Management & Leadership

Evans Incorporated Receives Double-Industry Elite Recognitions

The Award-Winning Human-Centered Solutions Consulting Firm Selected for 2017 SECAF’s Advocate of the Year Award and named a Winner of the 2017 NVCC Outstanding Corporate Citizenship Award

FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA– June 20, 2017Evans Incorporated (Evans), the leading provider of Human-Centered organizational, process, technology, and operational consulting solutions announces today that it has received dual industry recognitions from elite programs at the local and industry level. Evans’ CEO, Sue Evans, was selected for the Small and Emerging Contractors Advisory Forum’s (SECAF) 2017 Advocate of the Year Award and the company as a whole was named a winner of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s (NVCC) Outstanding Corporate Citizens of the Year Award-Small Business for 2016. Both recognitions underscore Evans’ continued thought leadership and commitment to its mission to support and give back to the local community. Continue reading

Change Your Language – Change Your Culture

Culturec

By James Stakem

When I compare my Marine Corps and corporate experiences, one of the most striking differences is in the language used to describe individuals in the two environments. In the Marine Corps there is a lot of pride in being a Marine. To be a Marine is to be part of something special. In the corporate world, this level of connection to and pride in an organization is rare, maybe non-existent. To be fair, there are significant differences between the military and corporate world; however, there are lessons to be learned from the military about building a culture and team.

Many companies invest heavily in culture, but when leaders in these organizations refer to their employees as assets, resources, direct reports, and the like, they indicate a poor understanding of some of the basic tenets of building a positive team culture. What kind of culture is built when employees in an organization are referred to as resources? The first time I heard the term resource as a reference to an employee was in a job interview. It took me a few minutes to figure out that a “resource” was a human being. As a Marine, I can’t imagine an environment where someone says, “We need to get some ‘resources’ to charge that hill”; however, companies do the corporate equivalent all the time.

This is not to say that the only thing a company needs to do in order to build a culture is to come up with a slick name for the employees. There is a lot more to it than that, and in the case of the Marine Corps, the organization builds esprit de corps in a multitude of ways. That being said, when companies refer to their employees in an impersonal, transactional way, it’s hard to imagine they could build a strong team, regardless of other efforts.

Zappos is an example of an organization that gets it when it comes to culture. CEO, Tony Hsieh says in Your Culture is Your Brand:

“At Zappos, our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff — like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers — will happen naturally on its own”

Unfortunately, some organizations believe that culture is a consequence of an organization’s outputs instead of the other way around. This approach leads organizations to focus on creating products and providing services, and culture becomes an afterthought to be developed in a ten-minute staff meeting exercise.

Other organizations, such as Google, have developed a culture around their people. Employees at Google are called “Googlers,” but building a culture goes much deeper than a simple name. The technology giant doesn’t have a Human Resources department – instead they have People Operations, and there is a reason for the difference. Google’s People Operations department states, “… we’re the champions of Google’s colorful culture.Laszlo Bock, Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations, says:

“Nurturing the people in your organization doesn’t require expensive perks or touchy-feely gimmicks. It’s about motivating, engaging and listening – and it can work for anybody”

How motivating and engaging is it when valuable employees are referred to as a resource or direct report? When thinking about joining a company which says, “Our employees are our greatest resource” listen closely to make sure the daily corporate interactions uphold this principle. If you are an organization that espouses to value employees, take some time to make sure your routine language matches the image you portray on the company website. Creating a culture in which employees routinely speak of each other in a way that emphasizes value, connection, and respect is a critical step in creating a positive corporate culture in your organization.

Please share your stories of corporate language in your organizations in the comment section below.

Building and Maintaining a Culture of Innovation

By Nicole Morrow and Omoefe Abugo

Establishing a lasting organizational culture of innovation takes time, dedication and encouragement. During a recent staff meeting, our very own Bob Etris made a statement that resonated with me. Etris said that reaching our desired state requires “creativity, patience and having a view of the long road ahead.”

Just as Rome was not built in a day, cultures of innovation are not established overnight. It is something all members of an organization must be committed to. It is a desired state that will come into fruition when all members feel empowered to contribute meaningful, positive ideas and actions to the organization’s mission.

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Foster inclusiveness

Organizations must include all members to spark collective confidence. They must spark collective confidence to bring about repeated meaningful change. They must bring about repeated meaningful change to establish a culture of innovation.

