Why Athena?

By Faith Trimble

Faith Trimble.jpgInterestingly enough, the first thing people ask me when I tell them we are changing our name from FLT Consulting to The Athena Group is: “Are men allowed to work there?”

I know the goddess Athena is a powerful female figure, but I didn’t think she was discriminatory! Quite the contrary, I imagine her to be the epitome of social justice.

The myth says that Goddess Athena, Daughter of Zeus, was not born by her mother, rather she leaped out of the head of Zeus already adult, dressed with her armor. Her Father Zeus was the King of the Gods and her Mother Metis was the most knowing of all beings.

Athena is known as the warrior goddess of divine intelligence. She is the Goddess of the City, the protectress of civilized life, artesian activities and of agriculture.

Athena – The Goddess of War
By – KarlaFrazetty

She is the incarnation of Wisdom, Reason and Purity. What more could we all – men and women – possibly aspire to?

More to the point, why the name change? I started FLT Consulting over 13 years ago with little to no vision other than self employment. As time has progressed and the company has grown, a clear vision and purpose has emerged. The underlying values have always been the same….

  • Public service is an honorable profession
  • Citizens have the right and obligation to shape their community’s future
  • Socially responsible businesses are the economic backbone of every community
  • It takes all of us – public servants, citizens, businesses – to build great communities

….but the task at hand has grown bigger than just staff at FLT Consulting, Inc, and certainly more than just me. As The Athena Group, we now provide leaders with all the ingredients of sound decision-making: from executive coaching and visioning, to performance management, strategic thinking and process improvement, to large-scale cross-sector community engagement efforts.

Join us in this celebratory transition by wearing a toga to dinner tonight.

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Raise Your Voice!

By: Faith Trimble, CEO and Advisory Committee Member for the National Dialogue Network

One of our core beliefs at FLT is that people should have a voice in the Faith Trimble.jpgdecisions that affect their lives. Here is a great opportunity to be part of a national conversation on issues of the deepest importance. As an Advisory Committee member for the National Dialogue Network, I am asking for your input to help shape and participate in a dialogue on national-scale issues. In a matter of minutes, you can help determine which issues are discussed and later contribute your thoughts and ideas via a nationwide survey. If you are really invested in the issue, you can even help analyze the survey results.

The National Dialogue Network is the winner of the 2012 Catalyst Award for Civic Infrastructure from the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. They are committed to engaging thousands, then millions, of people in national conversations that are collaborative, sustainable, diverse, and cost-effective. To ensure your voice is heard, click here.

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Tools for Conducting Staffing Analyses

By: Liz DuBois, Principal at FLT

How does an agency determine the right number of staff to meet its Lizneeds?  Is overtime being managed efficiently?  Are personnel being effectively scheduled?  Liz DuBois, Principal at FLT, recently co-authored an article on this topic for the Spring 2013 edition of Local Government Auditing Quarterly, a publication of the Association of Local Government Auditors (ALGA).  Liz developed the article in partnership with colleague Bob Thomas, owner of Robert C. Thomas and Associates, with whom she has partnered for many years to provide staffing analysis training for state and local government.  FLT and Robert C. Thomas and Associates also regularly collaborate to conduct staffing studies and cost analyses of local government public safety functions.  Read more.

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Going LEAN in 2013?

By: Rick AndersonRick Anderson

At FLT, we are all about producing results for our clients.  So we’re really excited that state and local governments have begun using Lean process improvement projects to improve measurable outcomes and control costs.  If you’re thinking about starting a Lean project, remember these four essential practices to ensure that your process improvement effort produces positive, sustainable results.

1.     Establish Strong Executive Support

Lean management is a journey, not a “quick fix”.  It’s a commitment to a set of practices that, when done correctly, will speed up daily work, improve employee morale, and produce dramatic results.

Remember, though, that the change process is difficult and there will undoubtedly be bumps along the way.  This is particularly true in many public sector workplaces, where there is typically much less tolerance for experimentation and risk-taking as compared to many parts of the private sector.

That’s why strong executive support is so important.  It takes on-going leadership to ensure that everyone understands that the organization is committed to a new way of thinking about and doing their work.

