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.

Small decision, big result

I have never really bought into the whole new year resolutions thing.  If something is important enough that you need to make an effort to change it then surely that can happen at any time of the year.  Yet that doesn’t stop me from thinking about what small adjustment might make a real difference or improvement in my life.

At the moment, we are all increasingly aware of the unpleasant, unhelpful, rude or just plain abusive elements in the public life of this and other countries.  Like you, I find it very distressing and worry about its corrosive effects.

So how can we prevent those kinds of attitudes and behaviours from creeping into our private and work lives?  Well, I made a decision – which I thought in my case was better than making a resolution with its inbuilt potential for failure.  I decided to radically reduce the amount of time I spend watching or reading the news or drifting through Twitter.  LinkedIn is largely work related and, on the whole, politics and abuse-free, so that should be OK although I have reduced my time on that site too. 

The results, so far, are very positive and I can honestly say I feel that I am keeping most of the ‘nastiness’ at bay.  How long it will last, I have no idea.   But so far, so good.  Small decision, big result.

This is a very personal view and may well not be appropriate for everyone but I am sure that there is an adjustment you can make which will help you start the year off in a more positive frame of mind.So let me know if you would like another ear to listen to your decision-making. Do give me a call as I’d love to help.

New start or same old?

We’ve welcomed in the New Year and that’s nice but I have a feeling that a good number of you will be saying ‘OK but it looks a lot like last year’.  So, here’s your problem.  You have a great plan which will enable you to transform the way you work with and talk to your members.  It probably involves some clever new technology that could save you time, stress and precious resources.  But your board won’t commit any funds as they don’t really understand how it could improve the strategy or, indeed, how the tech works because you haven’t been able to recruit a new board member with really forward-looking digital skills.  What are you going to do? 

The need for good governance is thankfully now on everyone’s agenda.  However, there are still far too many associations who have not made any progress on reviewing their governance arrangements in the last three years.  That is a great pity as the need for good governance continues to be recognised as the number one issue for organisations of all types and sizes. 

Client organisations and those I meet when out and about at conferences or networking events tell me that they still struggle to bring up the subject internally, let alone have a rational discussion as to what they should be doing to enable them to develop and move forward.  This inevitably means that those brave plans are likely to be shelved yet again.  That is both frustrating and unnecessary.

Fortunately, we can help and it need not be difficult or costly.

If you are trying to make decisions about where to go for assistance or you would like to talk about the issues you are currently facing, then I’d love to help.The easy first step is just to give me a call and we will find a cunning plan that will put you on the right path.

Your checklist for returning to work after the summer break

OK, we’re back after our summer break.  Some of us had a restful holiday and some of us weren’t that lucky, even though that was the intention.  Sometimes it just doesn’t work out as we intended does it?  Life just has a habit of getting in the way sometimes even though, with the best of intentions, we turn off the phone and vow to only turn it on once a day – just to check, just in case – and when we do then disaster strikes. Oh dear!
Even so, the time passes and we cope with what needs to be done and then suddenly it’s time to go back to work.  Then we realise that all that planned summer thinking time has gone straight out the window.  So, what do we do?  Well, in truth, we cope and we move on.  Each day is what you make of it and, as I read often in the motivational tweets that keep turning up, you must choose how you deal with what is thrown at you.  It’s your attitude to what happens to you that is the most significant aspect of each day.  And professionalism is all about attitude isn’t it?

If you’re lucky then going back to work is a return to doing what brings you a great deal of satisfaction.  However, going back following a break can also make you face things that you may have just been tolerating for a while.  You may not have had much time to think but the distance may have given you some perspective.  That perspective may mean that you need to confront a need to make a shift of some sort.

We have all stayed in roles or jobs that honestly didn’t make us as happy or fulfilled as their potential once offered.   It can be easier to tolerate the issues than to spend time thinking about what we really want or putting in the effort to do an audit of our skills and examining what would really motivate us to get up in the morning with a smile on our faces.

At this time of year there are probably a lot of people on the move from jobs they don’t like or in an effort to find something more fulfilling.  It might also be quite a relief to get rid of that nightmare boss who fails to appreciate just how much effort you have been putting in or refuses to find a reason to promote you or offer that pay rise you have most definitely earned.  The research shows, by the way, that bad bosses are the thing that people leave, not necessarily the organisations they work for and that’s a great pity and a waste of talent.

So, if you do decide to move and find that magic next role, the next thing you are going to need is a good induction process to get you started in a really positive way.  You may remember that I’ve tackled this before and you can read the blog post here

Interestingly, many similar issues apply when employees return to work after a long absence and you can download my free checklist for returners here.