Through our organization-wide training program, Evans University, we work to provide all staff members with a full package of tailored and agile training opportunities to meet their unique needs, and prepare them to handle all challenges or opportunities that may arise. Through out Discovering Individuals Styles of Communication training, staff members become more self-aware and continue to seek new, effective communication techniques based on their distinct traits. Our Strengths Finder Assessment has been a hit in the office. Through this assessment, staff members learn their five core strengths and are then provided guidance on how to develop, promote and use those strengths in the workplace and with our clients.

The Evans University stands as an invaluable tool in ensuring all members of the Evans Family reach their full potential every day.

Design is everything. It is all aroundEncourage failure

Freedom to fail is the freedom to flourish. We learn from our successes, but we often times learn the most valuable lessons from our failures. Disappointment hurts, but it is crucial to not dwell on the negative aspects of our mistakes. If harnessed, our failures can act as springboards for growth and advancement.

When employees do not fear failure, they act boldly and creatively. We saw this at Evans during The Challenge, an internal competition rooted in building relationships, sparking creativity and rewarding innovation through social media engagement and online content building. The competition did not focus on a right way to participate. It encouraged staff members to channel their creativity toward an organizational cause. We did not fear failure or missing the mark. Instead, we boldly sought out new channels to express our individual and collective expertise.

Celebrate success

We learn from our failures. We analyze. We adapt. We grow. Our collective and individual growth leads to the pivotal successes all organizations desire. As we continue to make breakthroughs and experience success, it is important to recognize the individuals who led the initiatives, braved the elements and saw to it that the race was won.

Our very own Iliana Alvarado outlined the importance of celebrating the successes of individuals in an organization. “By understanding what drives each person—and celebrating these drivers – I am able to discover their unique talents, skills, and interests,” Alvarado said. “This allows me to align them with the right role on our engagement and keeps them motivated to be successful.”

Nurture creativity

Creativity has no bounds. Organizations must realize this, and work to foster environments that nurture and encourage creative solutions to complex problems. Organizational leaders can accomplish this in various ways. Providing a workspace optimized for ingenuity plays a major part in the collective creativity of any company. Evans’ open concept office enables employees to easily collaborate with each other and explore various solution channels. When it’s time to hunker down and get the juices flowing, our staff members migrate to our closed-off meeting rooms.

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Workplace environments should never inhibit creativity. Instead, the environment should nurture ingenuity and innovation. However, we must know when to rest, refuel and return to work recharged. Working to our highest creative potential involves constant renewal. Spending time away from work not thinking about tomorrow’s tasks allows us to come to the workplace with fresh perspectives we can use to tackle the day’s undertakings.

In a recent TED Talk, Harvard University professor Linda Hill reminded us of the power of creativity. To spark meaningful innovation, “you have to unleash the talents and passions of many people, and you have to harness them into a work that is actually useful,” said Hill. Unleashed creativity creates innovative solutions. More importantly, unleashed creativity spurs a collective organizational confidence.

Emphasize design

Design is everything. It is all around us. It shapes the way we see the world. When working with clients, it is important to design with the client’s end in mind. One of the major tenants of Design Thinking is implementing human-centered problem solving. All innovative solutions must be tailored around the needs the client. This enables you to understand your clients, recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and build a solution that meets them at their needs.

The call for innovation is tremendous, but it is not something that can be developed at one’s convenience. We must focus on what is important, prioritize our goals and focus on delivering products and services of exceptional value. Most importantly, we must realize that it is a team effort. Once everyone is on board, an organization can move confidently toward its desired state.

Leadership competencies, coaching and performance

By Lauren Thomas

I am often asked whether coaching can really change a leader’s behavior, or transform the way they lead. Sometimes the question arises from people who are considering coaching. Others have a personal interest in discovering more about the coaching relationship. Sometimes the question stems from someone with a challenging relationship with a leader who may possess stronger strategic, operational or technical skills than interpersonal skills. Occasionally the people asking the question are very confident in their own abilities to lead, generally dismissive of the idea of coaching, and assert that they cannot see any benefit! Asking whether a coach can change someone’s behavior is a bit like asking how many psychologists it takes to change a light bulb. Of course, the answer is that the light bulb has to want to change – as does the leader being coached. Interestingly, I find that the reason why people ask about coaching in the first place can provide valuable insight into their motivation and willingness to change.

