Fresh ideas needed!

This is the kind of headline I really like: "RSPCA brings in wide-ranging governance reforms"which is from ‘Third Sector’ in July this year.

The article relates how the size of their governing board will be cut from 28 to 12 trustees and, additionally, they have agreed a series of wide-ranging reforms to their governance arrangements. The changes will include moving to elected positions, the inclusion of co-opted members and term limits. Amongst other changes they have also modernised the language that describes their governance activities and agreed to enforce their own code of conduct for those involved in governance.

Although the reforms come after a difficult period for the organisation which saw the Charity Commission involved, they are the result of a thorough independent review which offered recommendations on how to move forward.

It is true to say that these new arrangements, now agreed by membership, would be unlikely if the organisation had continued to talk amongst themselves as this brings no new opinions into the conversation. All organisations need to look for new views periodically. In fact, the recommendation from all those who work to help organisations achieve improvements in this sector is that organisations should review their governance arrangements at least every three years.

Looking for those new views will bring new input, from new trustees, new thoughts, from external help in expressing how difficulties might be tackled, from external expertise in providing what other organisations already know or are applying to best effect.

So, if you are trying to make decisions about where to go for assistance or you would like to talk about issues you are currently facing, then I’d love to help. In the first instance it’s just a no-obligation conversation. Do it today.

Just give me a call and we will find your best way forward.

It pays to be flexible

If there is one thing that this summer has shown us so far it is that there are benefits to be found in being flexible and achieving the art of compromise.

Our fundamentally weird weather has created no end of situations where a great many of us have had to rethink our plans, often on our feet, so that we can continue with our journeys, our meetings, our social plans or our holidays. That ability extends to everything we embark on, especially at work. Call it flexibility, the art of compromise or the skill of being adaptable – it’s all about the same thing.

In this extract from "Professionalism – the ABC for Success" I discuss the essential of skill of being Adaptable.

"Closed minds achieve little and often find themselves stuck in a rut and unable to find a way out so be open to new ideas. Look for opportunities to be involved with people you haven’t worked with before, perhaps in areas which may be new to you or which offer a chance to work at a more senior level than usual.

Consider tackling something which you have gone out of your way to avoid in the past just so that you can say that you have actually tried! Try not to refuse outright if asked to step out of your comfort zone but consider all the angles before making a decision. Identify any problems which may be hampering you or your colleagues and be part of the solution.

Start each day by setting out the detail for your personal to-do list. Making your choices and prioritising means that you know what will fit into your day. It will also mean that you can distinguish between what is important and what would be nice to have the time to do.

Be flexible and politely take the unexpected or intrusions in your stride but only accept what you can find time for by reorganising what is already there. You cannot add to your list without amending it or deferring tasks as you will eventually run the risk of non-delivery. If you really cannot fit it in don’t just offer ‘I don’t have the time’ as your explanation. Explain when you will be able to do it and why it will be slightly delayed.

Careful planning avoids, as far as possible, urgent matters cropping up but it will never prevent a crisis from occurring. Deal with these in a calm, efficient way. Be available, help when and where you can, ensure your door is open (within reason)."

If you are having difficulties fitting in all the demands you face each day then I’d love to help you so do give me a call.

Help them to choose you (part 2)

Professionalism is not a single skill, it’s a set of behaviours, attitudes and character traits which build one on another to create a way of life, a way of reacting to external influences and a secure ability to respond in ways which do you credit at all times. Professionalism shines a light on who you really are and is a reputation builder.

Adopting professionalism as a way to excel in everything you do requires you to be honest with yourself and to continually check in with yourself. In other words, it is about being honest with yourself, as well as others.

So, here are The Golden Rules which act as a handy yardstick for measuring ourselves and our progress:

1- Always striving for excellence
2 - Being trustworthy
3 - Being accountable and taking responsibility for your actions
4 - Being courteous and reliable
5 - Being honest, open and transparent
6 - Being competent and continually learning
7 - Always acting ethically
8 - Always acting honourably and with integrity
9 - Always treating others with respect
10 - Always respecting confidentiality
11 - Setting a good example

Thinking about your abilities is an ongoing and regular task. However, my top tip for the best time to take a moment to assess how you are doing?