2.     Find the Bright Spots

When considering a process improvement initiative, remember that you don’t have to tackle everything at once.  Instead, consider making strategically incremental changes to support your process improvement vision.

As you start your change process, look hard for instances where there is already evidence of “success”.  A clear understanding of what’s already working (or has worked in the past) is a great platform from which to grow a process improvement effort.  These “bright spots” can also be found in the people within your organization who are more pre-disposed or accustomed to change.

A process or practice that is ripe for change is often another great place to look for bright spots.  Building on these bright spots will create a culture that allows for broader organizational changes.  “Finding the bright spots” is one of several helpful techniques outlined in a great new book called, Switch:  How to Change When Change Is Hard.  The book provides a simple, practical, and powerful framework for thinking about change.

3.     Foster “Mission-Driven” Innovation

At its essence, Lean is about learning how to continuously innovate towards a common, measurable goal.  We love a new resource called “Rapid Office Kaizen” by Carlos Venegas at Lean Office Innovation.  This workshop tool provides an easy way to quickly understand and begin practicing the skills needed to improve any governmental process.

Rapid Office Kaizen is a mash-up of Lean process improvement and action research that provides a structured way to “plan, act, observe and reflect”.  These innovation skills can be taught and mastered but must be practiced continually to become a fundamental part of the culture of an organization.  For this process to fully work, the effort must include clear, measurable, and compelling goals.  Without measurable goals, there is neither a direction nor a compelling case for the innovation.

4.      Use Available Resources

In 2012, Brian Ziegler, Director of Pierce County’s Department of Public Works & Utilities, wanted to start a Lean initiative to standardize the contracting processes across his six divisions.  He initially sought a consultant but found it beyond his budget.  After hearing about the new Local Government Performance Center, Pierce County entered into an agreement with the State Auditor’s Office to provide coaching and training throughout their nine-month process improvement project.

The effort resulted in huge time savings as multiple invoicing, work assignment, and procurement processes were consolidated into a single standard.  “The state could invest in nothing better than local government process improvement.  It’s where most government services really make a difference for citizens,” said Ziegler.

The State Auditor’s Office also launched the Lean Academy as a service of the Local Government Performance Center.  The Lean Academy offers a new, supportive training center for local governments to learn process improvement techniques alongside peers from other governments.  The first Lean Academy training focused on improving local permitting processes.  Clark and Island Counties participated in the first round and Whatcom and Douglas Counties are in round two.  Each government receives three days of training on Lean techniques and conducts a one-week workshop to analyze and improve their processes.   Their results will be available on the Performance Center website.

FLT is honored to be working with the Local Government Performance Center to help local governments use Lean and other tools to improve their processes.

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Did You Hear Me?

kendra_dahlenBy: Kendra Dahlen

This is not a scolding – it’s a sincere question that was asked during a public meeting I recently attended.  A gentleman requested the microphone and said, “This is the fifth meeting I’ve attended on this topic and I can’t see that any of my comments have been heard, recorded or used.  Did you hear me?”


Hearing, using and reflecting public comment prominently in a public involvement process is critical to assure it is meaningful and relevant to all involved.  Otherwise, what’s the point?

In 2011 I led an extensive public involvement process to create a new vision for an extraordinary, but now-deserted local landmark, the former Olympia Brewery. FLT Consulting teamed with Lorig Associates and the City of Tumwater to evaluate the site and engage the public to determine priorities and options for future use of this space.  At a recent presentation about this project to an Evergreen State College urban planning class, a student asked, “What makes a public involvement process successful?”  Not a simple question to answer.  After a quick run-down on how to choose the right methods for the purpose, timeframe and public you wish to engage, I shared the story of the gentleman asking, “Did you hear me?”  I concluded that the bottom line for a successful public process is that the public knows 1) they were heard and 2) how their comments influenced the outcome.