So, how do you decide if it’s the right time to move?  What do you need to consider which will help you to make that all-important decision?  Writing a ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ list can definitely help to build the evidence for either decision but if you need an objective ear to help with your choices, then I’d love to help you.  Do give me a call or book a one-to-one mentoring slot and we can work through your options.

The problem with a quick and easy fix

Over recent years, it has become far too easy to find a cheap and easy alternative to almost anything.  The problem now is that the cheap and easy alternative has almost become the preferred option to rigour and the real deal because, in general, they offer a quick and ‘painless’ fix.  But we know that meaningful change or evolution is neither quick nor painless but can lead you to a better place.

So how do we illustrate this phenomenon?  The most obvious example over the last few months has been the proliferation of ‘GDPR experts’ selling their course or their tool to sort out everyone’s supposed issues with GDPR.  It is now becoming obvious that some weird and potentially deadly advice has been peddled by individuals who had never heard about data protection or an individual’s privacy rights a year ago.  A specialist data protection colleague was approached by an individual wanting ‘a couple of hours of your time to tell me what I need to know so that I can be a consultant’.  Ouch!

Another example I’ve come across recently is an individual purporting to be expert enough in governance to allow their client to think that they have resolved their governance issues.  Sorry chaps, governance theory doesn’t apply to the work you were talked into doing and you’re going to need more help to sort it all out to achieve the desired correct outcomes.  

There is only one thing that these and other examples prove and that is that doing your research can prevent you from being led down the garden path.  If something looks too good to be true, then it should generally be avoided.  If an organisation decides that they want a badge and they want it now but are not prepared to either do any work to achieve it, then the cheap and easy route will cover their requirements because that is all the effort that they are prepared to invest in their future.

The risks attached to choosing cheap and easy options over the rigorous and more difficult path are both short and long term.  In both cases your reputation is at risk as, at some point, the lack of quality in the cheap/fake versions will become obvious.  For non-profit organisations, there is also a risk that those who choose to go down this route, whether staff or volunteers, will eventually face questions as to the decision-making process which chose the cheap rather than the robust option.  Don’t let that be your choice.

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

Is your iceberg melting?

It seems clear that a large number of organisations are avoiding tackling their governance issues because they believe that the ensuing changes would be too difficult to implement.
So here is a way out of that dilemma.  

In their book ‘Our Iceberg is Melting’, John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber use classic storytelling – in fact it’s a fable - to demonstrate how managing change can be very successful if simplified and tackled in the right way.

So, as we drift into the summer break when grabbing a few moments for a quiet read is possible, ask yourself what’s better for your organisation.  The status quo or something better?

Grab a copy of the book, take a few moments to read it – it’s quite short – and you may begin to change your mind as you visualise the possibilities. 

If you know it’s been a long time since your last governance review and you need to understand how to begin, then I’d love to help.  Just give me a call and we will find your best way forward.

The weird run up to the summer break...

This has been a weird run-up to the summer break.  Although diaries are finally starting to clear and the ‘out-of-office’ messages are starting to multiply as people disappear for their holiday breaks, we can’t say that we didn’t notice the change in the season this year.  The weather is astonishing and is making people run for cover.  What a great excuse to sit down and do nothing much.
I’ve always looked forward to this time of year as a great space to recharge my internal batteries. If you are lucky enough to be taking a break or even for those of us still at work, this is a real opportunity to find a bit of shade, slow down a bit and catch up on some thinking time and then carve out some equally precious reading time.

As the saying goes, ‘so many books – so little time’.  So, what to read?  Well, it is summer after all and you probably want to start with something relaxing, perhaps that fabulous novel you were given at Christmas which has been sitting waiting for your attention? But after that, perhaps something relevant for work or enhancing your own skills?

Having difficulties with change at work?  Try ‘Our Iceberg is Melting’ by John Kotter or ‘Who Moved my Cheese’ by Dr Spencer Johnson.

Having trouble getting stuff done?  Try ’18 Minutes’ by Peter Bregman

Want to make sure that everyone gets it right first time?  You must read ‘The Checklist’ by Atul Gawande.    In fact, I think everyone should read this book ….

Or perhaps ask a colleague or line manager which book they would recommend. It could start a great discussion. 

I hope your recharging will be most enjoyable and get you ready for what’s next.  Happy reading!

If your reading list is too short then I’d love to help you so do give me a call.