It’s immediately after you have been pushed to the very limit of your endurance by someone else’s actions. How did you respond? It’s a great way to see whether your professionalism is totally ingrained and functioning all the time or only surface deep and prone to slip when pushed.

How do you rate? If you, your team or your organisation would like to take a look at these issues in detail then I’d love to help so do give me a call.

The thinking season?

Most of us spend a lot of time at work processing information, looking at data, considering options and would probably say that we take the time to think carefully before we act or decide on anything. However, in truth, a fair amount of that is based on so-called ‘normal’ activities, things we do all the time and which are well rehearsed in our minds so we can make progress quite quickly, i.e. we can get things done.

What most of us are a little less robust about is taking time out to think very deeply or attempt to think in different ways about what we are doing or how it might help our day-to-day. The reasons for not attempting this fairly crucial additional part of our roles are well known. We are all over-committed for time and, although my advice is always to carve out and defend a couple of hours each week in your diary just for ‘me-time’ in which we can catch up with ourselves, those other very important or urgent problems crop up and away goes that precious thinking space.

Even the impressively named ‘planning cycle’ in most organisations can often be just a re-hash of what we did last year and offers no real innovation, often because it was so difficult to get everyone together in the first place that the agenda needs to be safe and ‘doable’ in the time allocated.

However, there is one time in the year when our heads are not crammed with all the day-to-day dramas and data and that, obviously, is the holiday period. As we meander thankfully into the holiday months the diaries get a little clearer and most of us can look forward to some uninterrupted and much-needed rest. After a few days of collapse, your brain will be in rest mode and in freefall. It may, completely unbidden, pop up with some interesting ideas which have probably been lurking hidden and waiting for the chance to surface. Of course, you may be irritated by this and want the work thoughts to go away but I would strongly suggest that you go and find a piece of paper and write those ideas down. They may just be the most valuable thoughts that you have all year and could be your solution to problems which you have endured because you haven’t the time to deal with them.

Depending on how awkward those thoughts are, you may need assistance to talk them through and to deal with issues you are currently facing. It’s what I do best and I’d love to help. Just give me a call and we will find a way to implement your ideas.

Help them choose you

It’s a bit tough out there at the moment for freelancers and contractors as well as for those who have decided that it is time to try another role.Our current economic and political environment is as complex as it gets, with endless amounts of data to be absorbed, prolonged change having an effect and the drive for survival dictating attitudes to employment types and numbers.The knock-on effects are bound to make those doing the hiring more than a little skittish.Companies appear to be more worried than ever about making the wrong hiring decisions so it is increasingly difficult to land that fabulous role which will suit your talents.

With an ever-increasing pool from which they can choose, who they will bring in to help with them with a project, a particular task or to enlarge their staff numbers for a while?How will they make their selections?Or, looked at from the other side, how can you ensure that you are the one they will want and how will you stand out from all the other applicants?

It goes without saying that you should do your research to ensure that your skills and experience are a good fit with the role you are going for. But that’s probably not enough. Most of those hiring at the moment are looking for the ‘extra’, not just the ability to work well with colleagues, but those additional traits which mean that you can demonstrate your professionalism and why that means that you will contribute more than just the skills listed on the job description. So, how long is it since you completed an honest skills audit on yourself? How long is it since you checked on the most beneficial way of presenting your CV?

The possibilities are endless but the task is to stand out from the crowd. Tough but possible. Most of those in senior-level roles in the public eye are happy to pay tribute to the benefits they have found in relying on talking things over with their mentors. That’s great advice and should be a guide for all of us, at all levels and in any work circumstance.

If you would like to chat about what you are really capable of achieving, then I’d love to help you so do give me a call.

Want to stay out of the national press?

There’s an old adage that says any publicity is better than none. Yet in the last few months, in both the national papers and the third sector websites and publications, we are seeing an increasing number of negative stories. They range from incompetence and bullying through to gross fraud and mismanagement. Behind them all will lie the untold stories of stressful working conditions and benefits or services not delivered.

