Sunday, July 8, 2018

Managing Projects

Project management can be a mass of contradictions. Creating a comprehensive and detailed roadmap is essential, but at the same time being extremely flexible to deal with all the unexpected things that may come your way.  I have learned over the years that being flexible and receptive to changes that will make the project better is key. Many project managers I have worked with struggle with being flexible or if others do not agree with their decision. For me, being totally open is the fun part of project management. A good project manager keeps their eyes on the big picture, focusing on the final goal, but being able to take care of the small details that keep everything on track.

What makes a good project manager? Well, there are a few specific characteristics that are needed for successfully managing any project, regardless of the size. The following skills are needed to be a good project manager:
  • Good people skills
  • Communication skills
  • Strategic planning
  • Clear vision
  • Active listening
  • Common sense
  • Flexibility
  • Open to change
Most people have worked or been assigned to a project, although many have different definitions for a project. A project is a temporary endeavor with a Start and End date undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. Quite often as a Project Manager, you will possess informal authority. Informal authority is the ability, without a formal position of power, to inspire people to willingly follow your directions.

The key steps to a successful project include the ability to:
  • Initiate
  • Plan
  • Execute
  • Monitor & Control
  • Close
Upcoming blogs will address each of the steps in detail. This article will start with Initiate. When planning a project, always ask yourself the following questions:
  • Who will be impacted by the project?
  • Who determines success, and what are their expectations?
  • What are the project limitations?
  • How do you create a shared understanding of the project outcomes?
Before starting a project, it's recommended to identify all stakeholders. It's one of the biggest problems that can cause a project to fail. Quite often organizations will avoid this part and move directly to creating a plan, then wonder why it failed. Once stakeholders have been identified, they should all be interviewed so that you have an accurate account of the needs of your priority community. Then, you document the project scope. 

Stakeholders are important because they may help with major decisions and may influence the budget. By involving stakeholders it can build trust as well as provide permission to proceed with the project. A better understanding of the priority community or stakeholders can also educate the project manager on the variety of ways that the community may be impacted by your great work. Developing a good relationship with your stakeholders can also remove unexpected roadblocks in the future or exert influence when needed to ensure project successes.

For a Key Stakeholder Interview template, please email me at My next blog will cover Planning and ways to create a clear roadmap for smart decision making. For more information go to Promotions West.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Working While Black in America

Have you ever given any thought to what it may be like to be Black in America? Chances are no one does unless they are truly a Black or African American person trying to survive.  It would be great if everyone could walk in the shoes of a Black person for just one week. 

I often wonder if anyone could survive a week when they get upset if a group of people is starting to grill food in Lake Merritt Park or if you are sitting and waiting for a friend at Starbucks.

Fifty years ago, John Howard Griffin published a slim volume about his travels as a "black man" through America. He expected it to be an obscure work of interest primarily to sociologists, but Black Like Me, which told white Americans what they had long refused to believe, sold 10 million copies and became a modern classic.

I keep asking myself and my colleagues what happened? Today, I can't tell the difference between the 60's and 2018. As much as we appear to move forward, we seem to be swiftly reversing in our accomplishments as a race of people. All over the country, racism, discrimination, police brutality and racial profiling have reached the top of the list.

For decades, black parents have told their children that in order to succeed despite racial discrimination, they need to be twice as good, twice as smart, twice as dependable, and twice as talented. This advice can be found in everything from literature to television shows, to day-to-day conversations. 
African American employees tend to receive more scrutiny from their bosses than their white colleagues, meaning that small mistakes are more likely to be caught, which over time leads to worse performance reviews, lower wages or job termination.

For the past 15 years, I worked as a freelancer or marketing consultant in order to have better control of the negative people in the world. As a contractor of color today, contracts became almost obsolete as government organizations and other enterprises stopped giving contracts to those of color because they wanted to hire those that looked like them or to give contracts to friends or family members. What angers me is most white people in charge are never reprimanded or questioned about their choices, even when their contractors are incompetent and unproductive for big buckets of money. Try that as a person of color and you will end up in jail or fired from your position.

In the past year, I took a 40 hour per week job with an organization, hoping to be able to make a difference for communities to be served. I convinced myself that my skills and experience would be welcomed and positive lessons would be shared and learned to make communities healthier. 

Deep down inside I knew that I was simply fooling myself. From the moment I walked in the door, I was greeted with racism, discrimination and passive aggressive behaviors from white privileged co-workers with less experience and who continue to be unable to reach their goals and simply make a difference. I often ask how many t-shirts need to be purchased to reduce disparities in communities of color? That's when I become the enemy questioning their authority and position. Well, they did get that part correct.