Deliberate refinement

Photo courtesy of hrhero.com

Someone who is already considering a coaching relationship may already have a degree of self-awareness, understand that there are areas where they could enhance their performance, and be motivated to discover more. This attitude is often found among those who understand that leadership is human-centered. Sustaining a vision, delivering a major change, or leading an investment program are all important leadership activities. Yet the very best leaders manage to achieve these accomplishments indirectly, through other people. These leaders often engage in self-reflection to gauge the extent to which they can fine-tune their performance. In such instances, coaching the leader is like coaching a sporting champion. The performance gains are likely to be incremental, but once a new technique is mastered, it can have a marked impact, not just on the leader, but on the people led. While the tweaks and adjustments may be small, when they are intentional and deliberate, consistent and visible, they can help refine a leader’s performance. In these cases, coaching is really about maximizing personal effectiveness and interpersonal influence.

Leadership for technical experts

For the second group of people, the gains from coaching can be more dramatic. We have all worked with challenging leaders – leaders who may lead in name, rather than by example, and who don’t seem to understand our perspective. So how do leaders who are not “people-people” get into leadership roles? Organizations often need to promote technical and operational specialists to management and leadership positions. Some experts welcome the progression, while others feel they have to take the role when it is offered, because not to take it would send the wrong message. Such progressions are not always supported with adequate and appropriate training and education. Even where development opportunities are provided, there may be little encouragement or incentive for a new leader to try new approaches. Many technical specialists who struggle with the human element of leadership do not see the value of people management until difficulties arise. For leaders who value competence highly, as most technical specialists do, coaching may have negative connotations. It may be viewed as remedial support or performance management, rather than as a positive intervention to help them become even more effective in their roles. In these situations, coaching can help leaders see themselves as others see them and develop their own strategies and style for dealing with the people issues that they find most challenging to handle.

Reflective coaching

Photo courtesy of theilm.com

For the third group of people, I wonder whether their direct reports share their confidence in their own ability to lead. Sometimes their self-confidence is more than justified, but sometimes it is not. How many of us would readily challenge someone who repeatedly told us they were a wonderful leader? Most people would be reluctant to directly respond, especially if that person was in a more senior role. Would we be more likely to smile, and say something positive about one of their strengths? Or possibly even change the subject and let them believe what they want to believe? There are many reasons why people may prefer to not provide their leaders with feedback:

  • Respect for someone who is in a more senior position
  • Concern about possible reaction from the leader
  • Not wanting to be seen as someone who provides negative feedback
  • Concern about repercussion on own career prospects and development opportunities

Even where a leader’s confidence in his or her people’s management abilities is accurate, it can sometimes be rooted in opinion rather than objective feedback. It can be challenging for senior leaders to obtain objective, honest feedback on their own leadership style. Much depends on being able to ask in an appropriate way, the nature of their relationships with direct reports and peers, and the organizational culture. This problem is compounded by the “Whispers” game that occurs in organizations, where people can be somewhat reluctant to pass negative information to senior management. We often filter what we say to our leaders, especially when that information relates to their interpersonal style. In these instances, coaching can serve as a mirror, allowing leaders to see where their confidence is justified, and where there may be a mismatch between their beliefs and what others see.

Seeing yourself as other see you

Whatever the motivation for asking about coaching, there can be few leaders who are not interested in what people really think about them. There are many tools a coach can use to support leaders. One instrument valuable for its focus on leadership competencies is the CPI260. This self-completion questionnaire provides a view of the leader as seen by others, in key competency areas of self-management, organizational capabilities, team building and teamwork, problem-solving and sustaining the vision. The CPI260’s design does this without needing to use 360° feedback from other people. The CPI260 can be used with established, high-performing leaders and with emerging leaders seeking promotion from more operational or technical roles. Its valuable insights into leadership style enable the CPI260 to win over leaders who are initially skeptical about the benefits that coaching can deliver. Coaches like the way it supports personal insights for clients. However, whether change really results from coaching, with or without the CPI260, depends on a number of factors. It depends on the reasons and motivations for seeking coaching, the nature of the coaching relationship, the skill of the coach, and ultimately, by how much the leader really wants to change.

HealthCare.gov’s Lifeline: Effective Program Management

By Omoefe Abugo

When Congress asks the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to audit a government agency or program, it generally investigates areas of fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement and areas thought to be in need of broad reform. When the GAO looked at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid’s (CMS) management of HealthCare.gov, it found several factors that contributed to its painful and delayed launch. The GAO found the CMS-led initiative to be a high-risk program for many reasons, among them being: unclear guidance, lack of quality assurance plans and inadequate accountability functions. Our experience with complex organizations has enabled us to help program offices avoid such issues and adopt effective program management and balance crucial program factors.

