Gratitude, homework and what's next for you in 2018?

I would like to say thank you very much to all the wonderful people and organisations I have worked with in 2017.  It has been an absolute pleasure and we have had some real successes. I am looking forward to next year with excitement.

I'd also like to leave you with something important to consider over the next few weeks. Once you have eaten all the mince pies and are suitably relaxed, at some point your thoughts will inevitably turn to what you will be doing in 2018.  So, as you start to wind up again after the New Year, the first part of your homework is to think honestly and carefully about whether your governance arrangements and structures get an honourable mention in both your strategy and budget documents. 

Why is this important? Because without routinely considering whether your governance follows best practice the management of your organisation is missing an essential and critical component.

So, to paraphrase a well-known author, if not then why not?  Think about why you haven't yet included regular governance reviews in your planning processes and whether you should start to include it from now on.

At a large mixed networking event the other day, someone asked me why I spend so much of my time helping NFPs to improve their governance.  The answer, to me, is so obvious that the question surprised me.  Without excellent governance arrangements in place, NFPs will not be able to ensure that they are best placed to deliver their services efficiently and effectively.  It's as simple as that.

So, to put governance in context, it is just another essential management function for the organisation to ensure that all parts of the organisation and its resources (both human and physical) are being best utilised, without wastage, delay or conflict.  

The second part of your homework is to work out what £2,250 represents as a percentage of your annual income, how many subscriptions does it represent, how does it compare to your IT and telephony costs, what proportion of your trading earnings would you need to set aside to afford it? 

If you agree that excellent governance is an essential function of management, will the cost of my governance offer till the end of March next year be money well spent to secure the robust functioning and future of your organisation? 

You couldn't survive for long without working IT and the same applies to effective governance arrangements.  They are the safe foundation on which all the rest depends and so must inevitably be included in both your strategic planning and budgeting arrangements.  Once your initial review is complete then good practice requires that it need only occur once every three years. 

Best practice is not cast in stone.  Your organisation is unique, so a one-size standard solution is not the answer.  Your governance arrangements must be suitable for you and enable your organisation to move forward with everything else without worrying that your structures are impeding your progress.

Doing nothing about this very important issue is a risk.  It is said that those who don't take risks are trying to preserve what they have but those who do often end up by achieving more.  What does your organisation want to do next?

If you would like to take advantage of this time-limited offer or need help with any governance, strategic or operational issues just call me and we will start the New Year off just right together.

Get a grip on your Governance

This month I had the pleasure, once again, of running the Governance Surgery at the Trade Association Forum Best Practice Exchange.  Each year, we prove that more than two heads are better than one as we discuss the governance issues which are concerning Chief Executives and Senior Managers from a wide range of organisations.

In previous years we’ve looked at (among other things) skills auditing; measuring board effectiveness; board inductions; getting the most out of your board.  This time we looped back to 2013 when we looked at some common issues in a session we called ‘Pain, purpose & potential’ - which I remember as being quite lively! And this year was no different, with those at the session offering advice and solace to their fellows, especially the comfort of knowing they are not alone.

This year, three different triggers got me thinking about the theme for our discussions.  Firstly, the recent Halloween festivities forcibly put me in mind of skeletons in cupboards and the sorts of things I unearth when I carry out full governance audits, some of which have been deeply buried for a long time and, often, very deliberately. 

         I also came across two quotes I hadn’t seen for a while and which felt very relevant:

Douglas Adams - "I love deadlines. I especially like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by"  

Dalai Lama -Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly”

And thirdly, the Charity Commission has finally published its new guidance code which now acknowledges that third sector organisations of all kinds (not just charities which end up in the public eye because they implode for various reasons) should submit to external governance reviews every three years as a minimum.

         All of this made me wonder how many of the non-profit organisations out there are actually in a good place.  For example, are they ready for the implementation of GDPR – for which we’ve had a lot of advance warning - and which we are NOT going to discuss here – and how ready would they also be for any other (unexpected) change coming down the pipeline in the next couple of years.  Because I think we can fairly well guarantee that ‘business as usual’ is not where we are going.