For good news stories you have to rely on conference sessions, awards presentations, the trade press or sector specific journals. Let’s face it, successful governance reviews resulting in streamlined organisations and enhanced member benefits don’t exactly make riveting reading for the nationals – except if you happen to believe in the incredible importance of these activities for all organisations in this sector and the enormous number of people who rely on them getting it right. There are, of course, countless examples of organisations doing it right but, as a proportion of the overall number of organisations in the sector, it simply isn’t enough.

Most, if not all, of these debacles will be analysed and found to be entirely due to poor governance structures, lack of oversight, an unwillingness to change and/or financial mismanagement. All of these grim scenarios can be avoided by proper training and access to readily available expert advice.

So, to avoid any shocking and unwelcome future publicity you should be asking yourself a couple of key questions:

1 - The best advice is to arrange full governance audits at least every three years. How long has it been since our last governance review?
2 - What do we know is a problem which really needs to be resolved?
3 - What could be improved by taking an objective look at how we do things around here?

If the questions feel uncomfortable or if you are not sure how to begin then we would be happy to work with you to make a start.We can be contactedhereand our first discussion will be free of charge.

Outgoing officers – wise words, legacy or opportunity?

I recently read the following from the outgoing President of an organisation of which I am a long-time member.  When asked what he found most rewarding about being President he said “I was Treasurer for three years before taking on the top slot, so was fortunate to know how things ticked.  Yes, there is the chairing of meetings, overseeing charitable governance and helping steer a large organisation but, in essence, the role of President is about narrowing the gap between staff and Council members and our members and customers.  A President is important as it links Council with the Leadership Team and must ensure both parties listen to each other.  The President is also there to support fundraising  and give projects more visibility.” 

When asked what had changed over his time as President he said “For many years, everyone in the organisation worked in silos – there wasn’t enough working together, whether in Council, Committees, different divisions.  The new Director General has instilled a new approach and that has made people aware of what others are doing.  If you’re always thinking of your own work, you don’t recognise how it can impact on colleagues.  But things have altered: cultural change in an organisation is difficult and can take a long time, but already it has yielded enormous benefits.”

You may or may not agree with everything he says but it all echoes my recent discussions with an organisation which is debating some fundamental changes to the “we’ve always done it this way” scenario.The questions always boil down to one conundrum in the end – how can we best serve our members, still listen to the long standing member, include the views of new or potential members and still make best use of precious resources.The answers to this ongoing conundrum for many organisations will mean detailed discussions on the pros and cons of making structural and governance changes.It will also mean setting a strategy which takes notice of all the stressors but which contains only those elements which can be delivered in a sensible and timely way, i.e. affording what you are promising to do.Too frequently organisations over-promise but under-deliver and that is one of the easiest routes to damaging reputations.

A change of personnel in honorary officer roles is often a good moment to pause and take stock so if you are trying to make brave decisions but cannot see the way forward, then I’d love to help by assisting your discussions.  Just give me a call and we can get things moving for you.

What if ……….. can be resolved

When you haven’t got an office space and everything you own is buried under layers of bubble wrap and dozens of sealed boxes, even the normal parts of life become exercises is self-motivation and finally exhaustion.  Even though it is going to take a while to finish unpacking, the final result is going to be great and the positive elements since we arrived have been a revelation.  We have moved a bit further north and ‘escaped to the country’ and suddenly people smile in the street, wave you through the gap in the traffic and the neighbours bring cake with their welcomes.  What a revelation.

So, what has all this got to do with the governance of third sector organisations?  For me, it is the fact of having had to get everything back in order as fast as possible, filling out endless forms, spending hours on the phone to do the simplest thing, do and repeat until it is resolved, that provides the connection. 

Do you have any idea how your organisation would react to a really dramatic change in its circumstances? Do you have a disaster recovery plan? Have the discussions that led to the creation of your annual strategy used the simple method of asking the ‘what if’ questions to inform that strategy?  A huge range of traumatic scenarios could have a disastrous effect on services to members so knowing how you might cope is really essential.

What if we had a catastrophic IT failure?

What if we discovered a serious data breach?

