Charisma in Action

 

OpenGov

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DNA: Missionary


The Challenge

In a market that doesn’t always embrace new technologies, how to bring a vision of better technology to government. 

 We knew that Zachary Bookman, the CEO of OpenGov—the leader in government performance management technology—was a Cult of Personality Missionary almost immediately. But it wasn’t until a follow-up encounter that it really hit home. Our meeting with Michael Schanker, then OpenGov’s head of marketing, was under way when Schanker glanced up and announced, “Yep, Zac is in the building.”

There wasn’t anyone who hadn’t met Zac before, but we all turned to look. He blew into the room with a flurry of greetings, and with his arrival, the energy in the room shifted from post-lunch relaxed to full-on “Zac Attack.”

And there, in a nutshell: A Cult of Personality Missionary.

Before he co-launched OpenGov in 2012, Zach and his future colleagues had offered to analyze a Silicon Valley city’s budget data for patterns and trends, information that they could then share with others online. The project hit a wall, however, when it became apparent that no one on the government end knew how to produce clean data, which was buried within a decades-old software system. 

The problem was endemic to governments of all sizes, and the team realized what they were facing was nothing more than a technology problem, albeit a really big one. “We thought, ‘We can solve this problem,’” said Zac. Even more, they realized, “We have to solve it” (a classic Missionary statement).

Thus was born the vision of a suite of solutions that maps to the life cycle of government management, including how governments plan, operate, and communicate internally and with elected bodies and citizens. Even so, while many administrators have sought out the OpenGov platform, others are either unaware of its potential or are so deeply entrenched in the status quo that they are afraid of change. How, then, to bring a vision of better bureaucracy to a market that isn’t always open to new technologies?

 

The Aha!

Zac already was acting as a Cult of Personality leader, even if before the positioning exercise no one was able to put a label on exactly what it was he brought to the table. Although he was doing it subconsciously, he was using his Cult of Personality as a tool to inspire and drive his employees. 

The trick was to find a way to use that Cult of Personality tool externally to build the company and beyond that to build a movement for change (i.e., more open, effective, and accountable government) on a massive scale. Starting, of course, with selling the executive team on the idea of using Zac’s Cult of Personality as a positioning tool, a means of launching the message of better government through the OpenGov platform.

It turned out to be fairly easy once the team realized the company was a Missionary whose goal was to deliver revolutionary change in the form of better government. Persuading Zac to embrace and align with the designation took longer because of the baggage that can surround the term. Zac came to see, however, that acting as their best selves, Cult of Personality Missionary leaders lead by making heroes out of customers and serving as champions for their organizations. He came to understand the value of using his Cult of Personality to realize a vision of government that runs more smoothly, more transparently, more openly, and with every bit of data exactly where you need it when you need it.

 

The Results

OpenGov’s next step in bringing that vision to life grew out of our understanding that the company should promote its Zac-led movement by building an ecosystem (conferences, an online community, training sessions, etc.) around its platform the way Salesforce’s Marc Benioff has done with his company’s annual Dreamforce. 

Zac has settled into and even embraced the idea of acting as a Cult of Personality Missionary leader of a movement. Referring to the methodology we used to get him there, he noted that the positioning exercise offered more than branding alone ever could have done: “This was not marketing communications positioning as a thought exercise. It was how do we build a company? How do we disrupt an industry? And how do we create market leadership and dominance?”


What’s your corporate DNA?

Charisma in Action

 

The Challenge

In a market that doesn’t always embrace new technologies, how to bring a vision of better technology to government. 

 We knew that Zachary Bookman, the CEO of OpenGov—the leader in government performance management technology—was a Cult of Personality Missionary almost immediately. But it wasn’t until an appointment at the company’s headquarters that that conclusion really hit home. Our meeting with Michael Schanker, then OpenGov’s head of marketing, was already under way—with Zac scheduled to join us soon—when Schanker glanced up and announced, “Yep, Zac is in the building.”

There wasn’t one person in the room who hadn’t met Zac before, but that didn’t stop any of us from turning to peer through the open doors of the conference room to find him. He blew into the room with a flurry of greetings, and with his arrival, the energy in the room shifted in an instant from post-lunch relaxed to full-on “Zac Attack.”

And there, in a nutshell: A Cult of Personality Missionary.

In typical Cult of Personality fashion, Zac’s path to becoming a Missionary was anything but linear—or typical. Before co-launching OpenGov in 2012, Zac, a lawyer, served as an anticorruption advisor to U.S. Army Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, who headed a NATO-led security mission in Kabul, Afghanistan. 

While in Afghanistan, Zac was also collaborating with future OpenGov colleagues and advisors. The group ended up in conversations with the government administrators of a prominent Silicon Valley city, ultimately offering to analyze the city’s budget data for years-long patterns and trends, information that they could then share with others online. The officials were enthusiastic, but the project hit a wall when it became apparent that no one on the government end knew how to produce clean budget data, which was buried within a decades-old enterprise resource planning (ERP) software system. In light of the time and expense it would take to retrieve the information manually, it might as well have been stored on the moon.

“We realized that the people running the city—smart, good-hearted people—couldn’t access the data to see where money was going across very complicated enterprises,” said Zac. “Because of the way the system was set up, they couldn’t share information with the elected officials who needed it to govern. Their own staff, tasked with fighting fire and crime and delivering water and power, didn’t have the data to make good decisions.” 

