Lean Startups in the Government Sector

lean startups

It’s not easy, but it CAN be done!
Learn what to do and what to avoid!

Brussels, February 2014.  As promised, here’s a copy of the presentation that I delivered in Brussels on February 5th. The videos cover the benefits, challenges and approaches to creating Lean Startups in Government agencies, and also how to find areas of opportunity. I also touch on some successful models of Government Lean projects in the U.S. and the links to those are below. The volume will start almost immediately, so while I’d love to believe you and all your friends are gathered around to watch this presentation…you might want to grab a set of headphones! My fantastic co-presenter Carl Danneels’ presentation on Lean Startups in the Corporate world can be found here. Lean Startups in Government Part 1: Lean Startups in the Government Sector, Part 2: Lean Startups in the Government Sector, Part 3:

Resources for Successful Models:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/can-government-learn-how-to-fail-fast/2013/04/12/9cca9c36-9e07-11e2-a941-a19bce7af755_story.html http://fedscoop.com/radio/government-as-a-startup-with-the-lean-startup-author-eric-ries/ http://www.innovatenycschools.org/ http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/2012/05/lean-government.html http://fedscoop.com/nasa-open-government-team-broadens-focus-to-innovation/ https://www.edsurge.com/n/2013-03-26-the-lean-startup-model-goes-to-school Tennessee State projects: Scott Ritenour,  sritenour ( AT) gmail.com

book by Jeanne Goldie

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Is this it? The Mid-level Manager’s Lament


getting out of business trap

Feeling boxed in? You can fix that.

I was talking last week with someone I met via an article I posted on LinkedIn. I liked him immediately. Why? He took a risk, contacting a total stranger to have a conversation about connections and change.  We talked for 30 minutes about how people get stuck mid-career, and why change projects can be instrumental in turning that “stuckness” around, either within the organization you work for or outside of it.

It’s easy to feel trapped mid-career. You’re good at what you do. You have a decent title. A good team, or maybe they’re only an okay team, but they don’t make you crazy. You make pretty good money. And you have kids, parents, spouses and others dependent on you staying that course and keeping that money coming in.  The “golden handcuff” syndrome.

You may try to move up through the ranks, but we all know the funnel narrows towards the top. The promotions don’t come as fast as they do when you’re good, and you’re younger.  And maybe when that opening at the top comes up, you don’t fit the management “flavor of the month” that year. They’re moving towards a more numeric based environment and your brand is the “people” guy. Or vice versa. Or maybe you’re not in the central core business, but you do a great job that lets everyone else get their stuff done. You’re the greatest at it, but they just don’t know what to do with you next because there’s not an obvious career path in the organization. And if they move you, your replacement may not be as easy to work with. So you clock in another year.

Problem is, your resume starts to look pretty stagnant after a while. But the kids need college tuition or your mother-in-law moves in because early Alzheimer’s disease is setting in. And the cuffs tighten. And if the company blew up tomorrow, where would you go?

You need to be an aspirin or a vitamin, not a cog in the machine.

That’s why I love projects. Projects help other see you in a new light, and expose you to new opportunities. I started working on the types of change management projects we talk about at www.52weekturnaround.com early in my career, using them as a way to meet people and learn new career skills that have allowed me to work in many wildly different fields. Lots of times I “made up” the project and assigned it to myself, just to get something started. Now people hand me projects and say, “Can you fix this?”

To create real change, for yourself or for your company, you have to stick your neck out of your comfort zone. That doesn’t mean doing something wild, or illegal. It means strategically looking at where you are and where you might like to go. What skills do you want to learn? What area is growing in your industry? What other industries use similar skills that you already possess, and what would you need to learn about their world in order to switch industries? What is the one problem in your company that is making everyone crazy? Do you have an idea how to fix it? Who can you have a conversation with that might feel a bit uncomfortable but would help you stretch? Pick a strategic action, one that will solve a real problem or create real change. Avoid busywork.

Crazy things that have happened for me when I went out of my comfort zone strategically

  1. Got the head of a 14,000 person business line as a mentor. By purchasing a United Way benefit ticket. For $75.
  2. Wound up becoming a regular guest personality on a local television station for five years.
  3. Helped open an African American Research Library in Atlanta (if you’re wondering why this is unusual, go take another look at my photo, and couple it with the fact that I grew up in New York).
  4. Moved out of a government job in a public housing authority into the technology sector.
  5. Had an article published in a famous law journal, (I’m not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV).
  6. Am presenting in Brussels (despite speaking no French and no Dutch) on Lean Startups. Want to come? Read about it here. My topic is Anarchy vs. The ACCO clip: Lean Startups in Government Agencies.