There are many methods to effectively accomplish this outcome.  During the Brewery Visioning process we used our second public meeting to share what we had heard so far from the public.  We used electronic polling to ask, “Did we get it right?”  Participants voted on the degree to which we had accurately captured their comments, ideas and priorities.  In one case we weren’t as right as we had thought, so we tweaked the wording with the help of participants, then asked again, “Did we get it right?”  The meeting concluded with clear statements of vision priorities for future use of the iconic brewery site.

Photo credit: Tony.Wood/ Flickr

Photo credit: Tony.Wood/ Flickr

FLT Consulting has many tools for outreach and public engagement, depending upon the situation.  Regardless of the methodology, we always strive to represent public comments and themes as a framework for engagement.  We convey what we heard and how it will be used for decision-making.  It’s a cyclical process of hearing, responding, refining and confirming.  When we conduct a series of public meetings, they are designed to be interactive and iterative.  Each meeting is structured to build upon comments received during the previous one.  Meetings start and conclude with, “This is what we heard and this is what we’re doing with it!”

At the final meeting of a public engagement process, the facilitator should provide language, themes and priorities that have become familiar to those who participated in the process.  In other words, the participants know that they were heard and how their input was used throughout the process.

Public engagement is hard work.  It requires very good planning, thorough preparation and nimble facilitation to gain buy in and public trust.  The critical first and last step to a robust public involvement process is to demonstrate, ”We heard what you said.”  My experience is that the public responds well when they know they were heard and their opinion is valued and represented in decision-making – even if they don’t necessarily agree with the outcome.  This simple credo is the foundation for successful public processes.  When done well, a sense of teamwork develops between the participants and the agency soliciting their involvement.

We have experienced enriching and inspiring results from teaming with agencies and the public.  We consider it an honor.  And if we have done our job well, we should never be faced with a participant asking, “Did you hear me?”


Who’s Afraid of…Conflict, Compromise and Resolution?

Meagan PictureBy: Meagan Eliot

Years ago, my mother dragged me to a series of motivational workshops. I thought it was a ridiculous thing to do at the time. Twenty years later, some key notions have stuck with me, including this one: When you’re faced with significant competing ideas/interests, is it better to be right or to make things work?

Life has been a great experiment around these two potentially competing ends to a disagreement. Sometimes being “right” feels like it is the only way. Someone once told me that you can get away with anything if you’re right. I wonder: can we really live in a diverse society if we are always getting away with what we want, and who really gets to say what is right?

Make it Work

This impulse to get everything you want because you think you are right may not actually work in your favor, if we are viewing this issue from a personal or political gain perspective. If the person in power is able to change things to exactly fit what she or he sees as “right”, what happens to the rest of the people who disagree? What happens when the person, or political affiliation, in power changes? It is a recipe for unrest and constant re-working of significant public systems.

I have found, both personally and professionally, that finding ways to make things work tends to create better results in the long run, even if the process is painful – and not exactly what we as individuals want in the end.

People often complain about the slow development of policy in our local communities, state and country. Harken back to the founding of the United States…this Republic was designed specifically to ensure that policy development is slow, based on the understanding that one person’s progress is another person’s step backward. Because of this fact, major issues should be thoroughly deliberated across many competing interests, and hopefully, we will arrive at some policy resolution that will be reasonably acceptable across each interest.

Divisiveness is Not New

Now, think about the political environment we are facing. How do we resolve the economic crisis? How do we resolve the debate about abortion? How do we resolve so many issues like these, when our heels are so firmly planted in the ground – when we are so determined to be right? It is frightening to come to the table to find some middle ground that may be workable because we will have to give a little something (at least) of our individual values. What will that mean in the long-run? Will we eventually see our priorities slip away?

Some say we are more divided now than ever. Is this really true? FLT Consulting recently helped to facilitate a conference for the Evergreen Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) conference on civil discourse. The objective of this conference was to identify strategic actions to overcome these challenges and help us work together at the local, state, and national level to develop thoughtful and workable policy resolutions. There were many outstanding presentations. Of interest to me, for purposes of this blog article, was the discussion about our divisiveness – repeated several times over by presenters.

