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When I became the Chief Information Officer at GSA in mid-2007, I spoke with many of the OCIO team to understand how I could help my new staff succeed. The big issue that I heard was improved communications. We had recently undergone a reorganization, consolidating many regional IT positions into the central CIO organization and almost doubling the size of the OCIO. These new team members across the country did not feel that they were connected to their new home organization and didn’t know about news and developments that affected them.

To address this need, I started an internal GSA CIO blog in September 2007. GSA already has an excellent internal web site, InSite, but it serves a different purpose, primarily as a source of longer-term reference materials. With the blog, I found a communications tool that could be directed specifically to the CIO organization and be used as a way to share information in near-real time. In my first post, I announced that the blog would be “a location where my direct reports and I will post news and information relevant to the issues we are facing here in Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) and GSA.” I encouraged readers, as members of the OCIO community, to read the blog, to comment on postings, and to read the comments of co-workers. Later we expanded the usage so that anyone within OCIO could originate new material on the blog.

Since the launch, I have continued to post information about two or three times a week. Topics include items such as: the minutes of our weekly senior staff meetings, copies of technical briefings, information on the presidential transition, and my informal observations on technology trends or on conferences I have attended. For example, when I attended the Gartner Symposium in October, I reported on Gartner’s top 10 technologies for 2009. One of those, client virtualization, generated a lot of interest as it pertains to GSA’s support for teleworking, a top priority for the agency. As a consequence of that initial posting we have had follow-on briefings from analysts and industry experts and are studying the feasibility of a client virtualization proof of concept. I have also used the blog to pass on interesting sites such as public blogs on leadership and ethics, and to remind staff of training requirements.

There are no restrictions on topics or comments, other than that they be of interest to the CIO organization and use an appropriate and professional tone. I started with three objectives: improve communications (and thus teamwork and morale), give employees a forum for communicating back to me and the senior staff, and recognize success stories and outstanding contributions publicly.

So almost a year and a half later, how well have we met those objectives? The GSA CIO Blog has proven to be a real success story. It is a source used across my organization for reliable information on what is happening at senior management levels and foster continuing education on emerging technologies and management and leadership issues. It has a robust readership, and interest continues to grow. I will also measure its effectiveness when we receive our employee engagement survey results soon, to see if OCIO employee satisfaction has risen due to the blog.

Surprisingly, however, there are few comments posted in response to my blogs. It is not used as a discussion forum as I had hoped; many people read it, but few respond online. My readers make comments to me in person on what they have read, rather than reply online for all to see. Staff use it as a way to start conversations with me one-on-one. What this tells me is that we are changing the culture, not just introducing a new tool, and culture change takes time. I believe that social media tools such as blogs will help us to develop a more connected and empowered workforce over time, and will aid our recruiting and retention efforts.

I have not made any special efforts to force comments or readership. Over time, the blog will mature and evolve within its own timetable. However, I am directing more and more communications to the blog, and rarely send out group emails any more. If you want to know what is going on with personnel changes, new policies, organizational developments or weekly news updates, check the blog, don’t send me a question via email!

I am also about to launch an external blog called “Around the Corner” that is focused on the theme of innovation. My first entries are just being posted, so I do not yet have any information on readership or comments. Clearly, a public-facing forum requires a great deal more review and preparation prior to launch, and indeed the launching of the site has been a multi-step process. In the spring of 2008 I began to research topics, get the appropriate clearances, develop a usage policy, and identify the standards for launch. Mine will be the first GSA agency blog, so I worked with our General Counsel’s Office to establish an agency-wide blog policy. Thanks to work done at the State Department for its DipNote blog (blogs.state.gov) and GSA’s own Gov Gab site (blog.usa.gov), we were able to craft a simple, direct policy that is applicable to all GSA staff who want to start a blog. I also worked with our Office of Communications to get the look and feel that met GSA standards. By the way, GSA’s Gov Gab is a terrific source for information and services available to the general public from the entire federal government.

My experience in using blogging as a management tool has been very positive, and I would encourage those who are considering blogs and similar tools to jump in. Whether internal or external, blogs can complement other communications channels, help foster a more productive work environment, and aid in recruiting and retaining talented employees who want to be part of a top-notch organization.

  • Linda Cureton

    Thanks for the great article Casey. I strongly agree that blogging is a great management tool. Your article will encourage more of us to use this amazing technology.

  • http://steveradick.com Steve Radick

    I’ve worked with many of my Vice Presidents at my company to start their own internal blogs and I’ve witnessed similar reactions here. What I found is that we had to identify several “champions” who were comfortable talking and interacting with our most senior leadership. Believe it or not, people see your title and they’re intimidated by you. What if they say something you disagree with? What if they have a spelling error in one of their comments to you? Will you tell their manager that they don’t know how to write?

    People really think this way – these champions that you identify are the ones who effectively draw the line in the sand. They post comments that might question a point you made, or challenge you something you said, or post a more informal comment about the work environment. The point is that people need to see someone else step up and take that risk before they’re willing to do so. They need to see your reaction to that guy who challenges you on a point you’ve made. They’ll watch that interaction from afar, and then they’ll slowly start following their lead.

    Just some thoughts from my experience – hope it helps!

  • http://ctovision.com Bob Gourley

    Casey, That is a great post, thanks. I hope your post is read by a wide swath of folks, especially other CIOs. You are an exemplar and so is your blog.

  • http://www.shepherdspi.com Lewis Shepherd

    I don’t know the limit on compliments which can be paid to you per each Comment response, but I have several:
    – Congratulations on the overall success of your internal blog; I used one when I was in government (at DIA) from 2005 on and mirrored your experience, but I also saw others without the fortitude to keep up the regular posting, so I’m really happy you’ve kept it up with that frequency per week!
    – Glad to see you opened the posting up to others in OCIO, smart move, that will continue to snowball until the tipping point individually as others launch their own blogs
    – Speaking of which, I’m thoroughly impressed by your effort to update overall GSA policies to enable and encourage blogging by all. That’s a fundamental reform and it’s great you took the effort & time to do it.
    – Most of all, I’m looking forward to “Around the Corner,” make sure if you can to twitter about it and I’ll be an avid reader.
    So glad to see such great work in critical areas of government!

  • http://www.capgemini-gs.com Kathy Kyle

    Casey, I agree, changing one’s organizational culture takes time…and you are well on your way! Technology creates freedom and opens up vast opportunities for new value and innovation. Thank you for sharing your successes with us.

  • http://www2.hawaii.edu/~smithdan Dan Smith

    Thanks for posting your, Casey. Right in line with the new administration’s social media focus.
    I suspect that Steve’s hypothesis is correct. One way to test that idea would be to observe if mid-level internal bloggers, champions, got more comments, whether they were challenged more.
    Employee surveys may also provide some insights into culture change.

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  • http://twitter.com/cheeky_geeky Mark Drapeau

    Just found this article via L.S. It’s terrific and I emailed it around NDU. Thanks for your hard work at GSA!

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  • http://www.surveytool.com/employee-satisfaction-survey/ Employee Satisfaction Survey

    Well, the post is actually the freshest on this worthy topic. I fit in with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your incoming updates.

  • http://www.simplyzesty.com Niall Harbison

    I’ve worked with big and small organizations on getting their blogs going but I always find that it only really works really well when the people doing it have a real genuine passion for social media themselves. If you are doing it as part of a job people seem to do the minimum necessary.