It just isn’t cricket!

I know not everyone is a fan of cricket.  Some see it as a slow and uninteresting game but recent developments in creating the 20/20 version of the game have made it much more exciting and watchable.  But, even so, you can’t help but be underwhelmed when a team truly underperforms.  Even the most avid football fan will tell you that everyone can have a bad day.

Take a look at the first game in the current England test series against Pakistan.  The format was the traditional game so you’d think that everyone would know how to play it, nothing fancy, nothing new.  But it was a truly sad spectacle.  This was NOT a team displaying their combined skills, this was a group of individuals who had turned up to bat a few balls around, except for the two youngest, most inexperienced players who, when their turn came, played an absolute blinder and rescued their more senior team mates from total obliteration. 

But individual brilliance still did not mean that you could ignore the fact that the rest of the team didn’t turn up.  Why were they not able to read the situation around them, why did they seem so unprepared, why weren’t they contributing appropriately?

These are big questions for the team coaches and you wonder what on earth they could or should have said to them, both as a team and, perhaps, individually, which meant that effectively a new team turned up for the next test and played so much better.

So, you have to ask yourself, were they confused? Did they not remember that they were supposed to be playing the traditional game that day?  There was one other team member who got it right and he was just doing what he does best, playing his usual game.  You would assume that they’d had some practice so did they just not care enough?

I’m fairly sure that this will ring bells for you in working with those around you because I have certainly seen it on occasion.  The meeting that goes so wrong because no-one seems to have done any prep, the project that comes apart at the seams because it all feels a bit like a headless chicken.  Do you believe that all your colleagues are dedicated to the idea of delivering their very best game on every project, every day, no matter what is going on around them?  I’d hazard a guess that your answer might be ‘sometimes’.   That doesn’t help does it? So could you find a way round the problems you might be encountering?

So here are the questions that we all have to ask ourselves every day:

-  Is my behaviour appropriate for the context in which I find myself?

- Am I going to excel at what I’m good at today?

- Am I confident enough in my skills to know that I’m delivering the very best?

- Am I trying to be something that I’m not?

The best advice that anyone can receive is the right advice at the right time, when it is relevant and when it will help.  Everybody needs that advice at some point in their careers.  So, if you would like to chat, either about your own issues or, perhaps, on behalf of your team, then I’d love to hear from you.  Just give me a call.

MEMX2018: Networking Value in a Nutshell – the Governance Surgery

Originally published on the Memberwise website here.

With only a few weeks to go before this year’s Membership Excellence 2018 conference (http://membershipexcellence.com), this is probably the best time to talk about the value of networking.  But what is that value and where is its relevance to the issues surrounding governance for membership organisations and associations?

We all take for granted that there will be networking opportunities at conferences, mostly taking place at the social times in the day’s agenda, which may or may not offer good links if you are fortunate in meeting the right people.  That can be an accidental process and, the bigger the conference, the more random our interactions become as we move through the day and in and out of various subject sessions.

However, networking should also be about benefits and, more specifically, the benefit of sharing both knowledge and personal experience.  One of the sessions in our Governance stream is designed to provide just that.  The pre-lunch “Governance Surgery – Get it Right and Keep It That Way”, offers an amazing opportunity for peer-to-peer discussions supplemented by the ability to pick the brains of the governance experts who will be leading the session.

This is not just about the standard ‘guided’ thinking of the more formal governance sessions earlier in the morning but a chance to take comfort from the knowledge that you are not alone.  One of the things I hear time and again from client Chief Executives and other Senior Managers is that it can be terribly lonely in these positions of responsibility. That loneliness often means an unwillingness to share your difficulties. Yet once you understand that it is unlikely that your problems are completely unique (allowing for your sector-specific issues), it makes them somehow more manageable and less intimidating.

You can’t do better than to benefit from the experience, knowledge and advice of your peers who understand exactly how you feel and may well have already dealt with some aspect of the problem which is giving you sleepless nights.  Having run these sessions at other conferences, I am always amazed at the generosity demonstrated in supporting colleagues who cannot find the way to solve a conundrum.

So, I look forward to welcoming you to our Surgery session and know that you will leave with a solution or a cunning plan to attempt a resolution, the support of your peers and probably a few phone numbers too.

5 Practical Steps to make sure you don’t become the next headline story

Originally published on Memberwise.org.uk here.

As a member of the Institute of Directors, it has been painful to watch the unfolding story of their governance problems being played out in public over the past week. 

The daily revelations of claim and counter-claim, suspensions and resignations, demonstrate once again that even the biggest and most renowned organisations in our sector are not immune to the terrifying speed at which the results of poor governance decisions can catch up with them and wreck both reputations and credibility.

It would not be appropriate to talk about the various issues or rights and wrongs of this particular case and it is impossible to know what is happening (or has happened) behind closed doors.  However, as a governance specialist working with a wide range of organisations in this sector, I must admit to no particular surprise that even such a well-resourced and prominent organisation has found itself in spectacular difficulties.

Experience tells me that a significant number of membership organisations and associations have been far too lax in maintaining the rigour of their governance arrangements.  Small or seemingly innocent decisions can lead to a cumulative catastrophe. Some organisations sleepwalk into trouble and are surprised to find themselves there while others will knowingly take a chance that nothing bad will happen because it’s been OK up to now.