As a black man, I can't remember a day when I didn't face discrimination or racist views from others. Depending on my mood, there are days that I wish I didn't have to leave home for meetings or appointments.  Often it happens before I even leave my apartment building where I have lived for 13 years, but still get looked at as if I am an intruder or burglar. As a black man, you learn to ignore or suppress most of the negativity that attempts to hit you in the face every day.

As a black man in America, many things happen on a daily basis to push your buttons. The key is learning to stay calm and avoid those threatening triggers. Although the events vary, here are some of the issues that I deal with every day as a black man:
  • Every time I enter a department store, drug store or office building I am followed, questioned and watched very carefully by security guards, even if they are black. They are trained to be suspicious of other blacks because their training sessions teach that black and brown people are thieves, murderers and drug addicts looking to steal or cause bodily harm.
  • Riding public transportation can be a curse or a blessing. If you are black, usually no one will sit next to you unless they are another black person or someone homeless that smells like pure crap. During those times you remove yourself to another part of the car or bus.
  • Entering an elevator has always been amusing to me. White women, especially would rather take the stairs or wait for the next elevator to come down to the lobby. If they reluctantly enter an elevator with a black man, chances are they will be holding tight to their purses because being black means you are going to snatch their purse and run. Just a note, most black people don't even think about white people at all.
  • Entering restaurants: Don't be surprised if they are booked. They are very surprised if you have a reservation and in shock that your name was not black enough to alert them.
  • Office or Team meetings can be quite interesting. Bleeding heart liberals are usually 10 times worse than an outright racist. How can you identify one of them? Well, they are usually passive aggressive and feel that they can say anything to a person of color without ramifications. They can also cry at the drop of a hat if an intelligent response is given. They often will launch into a dialogue that starts with that's not really what I meant and I am sorry that you misunderstood me. When it comes to this bullshit, I don't hesitate to go for their jugular and eliminate the problem without raising my voice or an eyebrow. 
  • A black female employee is told by a co-worker multiple times that she is “so well spoken,” or “not like other black women” that the coworker knows. These comments place a negative assumption on Black Americans, as well as shows contempt or a lack of respect for African American Vernacular English.
  • A latina staff member is sitting in a team meeting when one of the directors makes a face and starts to put down another Latina worker who is no longer with the organization but who has been pulled in as a consultant because of her great skills. Being the only Latino staff member in the meeting, she feels crushed by the white co-worker's attitude, facial expressions,  and nasty comments about the other latina person.
  • Driving while Black can be rather frightening. You may be doing everything correctly but if you are black the profiling begins. Being black means that you must be high on drugs, drunk, have a criminal record, have a warrant out for your arrest or may be thinking about committing a crime. To save us all, 10 police cars are called in and you are beaten nearly to death or murdered for resisting arrest. Trust me, it happens every day.

  • The most difficult one is when you are a Black person who goes in for an interview and the only Black person on the panel, like the security person at Walgreens or CVS, focuses on destroying your chances of being hired.
  • Another common form of racial bias can happen even before the interview. Black or Latino sounding names have a disproportionately lower call-back rate than white names when it comes to landing an interview. 

Racism is often boiled down to its most basic definition: discrimination and negative stereotyping based on race or skin color. However, the truest definition of racism — that of systemic or institutional racism — is much broader, and understanding that definition can help illustrate the lived experiences of people of color in America.

So how do you survive being Black in America?

If you have stories to share, please sent them to me. Those lessons can help so many others to succeed.                            

Monday, May 21, 2018

Results Based Accountability

Several weeks ago I experienced a great training with a fantastic facilitator that turned my world around and provided me with the right tools needed to help organizations be successful and participate at the same time. The training was called Results Based Accountability or RBA. Over the years I heard colleagues refer to RBA in their presentations but I had no idea what it meant and nor did the community leaders sitting in the room, but we pretended to know. Results Based Accountability is a disciplined way of thinking and taking action used by communities to improve the community as a whole. RBA is also used by agencies to improve the performance of their programs.

So what's so important about Results Based Accountability? It's actually something that many of us do naturally without even thinking about it. RBA starts with ends or projected outcomes and works backward, step by step, towards means, according to Deitre Epps, Partner and Senior Consultant with Clear Impact. For communities, the ends are conditions of well-being for children, families or the community as a whole. Examples that Epps shared with us included: Residents with good jobs, children ready for school, healthy communities, or having a safe and clean neighborhood. For many community programs, the outcome or the end is how better off it is when the program works the way it should.