I’ve been working recently with a variety of CEOs and their range of difficulties illustrate very well the dilemmas that lots of organisation are facing:

- strains being created because of uncertainty

- falling membership numbers & income as a result of unclear market conditions

- stresses being caused by lack of resources – both money and staff.

CEOs and their SMTs are spending more and more time on strategy and prioritisation and SERIOUSLY not needing added stress about their governance structures or boards which don’t really know what is expected of them or how to achieve it.

So perhaps the questions that we need to think and talk about are simply these:

1           How can your organisation be sure it is in the best place regarding its current governance arrangements?   You can download this guide “7 things to do NOW to go from OK to Excellent Governance” as a starter.

2       Do you know how long and how much effort it would take to audit/review those arrangements and be sure you are ready to tackle what is coming? Just give me a call to benefit from my end of year offer – a two-day Fixed term/Fixed fee Governance Review.

In other words – get an immediate grip on your governance!! 

If you need help with any governance, strategic or operational issues in your organisation or you are not sure what to tackle first, just call me and we will get your show on the road together.

What have membership organisations and puppies got in common?

An unbelievably bizarre analogy occurred to me the other day while I was visiting my daughter and her lunatic dog, Bella. In advance of some more serious governance activities which I will be telling you about in the next few weeks, I thought I would share it with you.  We are, after all, approaching the silly season.

Bella is super-friendly and shows me how much she loves me every time I see her, to the extent of not being able to greet anyone else until I have shown her that I love her right back.  Seeing her when I visit is always a pleasure.  But I’m also aware of how much work is needed to keep the mess and chaos she is able to create down to a dull roar. 

It’s the same for membership organisations.  The best ones will always make you feel incredibly welcome.  The best of the best, however, can make you feel like you are their most important member.  Bella makes me feel like I’m the only person in the world who can save her from starvation so I give her dog biscuits even though I know for a fact that she has a perfectly balanced diet which keeps her healthy.  I know that the associations of which I am a member would not fall apart without me but I know that the more involved I am, the better off we both are.  I am a sucker for Bella’s big brown eyes in just the same way that I am a sucker for an organisation which makes me feel unique or in some way special.

Are you feeling the analogy yet?

Even before I reach the front door and am able to see her, I can hear her making welcoming noises and it makes me smile. Then the first thing I see is her tail wagging furiously and then she rushes up to greet me, waiting to be cuddled.  So, there is all the effort you make to reach out so that your members will put themselves in the place where they can continuously benefit from your services.

I know she’s there, waiting to give me her special greeting, even if I don’t see her that often.  And I know I will get enormous pleasure from the lavish attention she will shower on me. Even when I’m talking to someone else, she will sidle up and nudge me till she gets my attention and then demands that I pay attention to her for a while.

Now I know my daughter is working furiously in the background to keep it all tidy but it’s her choice to have a dog in first place and she makes sure that I don’t see the mess – just hear about the funny bits. This is definitely the best of all worlds.  Well-run organisations make sure that members think it’s seamless.

Bella is reliable in her affection for me and always grateful for my attention to her.  A perfect symbiosis.  Even if she or I unintentionally let the lovefest get out of hand, someone else is always around to clean up the mess. There’s that analogy again.

So, how good is your two-way relationship with your members?

Incredibly, it seems that membership associations and cute puppy dogs have an amazing amount in common. Who knew? Just how much surprised me.  I hope the analogy raises a smile next time you think about your relationship with your members.

In the meantime, if you need help with any governance, strategic or operational issues in your organisation or you are not sure what to tackle first, just call me and we will get your show on the road together.

How not to drown in irrelevance and stay on track

OK, here’s the scenario.  You’ve been away on leave and had a wonderful rest, recharging your batteries for the coming months.  Excellent.  You also did exactly the right thing and turned your emails and social media off so that you gave your brain a complete rest as well as your body.  Definitely excellent.  But now you’re back and you’ve switched everything back on and you are having to sort out the very small number of interesting/important/relevant messages from the deluge of news, advertising, and absolute rubbish that has landed while you have been away. 

I don’t think any of us really pay attention to the number of items that we automatically send to ‘trash’ in a day.  Our personal scan/review/trash filters work in overtime most days without us even noticing.  This ability to filter is incredibly important and one of the best mechanisms for protecting us from the ever-increasing ‘noise’ in our lives. 