And not just in that one city, obviously; the problem is endemic to governments of all sizes and levels. A large percentage of the data generated by the tens of thousands of governments across the nation (and that’s not even taking into account the rest of the world) is buried within archaic, difficult-to-access silos, rendering it virtually inaccessible. Staff can’t see it, and neither can the public. As a result, said Zac, “Citizens are losing trust and becoming disengaged.”

The team realized that what they were facing was nothing more than a technology problem, albeit a really big one. “We thought, ‘We can solve this problem,’” said Zac. Even more, they realized, “We have to solve it.”

The mission-driven statement “We have to solve it” is classic Missionary. Whereas a Mother wants to solve the problem on behalf of her overwhelmed customers and a Mechanic focuses on its technical ability to provide the products needed to solve it, only a Missionary would have a driving mission to bring better data analysis to government to serve the greater good.

Thus was born the vision of a suite of solutions that maps to the life cycle of government management, including how governments plan, operate, and communicate internally and with elected bodies and citizens. The OpenGov platform opens a window onto countless details about government spending and performance—everything from how much city council members were paid over a 10-year period in Chicago versus Boston to how much a local police department spends annually on its canine unit. The system is built on top of the tens of thousands of on-premise legacy ERP accounting and other back-office systems that are used by every city, county, school district, special district, and state agency in the country, making it simple to extract data that were previously difficult to retrieve. Once the data have been pulled from those systems and are in the cloud, OpenGov offers applications that assist in building budgets and management reporting and renders the data searchable, sortable, and analyzable down to the last penny. Simply put, all the data are organized in a user-friendly manner and are accessible in real time.

While many administrators at all levels of government are advocating for more effective and accountable government and have sought out the OpenGov platform, others are either unaware of its potential or are so deeply entrenched in the status quo that they are afraid of change. How, then, to bring a vision of better bureaucracy to an often-static market that isn’t always open to new technologies?

 

The Aha!

Zac already was acting as a Cult of Personality leader within the company, even if before the positioning exercise no one was able to put a label on exactly what it was he brought to the table. Although he was doing it subconsciously, he was using his Cult of Personality as a tool to inspire and drive his employees, who were attracted to him and his company and shared his passion for enabling better government. 

The trick now was to find a way to use that Cult of Personality tool externally to build the company and beyond that to build a movement for change (i.e., more open, effective, and accountable government) on a massive scale. Starting, of course, with selling the executive team—particularly the CEO—on the idea of using Zac’s Cult of Personality as a positioning tool, a means of launching the message of better government through the OpenGov platform.

It actually turned out to be fairly easy. Although a casual discussion with the C-suite before the positioning exercise revealed that OpenGov considered itself predominantly customer-focused—despite the fact that it was marketing itself as a Value Mechanic by highlighting the company’s ability to provide a superior product in the form of a platform that simplified data access—the DNA and genotype tests quickly showed the management team that the company was actually a Missionary whose primary goal was to deliver revolutionary change in the form of better government.

Persuading Zac to embrace and align with the Cult of Personality designation took a little more time because of the baggage that can surround the term. Zac came to see, however, that acting as their best selves, Cult of Personality Missionary leaders lead by making heroes out of customers and serving as champions for their organizations. He came to understand the value of using his Cult of Personality to realize a vision of government that runs more smoothly, more transparently, more openly, and with every bit of data exactly where you need it when you need it.

All of which we encapsulated in the positioning statement and elevator story:

• Position 

OpenGov is the leader in government performance management technology: easy-to-use cloud software for better budgeting, improved reporting and operational intelligence, and comprehensive transparency and open data.

• Elevator Story 

OpenGov is the leader in government performance management technology: easy-to-use cloud software for better budgeting, improved reporting and operational intelligence, and comprehensive transparency and open data. OpenGov solutions give governments the right tools and relevant data for more informed decision making and better outcomes for the public.

 

The Results

OpenGov’s next step in bringing that vision into the full light of day grew out of our understanding that the company should promote its Zac-led movement by taking a cue from Salesforce and building an ecosystem around its platform the way Marc Benioff has done with his company’s annual Dreamforce. An OpenGov conference would bring together customers from governments around the world, developers, and consultants; feature keynote speakers (including Zac), government officials, and community representatives; and give users an opportunity to attend panel discussions and breakout sessions, learn about new products, attend training sessions, and earn certifications.

Even more, it would enable a physical gathering of the OpenGov network, the online community the company is building, which would enable users to discuss problems, suggest solutions (online or over the phone), and call on technology that will allow them to compare their cities, states, regions, or countries with others of similar size. 

Although initially dubious, Zac has settled into and even embraced the idea of acting as a Cult of Personality Missionary leader of a movement. Referring to the methodology we used to get him there, he noted that the positioning exercise offered far more than branding alone ever could have done. “This was not marketing communications positioning as a thought exercise,” he said. “It was how do we build a company? How do we disrupt an industry? And how do we create market leadership and dominance? We now know that we want to create a message that can go viral. We know that we want to establish a category that can differentiate us from the competition. And we know that we want to create a guiding light—a North Star—that will rally the entire company around a shared set of messages and positions and principles that will allow us to work in lockstep and move at a more rapid and effective pace.”

And there’s nothing like a Cult of Personality Missionary leader to make it happen.

Is your CEO a charismatic? Should you start leveraging that charm?

 
Andy Cunningham