When faced with a large-scale initiative, there will always be complex challenges and unforeseen problems to solve. When CMS set out to design, develop and launch the complex environment and suite of components known as HealthCare.gov, various issues arose that impeded a successful launch. According to the GAO’s Report to Congressional Requesters, these issues led to major unaddressed performance gaps, millions of dollars in cost overruns and a seriously flawed rollout of the HealthCare.gov website on Oct. 1, 2013.

Program Effectiveness

Photo courtesy of rt.com

Photo courtesy of rt.com

There were several problems that plagued CMS’ launch of the healthcare program, but the failure to adopt established program management (PM) best practices proved to be the weakest link of the HealthCare.gov initiative. The GAO report and testimony by GAO officials point to failure to adhere to effective planning and oversight practices, despite the challenges and level of risk required for effective oversight.  These failures led to scope creep, over-obligation of funding to contracts, and a decision to launchwithout verification that the site met its performance requirements.

In managing a program as complex as Healthcare.gov, CMS leadership should have placed greater emphasis on the human element of program management across its many components and over 60 contracts to ensure that the workforce and stakeholders remained informed and aligned for the transformation ahead.

Certainly, for an initiative of this size, the program office must lead from a clearly defined and communicated set of objectives. Evans’ Game-Changing Program Management approach uses these implemented objectives to drive day-to-day efforts in ensuring program effectiveness:

  • Clear organizational goals for program management
  • PM standards that are aligned with the organization’s process maturity
  • Improved organizational effectiveness and efficiency
  • Increased stakeholder and customer satisfaction
  • An audit-ready program office
  • A value-added and balanced quality assurance function
  • Metrics that realistically track program performance

Balancing Factors

The Project Management Triangle (PMT), also known as the Triple Constraint, tells program managers that every project is balanced on three supporting beams: schedule, cost and quality. Basically, if you want something done well and fast, the price will rise.

Photo courtesy of healthcare.gov

Photo courtesy of healthcare.gov

If a program manager wants something done well and for a low price, it will take longer to achieve favorable results. The main point: you can only pick two of the three sides of the PMT. For a program to achieve the objectives mentioned above, one must define which constraints it will operate around. Otherwise, less favorable tradeoffs will be made.  Unfortunately for CMS, the quality of the project failed and cost accountability evaporated. The deadline for the website became more important than the website’s ability to handle influxes of millions of users. Wanting it fast began to overcome wanting it right. Confusion about who had the authority to approve contractor requests and expend funds crippled CMS’ ability to implement an effective accountability system. According to the GAO’s Report, this led to more than $200 million in piled fees, and no improvements in HealthCare.gov’s effectiveness.

During a high-visibility, high-stress project like HealthCare.gov, it is crucial for the program office to leverage a balanced quality assurance function that helps to assess its process strengths and weaknesses. Instead of establishing a dependable quality assurance function, project roles and requirements were often unknown and unclear. What did this mean for CMS? Every action it took involved great risk. Unfortunately, CMS failed to put measures in place to alleviate these dangers, such as:

  • Clarified roles and responsibilities
  • Established best practices
  • Governance approvals
  • Accountability functions

In Retrospect

As HealthCare.gov’s lifecycle matured, it should have been able to demand more of its contractors and workforce and expect optimized performance and results. However, little to no risk management challenged the program office’s ability to properly facilitate each step of the institutionalization of HealthCare.gov. The program managers could not right-size their use of program standards to make HealthCare.gov more effective because the standards were unclear and unknown.

Communication always tends to be the fall guy when a project fails or performs inadequately, but in this situation, it would be unfair to blame poor communication. If CMS’ program office had implemented strict program management best practices, set rigorous performance expectations and established flexible, adaptive objectives at each level of HealthCare.gov’s process maturity, perhaps we would have seen a more successful, efficient launch.

If you would like more information on our Game-Changing Program Management approach, please contact us at 703-663-2480 or at info@evansincorporated.com.

We welcome comments and discussion on this blog below!

No Time To Plan Just Get It Done

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • There is NO TIME to plan.  We need to make changes NOW.
  • The more attention and involvement there is from executives, the more pressure there is to just move it forward quickly.
  • Why plan?  It’s outdated as soon as we document it.
  • No one follows the plan anyway; it just sits on the shelf.  Why waste our time?

Have you heard any of these on your projects?  Perhaps even SAID some of these yourself?  It can be a challenge to plan projects.  Pressure is high to demonstrate results, causing us to want to rush into executing, which creates an imbalance between planning and execution. Continue reading

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