However, it comes into direct conflict with possibly the best single piece of advice any coach or mentor can offer someone who wants to plan or enhance their personal future - and that is to read widely and read often.  I’ve written about this issue a couple of times (here and here) because it will always be a significant route to self-improvement.  There is a third and equally significant driver at work here and that is the need to stay up-to-date in a world where change happens in the blink of an eye.  Our need to stay informed about issues which are relevant to our personal and work lives is huge and can impact on our ability to plan and prepare wisely and in a timely way.

So how can you balance these contrasting needs – to prevent yourself drowning in irrelevant rubbish while ensuring that you can zoom in on items that could be helpful or, at the very least, informative?

The answer is really simple and doesn’t require any high-tech solutions except, perhaps, a clock or timer. Do these four things:

·     Make a decision that you will spend only 15/30/45 minutes a day reading what appears in your inboxes and scanning further afield and then decide what time of day you are going to do it.  Make it regular, make it a habit and you won’t be tempted to drift into the temptation to keep clicking again and again.  

·     Commit to reading something outside your comfort zone once in a while.  You will be amazed!

·     To reduce your stress levels, if you choose to read regular feeds from a particular source, avoid those built on headlines and hysteria, choose instead those based on fact and analysis.

·     Unsubscribe to anything you don’t need for a specific purpose.  You don’t have to feel guilty about deciding the content isn’t for you and the list owner won’t mind!

If you would like to chat about any personal, professional development or productivity issues you are having, then I’d love to help you so do give me a call.

Don’t ignore the signs – enjoy your summer break

I meet a lot of people who tell me that they never take a holiday or they only take a couple of days out of their leave allowance.  Their logic is that they are too busy and it would be unproductive.  These are usually the same people who never take breaks during the working day, except pit stops or smoke breaks, and eat lunch either on the run or at their desks.  These are probably also the same people whose tempers get rattier as the day progresses and sleep beyond their home train stop.

Wrong, wrong, wrong!!!

No-one can cope at that pace for long.  Your body has a finite capacity for this level of overwork and it needs regular breaks and regular refreshment during the day.  Contrary to the belief of some, you are far more productive if you take breaks to chat with colleagues or go for a walk to get some fresh air.  We all need to be able to switch off regularly, so working 24/7 and 7/7 is seldom a good idea.  Granted, there are occasions when a particular piece of work needs a heads-down, must-complete approach but not all day and every day.  That is a recipe for disaster.

One of the skills we all need to cultivate is to listen to our bodies when they are telling us that something is wrong.  Not just that we are about to suffer a bout of ill-health, that is an out-of-the-ordinary occurrence.  I’m talking about those moments when you have to realise that you are either too stressed, too tired or too overworked to function normally.  And that can happen a lot at this time of year.

For a perfect example of that moment when you have to step back and realise that five minutes peace and quiet is going to be of immediate benefit, I offer what happened to me yesterday.  Honestly, I’m shocked at this because I’m usually quite good at self-monitoring.  I bet you’ve had that moment when you put a credit card in a machine at the till and, for a split second, you can’t remember the PIN number.  Fine. It happens. How about being utterly, totally, completely unable to remember the button press sequence for the TV remote control?  I kid you not! I have tried to calculate how many times I must do this virtually automatic action every week.  Quite a few I think, and we’ve had this TV for a couple of years so the total must be huge! So how overloaded must I be if I simply cannot remember how to do it and am standing in front of the TV with literally no muscle memory to assist me?  Talk about brain freeze – it was terrifying.  Ever been there? If so, I bet you don’t want to experience it again – I certainly don’t.  Time to down tools and enjoy a well-earned rest.

If you would like to chat about any productivity or prevarication issues you are having, then I’d love to help you so do give me a call. In the meantime, I hope you have a wonderful summer.

Hate to say I told you so!

I’ve been saying for a very long time how essential it is for non-profit organisations of all types to review their governance arrangements every two or three years.  People move on, organisations evolve and - heaven knows – the world around us is changing at a rate of knots.

