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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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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THE PAIN POINTS SHOULD GUIDE YOU, NOT THE SPARKLE OF A SHINY PENNY

by Jeff Fourman and Leezan Omerbell

 

Ideas are abundant. Ideas that evolve into prototypes are rare. Prototypes that become essential tools for clients are even more scarce. And if you want to talk unicorns, then build a product that becomes essential for your clients. Hopefully, your team can gain insight from CountryIntel’s lessons learned, which we compiled while applying a lean approach to creating viable products for our government client base.

Budget: When assessing the budget for product development, it is common practice to simply “go big” and request a large price tag. While this type of proposal might be accepted, the request for a large amount is often unappetizing. From experience, we discovered it is easier to pilot products with a smaller, more reasonable budget when building lean. Then you can focus on the key pain points that your prototype addresses. This approach keeps your team focused on a lean solution that can deploy rapidly with effective results and an undeniable proof of concept. With this approach, your client reaps the benefits sooner and with a greater return on investment. They will also be more likely to continue to invest in the solution with iterative enhancements to rapidly address the most problematic pain points.

Prototype: It is tempting to present a finished and highly polished product which you think is “just right” for your clients. But operating under such assumptions can present challenges. Initially developing too far down the technology roadmap for your solution is risky. You may not incorporate all the client’s feedback necessary to guide you down the right path, and you may end up wasting valuable time and funding on a solution that only partially meets the client’s needs, paints you into a corner, and creates problems of its own. If the client wants something that only partially meets their needs, they could simply buy a Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) solution and overpay for features they will never use or that require unwieldy workarounds to operationalize. Remember, the pain points should guide you, not the sparkle of a shiny penny.

Do not gamble with your budget and assume you know all your client’s wants and needs from the start of a development road map. Gamble long enough and you are certain to lose. Then you will have to backtrack, make costly adjustments, and potentially need to restart completely if you do find yourself surrounded by wet paint. Again, when building, keep the prototype lean and minimal at first, and keep open lines of communication with the client so honest feedback can be collected. And do not be afraid to ask, “What stinks about this prototype?”  They will tell you, and it could keep you from having to start over if there is a nagging nuisance which they are afraid to tell you about in early prototyping.

Maximize end-user feedback loop: The purpose of building a lean prototype is to provide the client and end-users the opportunity to assess the product and provide feedback and recommendations. Optimizing the end-user feedback loop enables you to make these changes and provide the client with a viable product that suits their specific needs. This also helps justify a budget to further enhance the prototype into a more robust operating product. Ultimately, this approach increases client confidence and trust that what they are paying for is exactly what they need.

 

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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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