What if we discovered an unforeseen hole in our finances?

What if too many staff resigned simultaneously?

What if there was an office fire over the weekend?

What if the behaviour of a  board or staff member caused serious reputational damage?

Is your organisation’s governance robust enough and is your board sufficiently well informed and confident enough to ride out the storm?

If the answer to that question is either ‘no’ or ‘I’m not sure’ then having the discussions which lead to a ‘yes’ must be a matter of urgency.  You may know that some element of the way the organisation functions should be enhanced. Imagine if that thing that has been annoying you for ages was no longer a problem. If you are trying to make decisions about where to go for assistance or you would like to talk about something you are currently facing, then I’d love to help. 

Just call for a no obligation first chat.

Incidentally, as I’m now located in Bedfordshire, if you are a new neighbour of mine (or know an organisation which is) then I’d be delighted to buy you a cup of coffee.  Do let me know which your favourite coffee emporiums in the county are! 

Remember, what if ……

What to do when people don’t tell you the truth

Over the last few years, while working with individuals to enhance and express their professionalism, it has always seemed to me that the most productive approach is always to look for the best in everyone.  Just occasionally, however, I come up against people who truly challenge that belief and that is very disturbing. 

In general, we rely on people to tell us the truth either at home or at work.  Sadly, we occasionally encounter situations when people either don’t tell the truth, are evasive or just won’t communicate.  The result is that we then need to find a way to respond to them that allows us to maintain our own values and that is not always easy.

I am currently personally involved in a distressingly negative situation, so I thought I would share the experience and see what you make of it.  After a very long search, we have finally found a new house which means that we can make some looked-for changes in our lifestyle.  So far, so good.  That part of the process has been perfect, with all the elements falling into place in a painless and virtually seamless way as the professionals involved have all done their jobs efficiently and without fuss.

In stark comparison has been the behaviour of the ‘professionals’ involved in the sale of our current property.  Their combined lack of honesty and unwillingness to communicate  have rendered this part of the transaction utterly traumatic.  One would, perhaps, expect more when one of the professions is overseen by a regulation authority. 

There is an old quote which says ‘If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything’ (attributed to Mark Twain) and this has been really well demonstrated by the fact that every ensuing statement has either contradicted or negated the untruth that went before it.  There have been days when we have seriously doubted our own sanity in trying to unravel the spaghetti of falsehoods. 

And while enduring the pain of this process, continually in the back of my mind has been page 55 of my book Professionalism – the ABC for Success which is headed ‘Honesty’ and discusses the benefits of this key professionalism attribute.  My advice in that section, when having to deal with those for whom Honesty is not quite so important, is to rise above it and move on.  Wise words but oh! so difficult to achieve.               

I hope you haven’t been affected by this type of behaviour, but if you’d like to talk about key aspects of professionalism then do give me a call.

And what was the question?

We all know that finding ways to achieve great governance is hugely important and, thankfully, now high on everyone’s agenda.

But before getting started on finding that all-important way forward, all organisations need to make sure that they are asking the questions they really want answered.  In other words, are you about to build something on solid foundations?

One of the basic tenets of unpicking any enquiry question is to ALWAYS go back at least one or two steps to check if you are getting right to the bottom of any perceived problem.

As an illustration of why this is so critical, I was recently asked a seemingly innocent question, the answer to which would solve a particular problem.  However, in order to answer it in such a way that it wouldn’t create any further new problems, we unpacked the issue by working backwards a couple of steps to find out whether the organisation was actually asking the right question in the first place.  The act of unpicking the original question and identifying the issues which had led to asking it, ostensibly to find a way out of an immediate difficulty, turned out to be a huge bonus and prevented the organisation from losing a decent chunk of revenue. 

As it turns out, an alternative and better way was found as a result of the more detailed examination of the current context and took them down a different avenue, leading to a much more satisfactory resolution.  It wasn’t a million miles away from the original question but it certainly wasn’t exactly as previously envisaged.

If you would benefit from assistance in asking the right questions or you would like to talk about the issues you are currently facing, then I’d love to help. Just give me a call and we will find your best way forward.