Unsurprisingly, my immediate and urgent advice is that all organisations should take 5 practical steps right now to ensure that you don’t become the next story in the news headlines.

  1. Ask yourselves how long it has been since you have undertaken a review of your governance arrangements. We have been advising for a long time that this should happen at least once every three years and, in 2017, the revised Charity Governance Code made the same recommendation.  If you have not carried out a review since 2014/2015 then you are overdue and need to begin immediately.
  2. Best practice governance affects everyone; staff, officers and volunteers, members. When you begin your review, ensure that you are totally inclusive in terms of who has the opportunity to put forward their views and opinions.  Transparency is a guiding virtue of an effective review.
  3. It is imperative to ensure that every individual, in every role, has a solid understanding of both their role and their responsibilities. This begins with implementing detailed role descriptors (job requirements and expectations plus person and skills specification) for all staff, officer and volunteer roles. There is more to be achieved here but this is the baseline for effectiveness.
  4. You must have a detailed strategy, short and/or medium term. This sets out what you will be doing, when and why.  Your accompanying business and operations plans describe how you can afford to do it and how it will be implemented.  Without a strategy, it is not uncommon for people to make it up as they go, doing what they think will help rather than what is required.  Be specific and you won’t have to go back and unravel the unwanted.
  5. Write it down – literally or otherwise. Construct precise and detailed processes and procedures and stick to them.  Make no assumptions about how something is done or who does it.  It is counter-productive for alternate versions of the same activity to happen depending on who is in the room at the time.  It also avoids duplication of activity, which can lead to inconsistency, and can be very wasteful on resources.

In other words, don’t be afraid of bringing your governance arrangements up to date.  Just tackle it head on.  If you need assistance, then reach out to a specialist outside your organisation.  An independent eye can be of real benefit in disrupting the status quo or convincing the ‘we don’t need to change’ brigade that the changes they fear will actually bring huge benefit to the organisation.

What did you learn from all that miserable weather? We have choices.

It’s been a mess hasn’t it!  Although it’s done now in the South and we are back to normal rain, in some parts of the country they are still submerged in the white stuff.  My husband is a sun lover and is very prone to moaning about the winter weather – every year.  So, I regularly point out that he shouldn’t be surprised it’s cold because we live in the Northern Hemisphere and he shouldn’t be surprised when we get snow and ice.  My response doesn’t stop him moaning but it makes me feel better.

This time the forecasters nailed it and the warnings went out early, but the severity and speed of the onslaught caught many of us by surprise.  Some suffered because they chose to ignore the warnings or take careful precautions, others were just unlucky.

Most of us experienced some disruption, for others it was virtually total.  As I’ve said lots of times before, if you have to go through something relatively unusual then you should try and benefit by finding the learning points.  So here are my takeaways and you will not be surprised to hear me say that most of them relate in some way to personal planning and preparation.

To get us through the unexpected and out the other side, I think we all need three things:

·     Resilience:  We all hunkered down and waited for the worst to pass.  This is true in many situations, not just in bad weather.  However, our ability to do that is predetermined by the amount of advance planning we did in order to prepare for the situation.  Those in the North who have had to venture out now that their food stocks have declined will understand that completely.  It is also true in other areas of our lives.  For example, unhappy employees can become self-employed and masters of their own universe – but this is usually dependent on their having put away sufficient reserves to weather the unemployed famine until they find their feet.

 

·     Flexibility: Received wisdom is to plan everything.  Make a plan to have a plan.  Make sure you know what you are doing, when you are going to do it and how you are going to afford it.  That’s good advice – usually!  Sometimes things rear up and smack us very firmly in the face and the only way to respond is to duck or swerve.  We should not be so wedded to our planning that we become rigid in our thinking.  It is preferable to remain flexible in our outlook and retain the ability to bend with the prevailing wind or, in extreme conditions, actually change direction.  For example, the consultant who believes that they know what they can offer to potential clients but finds that particular talent is not popular so must alter their offer in order to attract future clients.

 

·     Plan B:  Life can be just plain hard work.  The most successful people will tell you that they made their millions by endless hard work and ruining their social lives in order to attain the prize.  But sometimes it becomes obvious that the prize is not going to be worth it or we are moving in the wrong direction.  The personal and career choices we make can become limiting or send us off down a rabbit hole.  At those times, it will always pay to have Plan B sitting in the background.  In the first instance, it will probably be nothing more than a thought that comes to you at the end of a long, miserable day.  For example, wouldn’t it be lovely if you could stop commuting into the city and become an antiques dealer in a small country town? Or the qualified lawyer who has risen through the ranks by study, experience and talent, who suddenly finds that his personal passion for home-brewed beer has become an obsession.  There may well come a trigger moment when the decision is taken to go and look for a small shop or risk it all to open a micro-brewery.  If so, Bravo!  But it won’t be right for everyone.

Choices. We all have them every day.  Sometimes we don’t recognise them as they pass us by but it can take something out of the ordinary, like our wonderful recent weather, to give us time to sit down and really think about what we are doing and why we are doing it. 

If Plan B is looking more attractive by the minute, then give it some airtime, roll it around in your mind.  You never know what your next choice will be.

If you need a friendly ear to listen to your plans, then I’d love to help so do give me a call.

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.”