TENNESSEE’S AUTOMOTIVE SECTOR
In early 2013, my colleagues and I began work on a study of Tennessee’s auto industry as part of our Advanced Industries series. The resulting report — Drive! Moving Tennessee’s Automotive Sector Up the Value Chain — mapped out the geography of auto production in the state, identified key trends in the global auto industry, and explored how state and regional leaders in Tennessee’s public and private sectors could take steps to expand and strengthen the state’s auto sector.
The team needed research and writing support and faced a number of internal organization challenges. I was brought in to:
- research auto's workforce challenges and the history of Tennessee's auto industry
- develop a critique and recommendations on auto-related workforce development
- provide project management for our team of seven co-authors
- contribute to communications strategy development and release event planning
- handle editing and report layout
INCREASING THE LIKELIHOOD OF ACTION
I’ve long been concerned that the way we've traditionally presented our findings wasn’t designed with our audiences in mind. Politicians, state officials, and business leaders simply don’t have time to read a 40+ page report.
This insight led me to propose a new approach for this project: short memos that provide essential information on each key recommendation. After identifying stakeholder needs, I created a memo template that the team could use to develop individual recommendations. Each memo provided a clear problem statement, a concise explanation of the recommendation, implementation specifics, budget implications, and references.
The memo approach not only made our research more useful to our key audiences — it also simplified the process of developing recommendations by providing a clear structure for research and writing.
We circulated the nine memos we developed to key stakeholders both prior to and after the October 2013 report release in order to reinforce the report’s call to action. Recommendations from two of the memos I created were ultimately adopted by the state:
- The Tennessee legislature funded a $10 million LEAP Skills Gap Grant competition to support regional partnerships working to address skills gaps.
- Gov. Haslam created a Director of Workforce Alignment position in his office to head the Governor’s Workforce Subcabinet and monitor the progress made by LEAP Skills Gap Grant recipients.
LEARNING FROM OUR WORK
Given the complexity of this project, with its seven co-authors and wide-ranging analysis, I organized and facilitated a team post-mortem session to discuss what had worked well and where we could improve our efforts next time. A number of my colleagues told me they found this conversation helpful and expressed interest in conducting similar discussions following the release of future projects.