in conversation provides the needed tools to anticipate future needs, capture and assess blind spots, and be a better consultant by capturing and addressing your clients’ unrealized needs. This level of dedicated personal service, executed proficiently, will undoubtedly build trust over time.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Trust:

A client’s trust is vital for a consultant. A client must trust the consultant’s level of skill and knowledge of the industry. Most importantly, however, a client must trust that a consultant has their best interest in mind. The goal should not be to make a profit, but rather to help your client to the best of your ability. As Joy Hubert, the former CEO of Best Buy and author of The Heart of Business, said, “profit is the outcome, not the purpose itself.” In addition, mediocre service should never be an accepted practice in a consulting firm because that is a quick way to gain a bad reputation. Providing a quality service or product should be a long-term effort practiced company wide. Make it a standard procedure for yourself and your company to actively follow up with the client after a service or a product has been delivered. When a client experiences genuine service, they will trust you and be more inclined to communicate openly.                                                                                                                                     

Communication:

We have all heard that communication is one of the most important foundations to any relationship. I think what they mean to say is that communication, through active listening and understanding, results in better relationships founded on trust. This trust helps establish a communicative environment and acts as the catalyst when you, the consultant, need to deliver bad news to the client (hopefully infrequently) or if you need to assist in maneuvering them through a difficult situation.

 

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CREATING A TEAM IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT

by Leezan Omerbell

Our company’s pivot to remote work was mostly seamless when the 2020 pandemic hit. We already implemented digital workplace tools to help manage virtual teams prior to the pandemic, and the leadership team organized efforts in the earlier days of the pandemic which provided a solid foundation to build upon. Therefore, we were ready when the opportunity for growth presented itself.  

Tools:

 First we audited our existing tools. We assessed the tools  capabilities, dependability, and ease of use. To address gaps in our capabilities, we explored which pre-existing tools could be upgraded and which tools needed to be purchased to help better manage our virtual team environment. For example, we needed a project management (PM) tool; however, not all prospective tools fit our business needs or budget. Through our research, we discovered that a simple upgrade to Microsoft 365 provided the team with SharePoint for internal document sharing and Microsoft TEAMS for communication and collaboration. We also discovered that TEAMS offered a PM-like tool called “Tasks by Planner,” sufficient for tracking and managing workloads. Auditing the current capabilities of your company saves the company money and prevents your team from having to train on a completely new product.   

Schedules:

This meeting could have been an e-mail. We have all heard someone say this, type it in a group chat, or share it as a meme. Organizing schedules is no easy task when managing a virtual team. Even when teams are not physically in an office together, you want them to be communicative and collaborative without overburdening employees with too many meetings.  How do you do balance this act? We realized our team functions best if we have a Monday staff meeting and a Friday “weekly topics” meeting. The Monday staff meetings focus on the schedule for the week, the scheduled client meeting, outstanding tasks from last week, and due outs needed before the end of the week. The Monday staff meeting begins with the Program Manager sharing his/her schedule, and then each team member provides their own schedule for the week. The Friday “weekly topics” meeting always starts formally but transitions to a more relaxed environment. In the formal portion, we discuss outstanding taskers or issues of interest across teams. To give each team member the opportunity to lead, communicate, and demonstrate organizational skills, a different individual is chosen to facilitate each of the four Friday “weekly topics” meetings for that month. These individuals are responsible for coordinating end of week topics across functional teams and capturing them on appropriate slides.  

Collaboration: 

This word has been used so much lately. You can find the definition for it easily by doing a quick search, but I would add that you, the management, set the tone for the team and ultimately influence the team’s interactions with one another. Common courtesy is important; use “please” and “thank you” often with your team. Understand your team members’ strengths and blind spots. Most of this knowledge will come with time, but having team members provide a biography combining professional accomplishments and interests, hobbies, and fun facts can provide a jump start. Making the bios accessible to the team allows members to better know one another. Use the information in the weekly meetings to get conversations going. You might have more than one team member who is very good at photography. Start a reading list of books your team members have enjoyed reading. Start a cooking club where they share their favorite recipes. Get to know your team. Be creative and have fun. Managing virtual teams comes with its own set of unique circumstances, but with the right preparation and flexibility in approach, it can add a whole new set of tools to your management arsenal.  

Be Available: This is easy enough, right? Be available for your team if they have questions.  

 

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