Emergence Alumnus Making a Difference: Unified Communication for Effective Change

“Creating and disseminating goals and metrics embedded in an annual strategy document in a large organization can seem like a paper exercise…we need processes that incorporate all stakeholders in the creation of tangible goals that can be measured and a tool for communicating those goals effectively.”

William Powell, Public Affairs Specialist, FEMA Region III

The breadth and complexity surrounding effective organizational communication confounds the most knowledgeable and effective leaders in both small and large, public and private organizations. Center of Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) Emergence 1901 alum William Powell, serving as a Public Affairs Specialist for the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) Region III, well understood the difficulties surrounding communication. Encompassing the states of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, Region III represents a unique and diverse collection of geographic, demographic, and cultural areas. With almost five years of public affairs service in the organization, Powell viewed Emergence as an opportunity to not only expand his current skillset through the experiential diversity of each cohort, but also to leverage the instruction provided in his efforts to create or improve those processes responsible for generating region-wide guidance.

Collaborating with the Director, External Affairs, Dan Stoneking, and the Deputy Regional Administrator, Janice Barlow, of FEMA Region III, Powell arrived at Emergence with a solid framework for modifying the creation of annual organizational strategic goals to deliver a vibrant and rich dialogue between divisions during their development and throughout the year to track progress. Powell commented, “We had started working towards a direction similar to my project prior to Emergence…although the basic structure of the plan remained intact, there were significant changes in the operationalization of the concept as a result of Emergence.” Reflecting upon the specific changes, Powell continued, “I had a vision for the project. However, my first week in Monterey caused me to take a step back…I may be writing the strategy, but the goals were really for our stakeholders across the five states and the District of Columbia…I had to be innovative in a way that benefits both our audiences and internal programs and remove any ego associated with my involvement in the project. It was about our success as a region.” For Powell, the first in-residence session was simply the beginning of the project’s transformation.

Powell on regional news broadcast.

The second Emergence in-residence in April 2019, brought an increased focus on applying the skills introduced in February; in doing so, the project began to infuse the substance and rigor in outlining the types of goals and communication strategies required to produce a successful launch by September 2019. Powell noted, “We want to work with the divisions to get their inputs…almost a bottom-up approach throughout our region to understand the objectives, tactics, and measurements to actually achieve those goals and, more importantly, to determine what success looks like for those goals.” Following graduation, Powell returned to Region III headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to begin the hard work of creating the first draft of what is envisioned to be a unified annual strategy document. He commented, “Currently, we are in the writing phase and anticipate delivering a draft to the entire region for review and edits…we hope to be live by the end of the fiscal year.” The annual effort includes an increased focus on intra-region communication to drive the final product. “Moving forward for future iterations, we envision a late-spring review of goals to determine how our communication strategy can support each division’s specific goals, and this can only be accomplished with a new sense of collaboration across the region,” Powell stated.

Powell at the Emergence 1901 Graduation Ceremony with Ellen Gordon and David O’Keeffe.

Reflecting on his overall Emergence experience, Powell remarked, “The two in-residence sessions provide distinct learning opportunities…while the first session focuses on developing the tools associated with ‘big picture’ thinking and organizational change, the second session really brings a focus on their practical application and a discussion of the issues in homeland security through our new lenses acquired in the first session.” However, the benefits of Emergence extended beyond the classroom. In closing, Powell commented, “The networking opportunities and contacts gained across disciplines and jurisdictions are invaluable…I have several contacts within the cohort I speak to weekly and I have a much larger group of peers from which I can share ideas on new challenges concerning homeland security.”