Now the Charity Commission has published its new Charity Governance Code, which replaces the old Code of Good Governance and there is a defined expectation for larger charities to submit to external governance reviews every three years.  Stating that it was important for charities to focus on governance, it is ‘as much about behaviours as it is about mechanical practices’.

So there you have it.  We are all agreed that it is essential to take time out to ensure that your organisation is being run and supported as effectively as possible. 

If you need help with any elements of reviewing governance, strategy or operational issues in your organisation or you are not sure what to tackle first, just call me and we will get your show on the road together.

Investing in your staff is always a safe return, so if you have staff that are new in post, have only been with you for a few months or perhaps are returning from long term leave of some kind, it would be a great idea to send them on the SAMP training day.  The next one will be held on 29th September in London so you have time to book places.  This is a great route to fully engaged, capable staff, who can support your members.

“The training was absolutely brilliant! It was relevant, fresh, insightful and very engaging”.

“I wish I had something like this at the beginning of my career.”

How to get what you want without being difficult

My grandmother was a difficult woman. To be fair, I now realise that she was a product of her upbringing, they had very little and fought for everything they achieved. "Tell them what's what!" she would say and, inevitably, she would get her own way but being on the receiving end was not pleasant, and it didn't matter if you were family or not. Her opening salvos were always in broadcast mode and she most definitely was not listening - about anything. In fact, she was always right - no discussion. 

But that never worked for me. Even though I have to admit that, physically, I can see more resemblance to her as I get older and I seem to have inherited some of her dynamic characteristics, I will never allow myself or those around me to employ her tactics. The reasons are simple - they are horrible and they don't work.

In order to achieve what you want or need in any discussion or negotiation, you have to listen carefully.  More than that, you have to employ the greatest professionalism skill of them all, you need to engage your empathy button. You must try to see and understand what is motivating the other person in your discussion or negotiation.  Without doing that, you are likely to fail in achieving a mutually acceptable result. And that would be a pity.

If you would like to read a bit more about this important skill, then download my free workbook here.

If you think all your colleagues would benefit from practising these skills a little more then give me a call to arrange an in house workshop.

The Boy Scouts were right – Be Prepared! But you might get unexpected results.

Wow! I hate heatwaves and so, it seems, does the rail network.  Which meant that, early evening with the temperature at its maximum for the day, I found myself jammed into a train which had four carriages instead of the advertised 12.  You can imagine the scene. People were melting and miserable as we waited for the train to start moving and perhaps provide a bit of a breeze. 

Now the advice is to take a bottle of water with you on occasions like this and I did start the day with one in my bag but managed to leave it behind on the table at my final meeting.  So, foolishly, that source of rescue was gone.  But I was a little better prepared than that and had a fan with me so now was definitely the time for Plan B.  And that’s when it happened.

As soon as I started to wave my fan to create my personal haven, everyone around me started talking and asking out loud why they hadn’t thought to own/bring one.  And it spread, right through the carriage, with people laughing at their misery and wondering why we all put up with such traumas.  And then the gent opposite laughingly offered to buy my fan and the bidding reached £150, with me refusing – naturally!  No amount of money was going to part me from my fan and the solution it represented. 

Eventually, the train started moving and the breeze cooled things down to a more reasonable blood-boiling level.  Then I started wondering.  Fans have been used for centuries by both men and women in many cultures as a means of creating personal comfort (and communication if you read social history).  People do naturally use anything to hand – bits of paper, books, even rail tickets in desperation.  So why not own, carry and use a fan which is the most effective solution to the problem?  Answers on a postcard please – not really!

How to deal with badly behaved colleagues

This week I heard about an issue at work that’s not that uncommon, where someone’s ego has overtaken their good sense and is causing problems for everyone around them.  We all have bad days at work.  Something happens unexpectedly to ruin the day or expectations are not met or something demotivating or denigrating is said.  I’ve never understood why some people feel it’s OK to make life difficult or unpleasant for other people.

There have been two occasions when I have been shattered by the unexpected at work – once I didn’t see it coming at all, once when I should have seen it coming but didn’t.

The first was about some research I completed for the Department of Health which my line manager then passed off as her own work, removing my name completely from the published document.  The second was when I was pushed over a glass cliff (like a glass ceiling only more painful!) in a way designed to cause the maximum stress and insult to me and to my role in the organisation.

