Spread the word on agency goals

Remember Telephone, the children’s game where the kids sit in a circle? The
game begins when a child whispers a phrase to a neighbor’s ear, and then it is
repeated in turn to each kid in the circle.


Invariably by the time the phrase travels completely around the circle, the original
sentence, “I went to the shack with Benny and got a soda,” has become “Take
Penny out back and shoot her.”


What the game reveals is that even in a small-scale environment an unambiguous message
can easily become distorted. Imagine what happens to your 100-page information technology
strategy document or well-worded mission statement when filtered through dozens or
hundreds of employees.


If they’re getting the message at all, expect that, the further down you dive into
department ranks, the more your IT mission, objectives and goals will morph beyond your
ability to recognize them.


Your highly skilled and well-paid IT employees could be working each day on tasks that
may not contribute at all to the master plan.


For a government chief information officer, this is extremely challenging, all the more
so because you are also managing legions of outside contractors. If they are working day
after day, intent on filling eight-hour time sheets, their best efforts may very well be
out of sync with your IT goals.


How do you ensure that your IT organization has a common goal and that your employees
understand the department’s mission? First, do something out of the norm: Ask. Send
an e-mail asking every IT employee to state the departmental mission, explain what it
means and describe how he or she contributes to its achievement. Expect a Heinz 57 variety
of responses.


Second, articulate the mission again. Take all the components of your vision and
mission statement and mold it into a miniversion that each IT professional can understand
without additional documentation.


“Our mission is to enthusiastically provide high-quality professional services in
a synergistic environment that exceed customer expectations” does not cut it.
That’s a bland and hackneyed statement with no real meaning. It could apply to baking
a batch of Mrs. Fields’ oatmeal raisin cookies.


The minimission statement must boldly answer the simple question: Why are we here? It
should stick in your employees’ minds and energize their sense of purpose. When Nike
Inc. was just another sneaker company battling for market share against the behemoths, its
mission statement was simply “Beat Reebok.”


Third, become an evangelist. Executives such as Steve Jobs of Apple Computer Inc. have
mastered this lesson and used it to get their companies going in tough times. Communicate
your minimission in staff meetings, via e-mail and the organizational newsletter, and
during water cooler chats. Spread the IT gospel to at least one worker a day. Let
employees recite it to you.


Finally, live the mission yourself. You’re the best example the staff will have of
how to contribute to the IT mission. When you have effectively communicated the mission,
make sure your actions support your words.  n


Dave Jefferson is director of technology for Highway 1, a nonprofit information
technology educational consortium in Washington. He consults regularly with federal chief
information officers.


Dave Jefferson is director of technology for Highway 1, a nonprofit information
technology educational consortium in Washington. He consults regularly with federal chief
information officers.



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