But here’s the thing. The wacky stuff doesn’t happen unless you’re prepared AND putting yourself out there. You have to be willing to go outside the box and share what you’re interested in. That doesn’t mean pestering every senior person you meet with “Hi, I want to change jobs, will you mentor me and by the way, know of any job openings or how I can get out of this dead end gig?”  It means having something new and interesting to talk about, that makes you memorable, and allows you to engage with people outside your usual circle. What’s your elevator speech? Has it changed in the last 5 years? In each of the examples above, there’s a bit more to the story. I had been doing my homework, growing myself and working hard at it, that put me in front of the right person at the right time.

Want to start creating some change? Take a look at our resolutions for 2014. Talk to someone in another department at work that you NEVER interact with and find out what challenges they’re dealing with.  Take a look at the elephant in the room and see if you’re the person that can solve it for your company. Look at how other industries, similar to yours, have solved the same type of problems your industry is dealing with. Can you have a conversation with a stranger to find out how they did it and why it worked?

Come to Brussels and hear me speak (along with my co-presenter Carl Danneels who will give a great presentation on Lean Startups in the Corporate world). And share with me some of the wacky things that have happened when you stretched out of your comfort zone, so I can share them with our readers and they can get the courage to stretch.

It’s free

book by Jeanne Goldie

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How are YOU telling your story? Sizzle, Steak or Rainbows?

baby pandas

Of course, sometimes you just need a really good distraction!


To be perfectly honest, I’m a numbers and facts girl.  Give me the numbers and the facts if you want to sell me something or get me to support your project. I appreciate a bit of finesse and style in the telling, but if you’re still spinning stories and playing on emotions five minutes in and I haven’t heard a single number or fact, you’re done.  

This can be a problem when I need to motivate people who prefer a more emotional, storytelling approach.  I always believe the numbers and facts speak for themselves…but the wrong approach can diminish enthusiasm for you and your project fast. If you don’t get “buy in” you’re a leader with no followers.

Learning to flex your storytelling style to meet the needs of your audience is a critical skill to master when you’re leading through complex changes. Some teams want to hear a “Rocky” type story (think of the countless sports coaches who lead with this sort of motivational speech), others prefer the “Rags to Riches” approach (“I grew up in poverty but I had a dream, and now I’m living it”), still others want a “Yes we can! Go Team Go!” hands in the middle type huddle. Some want to be wooed. Some want to be sold. And some, like me, just want the facts.

Word choice, tone, style and message for external messages keep giant marketing departments busy for years, and we need to think just as carefully about how we talk internally. You will need to carry a consistent, authentic message, but craft the delivery to meet your audiences needs.

Are you telling your story up the food chain? Generally as you are trying to persuade more senior executives, leaning heavily on facts and numbers will be the best option, but to truly sell it, put some passion and a bit of sparkle around the numbers (you want some passionate champions at the top too!). A general good ratio might be 75% facts wrapped in 25% sizzle, but you need to know your audience. If they’re like me you want to dial back the fluff and stick to the facts.

You may also have to tell your story to the world outside your company, customers, stockholders or regulators. How you craft that story will be a combination of understanding why the story needs to be told, what your audience currently understands about your business and what is important to them. Are you fixing a problem they knew about? Are you improving something that will bring better service, a new product option and what’s in it for them?

So today, take a minute and think about how you are telling your story.  Are you leaning heavily on an approach that always served you well with a different audience? And is it serving you with your current audience?  Do you need to flex your style?

P.S. As numbers focused as I am, if you play a video of cute baby pandas in the background while you’re talking I’ll probably sign anything.  I would start with this one.

P.P.S. Got some challenging news to deliver? Try our “Uncomfortable Conversations” Series for advice.  Working on your brand’s story? Learn from an expert here.


book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box at right. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

Five For Friday: Creating a New Brand, with Corey-Jan Albert of Relish Marketing

Corey-Jan Albert relishmarketing.com

Corey-Jan Albert

Today’s “Five for Friday” features Corey-Jan Albert, an innovative marketer who always gets to the heart of an audience’s needs, making her insanely effective for her clients. We recently had a discussion on  the “how and whys” of brand change for businesses and she was kind enough to share her thoughts with us here at 52weekturnaround.com. Having known Corey-Jan for many years, and knowing the excitement and brilliance she brings to her work, I’m thrilled to be able to share her insights!

A Conversation with Corey-Jan Albert:

Before we even get into any of these excellent questions about change management and branding, we should be sure to be on the same page with what we mean by “Brand.” It’s much more than the company logo and tagline. When you think about a company’s brand, you’re talking about the visceral, emotional response we have as part of a total experience at every point of contact with the organization, its people, products and/or services. That experience is created in two parts: (1) The part created by the organization, its products and/or services and (2) The part that takes place in the mind of the person experiencing/interacting with the organization, its products and/or services. Obviously, the goal is to control the first part with logo, a well-defined messaging platform, an overall look/feel for materials, and appropriate communications – be they advertising, sales collateral, PR efforts, etc. If you do it right, you will influence the perceptions of key audiences.  