These were two very dissimilar incidents – or were they?  With hindsight – such a wonderful viewing lens – they had one thing in common and that was a total lack of professionalism from those involved in creating the trauma.

There are, of course, occasions when standing your ground and maintaining the moral high ground is the right course of action.  However, there are also times when there is no good reason to stay to be a party to their dishonesty and machinations. What would you have done in these cases?  You can read what I did at the foot of this article.

These sorts of problems happen in all types of organisations and all sectors of the economy so you have probably witnessed these kinds of incidents.  Unfortunately, a fair number of us will have been on the receiving end.  So, what can we do to make sure that we can rise above the abuse or provocation and behave in a mature and measured way? 

Well, I’ve said it here before and I will say it again.  Excellence in all things, professionalism as a way of life. 

Take a look at The Golden Rules and feel free to download them.  Put them up over your desk or hand them to someone who looks to be on the brink of losing control.

If you would like more tools and tips to develop your workplace skills and self-protection then How to Spot a Dinosaur will be useful.  You might even choose to share it with your colleagues!

Or give me a call if you have an issue you would like to discuss in detail. Our first chat is free of charge.

What was my response?

After much heart searching and acknowledging to myself how furious I was at such treatment, I retained my dignity by walking away from the insult.  In both cases I knew that I had completed my work, had acted with excellence and professionalism as I normally did, so it was their loss not mine. 

The aftermath was even more interesting!

In the first case, I ensured that I had an exit interview so that my views were conveyed to management.  It transpired that they already knew what she had done and - amazingly - she had done it before.  So, I felt completely justified in leaving as they obviously did not have the courage to tackle such a critical professionalism issue inside their organisation.

In the second case, I later found out that all concerned had lost their jobs within the ensuing 18 months because the organisation realised that it had to get its house in order.  So, I was justified in not putting up with the treatment I had received. 

Talk about live and learn!

Can you cope with surprises?

I must confess that I’ve never been too fond of February.  And I don’t think I’m alone.  It usually feels like the world is in waiting, with the weather and the news also conspiring to make us feel a bit low.  I’m told that 31st January is the peak day for people to hand in their notice so that also turns February into limbo-time if you’re waiting for that bright new start. 

However, this year has taken me by surprise.  I’m not in limbo, I’m frantically busy and it will probably be mid-March before I have time to blink.  Yesterday I had to apologise to a potential new client that I could not accommodate the date he wanted in my diary.  That’s a disappointment.

I’m sure you know I’m not going to be moaning about being in this happy position.  I had an inkling back in the autumn when a few things were being pre-booked but the extent of the additional work has taken me a bit by surprise – a very good surprise, of course. The result of all this is that I am relying on meticulous planning, self-discipline and organisation to make everything fit.  More about that in a future blog.

So, let me ask a question.  Have you ever thought about how you cope with surprises at work and at home – and let’s not forget that they can be good news or ones that make us not quite so happy.  What makes you able to cope with anything that is thrown at you with grace and without coming apart at the seams (well not in public at least)?

There are a range of professionalism attitudes and qualities which come into play to help you: self-confidence, politeness, adaptability, professional maturity, responsiveness, responsibility, to name but a few.  Time and experience can help us to acquire and implement these qualities but there are a great many which combine to ensure that we exhibit professionalism in every situation. 

So, what if you are in the early stages of your career or have reached some sort of career decision point and need a guide or road map to help you move in the right direction?  That might be a cue to think about the very definite benefits of finding a mentor who can be there to listen to your questions and to support you in working out the next best step.  

And sometimes we need shortcuts to absorb the right knowledge at exactly the right moment.  So, because I can’t think of anything more important for anyone in the workplace, I’d like to help you to identify and utilise every quality you need to implement your workplace professionalism and ensure that those surprises don’t make your life difficult.  Just click through and use this special code - TREATU2017 to get an 80% discount on the online course, the ABC of Professionalism.  I’m here to help if you get stuck or want to talk things through. 

And as for February, perhaps I should begin to expect more not less happy surprises in the future – time will tell!