If you want a government program or project to be successful, one of the most important factors is securing executive support/sponsorship. This means constantly establishing and expanding that support. The more sponsors you have, the more support there is for your program. Diversifying your executive support is smart business, as leaders come and go, and their importance ebbs and flows over time.
Many government program/project managers seem to be unaware of the value of executive sponsorship. I work with GIS practitioners in government agencies across the U.S., and oftentimes, securing executive sponsorship for their program/project is not prioritized. I believe that this stems from the fact that they are unaware of how to best communicate value to leadership. Effectively communicating with leaders takes special skills because:
- Leaders don’t usually have a lot of spare time,
- Leaders may seem intimidating,
- Leaders often do not want/need to understand the details.
While all of this may be true, there are some techniques you can use to help get them to understand and support your program/project.
If your program/project centers on technology, like GIS, you need to make sure that you do not use overly technical terms when communicating with executives and elected officials. Usually, leaders are not interested in technology and want to focus more on solutions to problems. Therefore, it is critical that you learn how to communicate your program/project as a solution to a problem the executive is interested in solving. To do this, it is best to frame your program or project in one of two ways – in relation to their vision or their pain.
When you ask a leader about either their vision or their pain, they will be happy to discuss them with you. Both are always in the forefront of their mind. They are always working toward their vision and want as much assistance as possible in making it a reality. You can usually find out more about their vision by looking for any documentation such as:
- Strategic plans
- Goals, objectives, policies
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Aligning your work with an executive’s vision is critical, as it ensures that you are working on what matters most to the organization. If your work helps an executive move closer to realizing their vision, they will assign more value to you and your work and will request more assistance from you. This is also true if your work helps alleviate their pain.
It is also important to get them involved in your program/project, rather than simply getting their support. An example of this with GIS is to turn them into a GIS user. By doing this, they will appreciate the technology on a personal level. They will understand that GIS is more than just mapmaking. If an executive becomes a GIS user, they are more apt to provide additional GIS resources. The best way to get an executive to use GIS is through dashboards providing real-time access to valuable data, visualization and analytics. Here is an example of an executive dashboard powered by GIS and used daily by the Governor of Arizona to monitor emergency situations and a short video from 2014 showing John Gillison, the City Manager for Rancho Cucamonga, CA, talking about the dashboards he uses to manage the City.
Remember these key points regarding communicating value to executives:
- Make the most of your work and make sure it is aligned with what your organization’s leaders are focused on.
- Don’t wait for them to come to you; they usually won’t. You need to be proactive.
- Learn their business, then propose solutions that advance their vision and alleviate their pain.
- When proposing solutions, keep the communication short and direct. State the problem, the cause and the negative impact, then describe how to solve the problem and describe the positive outcome. You should also provide the cost and timeline and be sure to adhere to both of those.
- Don’t just get their support, get them involved.
This is my last article as a GovLoop Featured Contributor; thanks so much to GovLoop for the amazing opportunity to support their valuable platform. If you have found value in my articles, let’s keep the discussion going on Twitter and/or LinkedIn.
Adam Carnow is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here. You can follow Adam on Twitter or LinkedIn.