As some said, THIS IS NOT NEW:

  • Bill Ruckelshaus, Ruckelshaus Institute: This is not new; we did have a civil war. This is an extreme example of divisiveness in our country, with one part of the country literally fighting against the other.
  • Stuart Elway, Elway Research: The history of communications is the history of the democratization of information. As information is readily available for debate among everyone, our diverse interests naturally result in controversy. It has been seen in every evolution of our country, such as the Civil Rights movement.
  • Carolyn Lukensmeyer,  America Speaks, disagreed a bit. She asserted that the major difference today is the influence of money. She said that divisiveness is: Currently, the worst in modern history due to the influence of money. The influence of money makes some voices more prominent than others – thus the opposite of the democratization of information.

OK – so divisiveness is not new in every sense, though with some nuances from recent policy decisions. So what do we do now?

What?  I Could be Wrong?

At the conference, Nick Lovrich, Washington State University, said that civility doesn’t require agreement – just respect and recognition that you may be wrong. Again, how do we get there? How do we overcome our fear? A quote I love from Laurence Tribe in his book, Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes: “The traditions that divide us and the myriad difficulties that plague all attempts at compromise…may seem overwhelming. But we should not let them obscure the common ground on which we all stand.” This applies well beyond the incredibly divisive issue of abortion.

Building common understanding is something that we at FLT Consulting pride ourselves in being able to help organizations and communities achieve. Our disparate voices combined are significantly stronger than those that are separated and fighting against one another in a divisive nature. We use a variety of approaches to raise the common voice in the interest of public good and progress. We understand that it is not valuable to enter a community and try to sell a preconceived policy resolution. We know it is much more useful in the long-run to collaborate with stakeholders to arrive at a reasonable, at least acceptable, resolution across differences.

After all of this talk of collaboration, I want to add that I believe we all have a role to play. All of us in the center of public policy discussions have a responsibility to be brave and enter into the realm of true collaboration, sincerely communicating and listening and finding common ground. We should be getting involved in neighborhood groups, listening rather than speaking, learning about all points of view, and making informed decisions.  There is also a role to push our neighbors, leaders and policymakers into those discussions through voting, peaceful protest and other means of making sure our voices are heard. Together, we make our country great, and we should not forget it.


Word of the Year


Word of the Year

from FLT Consulting

I learned a new word this year.  Eudaimonia. The word – of Greek construct – means life lived meaningfully well.

In a blog by Umair Haque of The Harvard Business Review, he referenced eudPicture2aimonic prosperity of which “purpose is not merely passive, slack-jawed “consuming” but living: doing, achieving, fulfilling, becoming, inspiring, transcending, creating, accomplishing – all the stuff that matters the most.”

FLT is going through a rebranding process right now. Who knows what will emerge in 2013 as our new look and feel, but we are all wanting it to represent life lived meaningfully well. We would rename our company Eudaimonia, but we are pretty sure no one could pronounce it. We can’t.

If I could gift you Eudaimonia this year, I would. Instead I am going to re-gift this blog article “How to Fix Your Soul – Harvard Business Review” that an FLT colleague sent to me. She says:

“This article is all about you, FLT Consulting, big ideas, collective impact, empowering citizens…it’s got it all. And it’s inspiring.”

I truly believe that each and every one of us has the human capacity to change the world, simply by living our lives meaningfully well. If we can each act the way we want the world to be, we are miles ahead. We create the future.

What’s great about living life with this intention is that there is no such thing as screwing up. Everything we do is an experiment, testing a hypothesis and employing the findings to create a better place to live.

FLT, or whatever our new name is going to be, is on a mission.

  • Our grand experiment: Collective impact
  • Our hypothesis: Wicked social problems can be solved when the government, business and citizen sectors in each community have laser focus on collective priorities, and have mechanisms in place to jointly fund, measure and report out progress and setbacks.
  • Our expertise: Strategic leadership, project management, research, performance measures and management, and participatory partnerships.

We will deploy our ever growing talent in communities around the world to accomplish small and large projects that build great communities. Join us in this adventure of great optimism, big ideas, and concrete talent. Happy Holidays!

Best regards,

Faith Trimble, FLT Consulting, Inc.

CEC, Chief Executive of Celebrations


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