I fell in love instantly with the teachings of Results Based Accountability because:
  • It moves from talking to action very quickly.
  • It's an easy and common sense process that most people can understand.
  • It drives groups to participate and challenge assumptions that can be barriers to improving circumstances or conditions.
  • It builds strong collaboration and consensus among team or community members.
  • It uses data and transparency to ensure accountability for the overall community and the performance of programs.
In the beginning, I struggled with changing my way of thinking. I was familiar with the methods but it took me a bit to grab hold of the terminology that was foreign to me. The facilitator never gave up on me or any of the others in the room. Her support was a great value to each of us. Her discussion of the Results Based Accountability "Turn the Curve" template pulled us into the process with eyes wide open with excitement.

The Turn Curve Template is an overview of the step by step RBA turns the curve decision-making process. The following are 6 steps from the template to help turn the curve:
  • What is the end? 
    • Choose a result and an indicator or a performance measure
  • How are we doing?
  • What is the story behind the curve of the baseline?
    • Briefly explain the story behind the baseline: the factors (positive & negative, internal and external) that are most strongly influencing the curve of the baseline.
  • Who are partners who have a role to play in turning the curve?
    • Identify partners who may have a role to play in turning the curve of the baseline.
  • What works to turn the curve?
    • Determine what would work to turn the curve of the baseline. Include no cost or low-cost strategies.
  • What do we propose to do to turn the curve?
    • Determine what you and your partners propose to do to turn the curve of the baseline.
What Are BaselinesA baseline is a multi-year display of data with two parts: a historical part which shows where we’ve been, and a forecast part that shows where we are headed if we stay on our current course. Baselines allow us to define success as doing better than the baseline or “turning the curve.” Adding a comparison baseline from a different location or program can also be helpful in creating your baseline.

My first question was, What is an Indicator? An indicator is a specific, observable and measurable characteristic that can be used to show changes or progress a program is making toward achieving a specific outcome or end. There should be at least one indicator for each outcome. You probably know my second question, what is a Performance Measure? A good performance measure gives you and your staff the ability to make changes and see whether those changes improve the agency/division/program's performance, that is, its ability to improve customers/clients' quality of life.
Performance Accountability
For programs and organizations, the performance measures focus on whether customers are better off as a result of your services.  These performance measures also look at the quality and efficiency of these services.  RBA asks three simple questions to get at the most important performance measures:
  • How much did we do?
  • How well did we do it?
  • Is anyone any better off?

Organizations and programs can only be held accountable for the customers they serve.  RBA helps organizations identify the role they play in community-wide impact by identifying specific customers who benefit from the services the organization provides.

Tell me, have I peaked your interest yet? Trust me, this was the best training I have encountered in many, many years and I praise Deitre Epps of Clear Impact. Check her out and their web page today and attend the next Clear Impact training. You will love the results.
To download a free Results Based Accountability Guide e-book to learn how this framework can help you in your work, click the link.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Stop Killing Black Boys and Men

It doesn’t matter what age you are or if you are poor or rich when you are a black man. We are all seen as a criminal, a thief, a drug addict or just worthless. Even if you are a doctor, a lawyer, a minister, an actor, a teacher or a Communications Project Manager like me. We are all seen the same whether or not you believe it or not.
This week, I decided to wear a sweatshirt hoodie that says Don’t Shoot every single day to encourage discussions with other Black people. My partner created it several years ago as a way to keep me alive whenever I leave the house and may be killed. It’s not about making money to sell the sweatshirt, but about saving lives.
To my surprise, people have stopped me on the streets, especially Black women, to share their feelings and concern about our black boys and girls. Soon, it will include young Latino boys too. Mothers are approaching me and crying asking what they should say to their 13 and 14-year-old sons. 
Tough looking skinheads are approaching me and giving me the thumbs up or a pat on my back expressing concern for my life. The latest actions and murders by police officers in this country are devastating and bring tears to my eyes and also anger. 
The shooting of a young man in Sacramento has caused me a tremendous amount of anxiety. Without totally understanding it all, I find myself slipping into a state of anger. Firing at an unarmed man 20 times is really unnecessary.
The killing of black and brown people in America seems to go unpunished, especially if it's by the so-called frightened cops with guns. Usually there is no jail sentence for the killers, but instead a bonus of time off with pay as the punishment. Hooray!
From the time I was able to attend school, around 5 years old, I was harassed by police even while walking to school or waiting to take a bus to school. It was always the same comment that I looked like someone that had just robbed a liquor store or a local convenience store. The day always ended with detention for being late and then the drama would start again on the way home. Unfortunately, the saga continues in America.
Will this ever stop, probably not? It has been going on as long as this country has been a country. Having a racist and incompetent President as we have today has given people the right to be racist, to hate immigrants or anyone who is not white. 
According to the Washington Post in 2017, over 987 people were killed by police officers in the United States. Of that number, 223 were African American and 179 were Latino/Hispanic. Fifteen were killed in California. (
In 2018, the Washington Post also stated that 351 people were killed by police officers in the United States. Of that number, 68 were African American and 38 were Latino/Hispanic. Thus far, 38 of those were in California. It's still early yet. (
My goal is to start conversations in communities of color on the topic of what to say to our black and brown boys to keep them alive. I am starting with community-based organizations, hair salons, barber shops, and faith-based institutions. I am willing to go wherever people congregate together. 
As a result of the push from community members, I am in the process of developing a training design to help parents and grandparents to talk to their children about being safe on the streets, in their cars, and on public transportation. 
I would love to connect with others to strategize and set up a forum for families to talk about their concerns and then organize to create change.
Please take a short survey titled "Protect Our Black and Latino Children". Your feedback is important and will help me to empower communities that need it the most.
 I really want to hear your creative ideas. Interested, let’s connect. Thank you.