 Right, then – on to the five questions: 

1.  When should an organization consider making a brand change?

A rebranding effort can be successful under a lot of different circumstances. The most common time to rebrand is when an organization’s existing identity feels outdated, too generic or otherwise out of step with the reality of the business. For instance, the company’s brand feels like a small, “mom and pop” company – but they’ve actually transformed into a sizable business. The company may have started out as a brick-and-mortar business, but now, the bulk of its business takes place online – or vice versa. Maybe the company is entering a new market – and they want to look like they belong there. Or perhaps the original logo was developed a long time ago by the owner’s nephew and it feels outdated and/or amateurish.

Mergers and acquisitions also provide opportunities for rebranding. When a large company acquires a smaller one, the smaller company almost always adopts the larger organization’s brand. When two competitors merge, however, they may want to create a new company name and brand to reflect the new, united entity. Likewise, when a company acquires a business with a significant amount of brand recognition, it might not be wise to completely force an entirely new brand that would squander that equity.

An organization shouldn’t seriously consider rebranding if team members are not ready to embrace and reflect the new corporate identity, or if the company is experiencing dysfunctional, divisive behavior. Rebranding won’t fix any of that. On the contrary, serious issues like these are likely to undercut any new branding efforts.

Business leaders also should beware of the impulse to rebrand out of boredom. Yes, that sounds a bit crazy – who would do such a thing? – but here’s how I’ve seen it happen: A company develops a new brand identity, everyone embraces it. It’s a time of excitement and energy – and that’s great. Then, living and breathing the brand every day, it becomes ordinary. And shortly after that, it feels boring. Missing the thrill that came when the brand identity was new, executives may lament that the identity feels old and needs, “refreshing,” even if it’s only actually six months old.

I cannot emphasize this enough: It is critical for business leaders to make sure that they and their employees remember: Your audiences aren’t living and breathing the brand identity every day, 24 x 7, the way you are. About the time that internal team members become bored by the “new” brand, external audiences are probably just starting to get used to it. Indeed, it usually takes a year or more for a new brand identity to become firmly established in the minds of customers, investors, the media, etc. That’s the time when you can really start to build brand equity. It is not the time to change to something new.

2.  What are three key things to keep in mind while creating a brand identity?

  1. Be simple, clear and consistent. Don’t try to make your brand express too much. If you try to build too many different brand attributes and messaging components into your brand identity platform, it will be difficult for your audience to understand and it won’t sink in.
  2. Be realistic. There is value in establishing an aspirational brand, just as there is value in dressing for the job you want to have. But whether you’re dressing your business or yourself, the distance between where you are and where you want to be can’t be unattainably far. If your audiences feel like they’re being asked to believe something that simply isn’t part of their experience with the company, they won’t buy in. A successful brand reflects and reinforces your audience’s actual experience with the company and/or its products.
  3. Your people may be your most important brand element. If you create a brand identity that your team members can’t reflect in their demeanor, work and communications, they will accidentally – or, in some cases, deliberately – undercut your efforts.

3.  How do you prepare internally for a brand change? What do you need to have your team do?

One of the most important things to do internally is determine who has a stake in the new brand. Whose day to day business existence will the brand affect? Who are the “external-facing” members of the organization, who have their fingers on the pulse of each of your external audiences? Include these people in your process.

Equally significant, consider who else within the organization is positioned to influence internal adoption of the new identity – either positively or negatively. They may be executives. Often, however, they are admins, long-term employees and others who are looked up to and respected by other employees. You should incorporate these people at various levels of your process for two reasons. First, they are likely to be able to share perceptions, ideas and opinions that may not be part of your C-level leaders’ world view. Second, if these internal influencers feel like they are part of the building effort, they are more likely to become your champions, rather than your saboteurs.

Get perspective from someone who isn’t “drinking the Kool-Aid.” An outside consultant with relevant design and writing expertise, as well as brand strategy and development experience, can help you guide the process forward while rapidly and objectively identifying potential issues and opportunities. Full disclosure – Relish Marketing is an excellent brand strategy and creative consulting practice. That said, I advocated for this approach even when I was “in-house” talent for a large technology company. It’s simply smart business.

