Government execs should try marketing

In line with Vice President Al Gore's directive to re-engineer government, and to offset some of the effects of downsizing and budget cuts, savvy government executives are turning to business marketing and public relations techniques to improve communications with their constituents— employees, customers and taxpayers.

This approach is especially valuable for information technology executives, particularly those working in fee-for-service organizations. Just like any business, they must substantiate their fees and their prioritizing of orders as well as build confidence and comfort among customers.

Following are some approaches that are proving valuable at various government agencies.

Building Employee Morale

With widespread downsizing and budget cuts, employee morale is at an all-time low in several agencies. Particularly in IT, many employees are working longer hours with less support or relief. High-tech skills are at a premium, so agencies are under greater pressure to keep their employees feeling satisfied and appreciated. Some innovative agencies have initiated programs to renew their commitment to employees and rebuild the team spirit and sense of value that are so important within the public sector.

Most agencies have some kind of employee recognition program in place. Some of the best programs provide four levels of rewards, with each level more difficult to attain and all levels tied to productivity and improved service. Rewards don't have to be expensive to be effective. One of the most coveted rewards is half a day off with pay.

The goal of this type of program is to have several ways to say thank you and to recognize exceptional effort. The rewards need not be terribly expensive, and all should be truly appreciated and valued by the employee. Once this

program is set up, the fact that it exists and the details about how it works

must be communicated effectively to employees.

How effective is your rewards and recognition program? Do people pay

attention? Do employees strive— really work harder and more creatively— to win recognition? If not, perhaps the

program needs to be re-examined to ensure that it is providing enough incentive to motivate and inspire employees.

Communicating Effectively

People must feel involved and informed if they are to perform as a motivated team. Keep your employees "in the loop" through effective, consistent delivery of information, such as an internal communications program.

This program should use technology as well as the human touch, incorporating tools as varied as an intranet newsletter and a town meeting. Education fairs and brown-bag lunches are especially well-suited to many government agencies' operating procedures. Trivia

contests via e-mail have become an increasingly popular and effective way to communicate.

How consistent is the communication process you have in place? Are your materials eagerly anticipated by your target audience? Are they read and discussed? Do you have a method for people to respond and contribute?

Effective communication efforts at all levels are crucial to an organization's health and success.

Spreading Your Message

Once you've built a motivated team, you want to be sure your customers— taxpayers, other departments in your agency and other agencies— are aware of the service you deliver and under-stand its value. The first step in such an effort might include a public outreach program.

The goal of such a program is to educate the customer on the services and benefits provided. Show how the customer can most efficiently use the services and benefits and convey how they will improve the customer's work process.

Marketing is no longer an unknown entity within the government. Agencies that take advantage of marketing's tools and techniques to improve services and communication with employees and customers are enjoying significant improvements in productivity, morale and service. It might be a trend worth investigating.

Levine is president of Advice Unlimited, a public relations/marketing consulting service that specializes in working with government agencies and high-tech government contractors. She can be reached at ADVICE@wizard.net.

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