Friday, March 16, 2018

How To Create a Public Relations Plan

You may ask yourself why does my business need a public relations plan?

A formal public relations plan is usually part of a company's broader marketing plan, or a smaller document that outlines the PR component of the marketing plan. Advertising and promotions are other common inclusions in a full marketing plan. Public relations is unique from advertising in that you don't pay for the media time or space. Promotion comes from news coverage, press releases, press conferences or other public events.

The primary purpose of the PR plan is to outline the company's objectives. Public relations is generally intended to support marketing efforts by promoting goodwill, reinforcing brand and product messages presented in advertising, informing the public and overcoming negative publicity. While companies often include some level of emphasis on each of these objectives, the PR plan states more specific details, such as increased popularity in the marketplace, better market awareness and improved customer retention.

The other side of public relations is damage control. A formal PR plan helps a company avoid being caught off guard by anything that comes up. Top companies usually know their weaknesses and the areas most scrutinized by competitors and customers. Discussing these areas of vulnerability helps company leaders present press releases and get feature coverage that counters them. The more difficult areas of this reactive strategy involve those unforeseen events. Major product issues or employee scandals are hard to predict. However, a good reactive strategy still includes a plan for how to approach these things. Whether to respond immediately or wait a period of time, and what tools to use, are central to a good strategy. It's also great to work with your team and board of directors to have a phenomena crisis plan ready to go. It's not if a crisis will occur but when. It's always better to be prepared.

A compelling public relations plan can go a long way towards helping a business spread its message, reach more customers and strengthen its brand. Here are a few steps to remember when building your public relations plan:
  • Define the goals and objectives of your public relations plan. Consider what you want your main objective to be, which varies from business to business. For some the focus is on increasing sales and making money.  For my business, my objective has always been a bit different. I am interested in increasing knowledge in a community, educating them how they can be more successful by using different techniques and skills to reach their clients, customers and partners.
  • Decide who is your target audience or the community you are interested in reaching. Ask the hard questions, why are you trying to reach them and what are the benefits for them. Also remember to consider the media that you desire to reach and why. Choosing the appropriate media outlets can help you to promote your brand and spread the word about your business and the great work you are doing.

  • Develop the strategies and tactics of your public relations plan, understanding that the two are very different although the terms often get used interchangeable. About 2,500 years ago, Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote “The Art of War.” In it, he said, Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Tactics and strategy are not at odds with one another—they’re on the same team. 
  • Strategy defines your long-term goals and how you are planning to achieve them. It gives you the path you need toward achieving your organization's mission. Tactics are much more concrete and are often oriented toward smaller steps and shorter timeframes along the way. They involve best practices, specific plans, resources, etc. They are also called initiatives.
  • Draft the key messages of your public relations plan.
  • Prepare a budget for your public relations plan. Be realistic and side aside funds for potential unforeseen occurrences.
  • Develop a detailed timeline to help you to implement your public relations tactics with maximum efficiency. Staying focused on your deadlines will help you to gain success. 
  • Engage in crisis planning. Consider a contingency plan in case of a potential emergency.

  • Always review your timeline and timetable throughout the campaign, making adjustments when necessary. Public relations is fluid. It's not a plan made in concrete but can be changed and improved as needed in order to become even more successful in reaching your audience.

The most important part of creating your public relations plan is to have FUN!