PE CoE Week: Jenica Reed on Key skills for federal evaluators (and all remote workers)

Hi! I am Jenica Reed, an evaluation specialist with Deloitte Consulting LLP. While working remotely with team members and clients, I’ve learned that communication, interpersonal skills, and other so-called “soft skills” have each played a role in the achievements of our work. The importance of these skills is often left out of trainings.  If you take the time to incorporate these skills into your work, you might be amazed by how much richer your interactions are and how the quality of your data and depth of your understanding may be improved.

Lesson Learned: Interpersonal skills and building rapport matters. Meeting in-person or taking the time to know primary contacts at the start of an engagement helps build rapport that lasts throughout the project. Building these relationships and learning personalities and mannerisms can aid communication and cooperation throughout the rest of the project.

Building rapport early on can:

  • Set the stage for honest discourse, trust and credibility
  • Provide a more careful picture of the context and players
  • Enable access to people and information
  • Create an open atmosphere for questions or concerns, and
  • Alleviate concerns of being tested or judged

Hot Tip: I have found that simple questions such as preferred method of communication (phone, email, even text) and time of day for meetings can go a long way towards improving communications.

Lesson Learned: Credibility can be built through skill and rapport. Push-back often comes from somewhere—is it lack of trust in your skills? Considering the evaluation just a requirement or worse, an audit? Are there unknown pressures or implications from findings that are weighing on their mind?

Some considerations:

  • Identify pressures and stressors they face
  • Discuss “what’s in it for them?” and gather data that is most relevant and able to be fully utilized
  • Identify leading ways to report data that will meet their circumstances and resonate with decision-makers
  • Incorporate contingency planning into the design and data collection—is there other information you may want to know about negative findings that may be uncovered? What could be explored further?

Hot Tip: Realize that valuable information isn’t only provided in formal meetings. Nervous jokes about “I wonder what – will say about this” often have real meaning and may need to be considered in design and data collection decisions. Maybe this is a new stakeholder to include, a potential critic of findings, an unexpected decision-maker. Addressing these issues can improve trust in the process and ultimately the conclusions drawn and recommendations made. There is often increased openness to receiving negative or mixed findings when credibility has been established and rapport built.

The American Evaluation Association is Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Program Evaluation Center of Excellence (PE CoE) week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from PE CoE team members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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