Finally, be open to unexpected input and ideas. You may think that everyone on your team is in agreement about how the company’s is perceived, both internally and externally. And your assumption is probably wrong. The question is: What do you do when you discover a disconnect between how you and your team see the company? I’ve seen some leaders take it as a cue to “correct” the perceptions of others on their team. And I’ve seen leaders use that same disconnect as an opportunity to broaden their own perceptions – of the company, of their team members, and of their customers. No question – leaders who respond in the latter way achieve better branding results.

4.  What works best in communicating a brand change to your external clients?

Clearly, there is no “magic wand” that will instantly grant identity adoption across all of your external audiences. Some members of your audience will “get it” right away – and say that this is what your company always should have been. Others may take longer. That said, I would say that there are three major keys to encouraging adoption:

  1. Demonstrate internal acceptance. Take the time to help team members learn how they are an essential element of the brand, and help them learn to incorporate the new brand at every point of contact – including not only the website, print materials and packaging, but also emails, social media, and day-to-day interactions.
  2. Test and listen – to others and to yourself. Before “going live” with a new brand, test it with trusted audience members – and listen carefully to their responses before finalizing the platform. At the same time, maintain the courage of your convictions to avoid letting an overly enthusiastic or ambitious customer or shareholder derail your process.
  3. Stay the course. Once you do go live, it may be tempting to try to “evolve” the brand – making changes to messaging, logo, look/feel, etc. as its newness wears off (see above under question 1 “…beware the impulse to rebrand out of boredom.”) But little shifts – either back toward an old comfort zone or forward toward untested positioning can undercut the results you want to achieve in the long term.

5.  What are some of the best brand change strategies you’ve seen (or you’ve worked on, if you’re comfortable sharing that). What made them particularly effective?

 My favorite brand change strategies? You may as well ask who my favorite children are!

I love how the Federal Express delivery company responded when they realized that most of the world shortened their name to Fedex. Many companies would have done a branding campaign to re-ingrain the full Federal Express name. This company embraced their customers’ abbreviation and changed to fit it. Their logo does a nice trick with the space between the E and the X forming a forward moving arrow, too. Essentially, rather than try to lead their audience, they caught up to their audience – to great effect.

When Kimberly-Clark wanted to encourage a corporate culture of innovation, collaboration, and personal responsibility for results among its employees, we helped them update a very corporate, internal employee- and recruit-facing brand to feel more open and creative. It uses sketchy, handwritten fonts and supportive imagery that feel collaborative and welcoming. And it’s coupled with messaging language that reinforces the organization’s People Philosophy and expected employee behaviors. The results have been tremendous, with high acceptance and soaring recruitment and retention numbers.

One of my other favorite rebranding efforts was on a much smaller – yet still highly complex scale. An interior designer was employed by a high-end furniture retailer with an uncertain future. He wanted to establish his own professional brand identity, which he could leverage in the event that his employer’s business did not remain viable. At the same time, he did not want to do anything to undercut his employer’s brand. In fact, was adamant about wanting to enhance it. We created a brand identity for the designer that both highlighted the designer and reinforced the retailer’s existing brand. We took care to design the logo and write the positioning language, however, in a way that would not require dramatic changes if the designer had to open his own business. The designer’s self-branded marketing efforts actually elevated the positioning of his employer, raising sales and visibility. Other issues ultimately forced company to close – but the designer was able to successfully take his interior design work forward independently.

Corey-Jan Albert can be reached at www.relishmarketing.com.  She is also an accomplished author and playwright.

Rule #10: Celebrate the Victories, even the Small Ones

Victory Celebrations

It’s okay to celebrate “4 out of 5” of our solutions worked today!

When you’re leading a significant project, especially one that may not generate instant results, it’s important to celebrate your victories along the way. When you first create your plan, put in some milestones to celebrate, and rejoice at some of the milestones you couldn’t predict.

Celebrate when the computer coding finally works the correct way. Celebrate when half of the employees fill out the new form. Recognize those who “got with the program” and did something to support the plan.

Let the whole team know when any progress is made, was there an uptick in sales? Did the supplies bill go down by 10% last month? Did 5% of the donors give more than they usually do? Client cancellations decrease? Chart it; use one of those old fashioned thermometer posters if the workplace has a central gathering place. Post your scorecards. Show the progress in some tangible way.

It’s rare to get dramatic results overnight. Some days a victory may even consist of “At least Joe in Accounting only rolled his eyes three times when we were presenting.” (Those victories are best celebrated privately by your working team, don’t post them on the scorecard!).

Momentum comes with motivation. As the leader, it’s your job to keep the momentum going.

Next up: The Super Duper, Top Secret Rule You need to Know from the Very Beginning.

What’s the best Victory Celebration you’ve been a part of? Share in the comments below:

Did you miss the first nine Rule of Beginning a Turnaround? Find them here.

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© Jeanne Goldie 2015