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.

Big Advice Day at City Hall

Earlier this month I had the great pleasure to contribute my skills as an expert advisor at the Big Advice Day at City Hall organised by FSI (the Foundation for Social Improvement) during Small Charities Week, where a total of 456 hours of advice was given away to 79 charities through one-hour sessions throughout the day. 

As I mostly work with bigger organisations, it was a privilege to spend time with some smaller charities and to hear at first hand the sort of issues they face on a daily basis. It provided a real insight into the governance issues they face and I wasn’t surprised to learn that their issues are really no different to those in larger organisations, just that their complexity is of scale and the gratitude that they feel for those who wish to spend time helping them achieve their mission.

So, by the end of a long day of talking, it was clear that there were some real MUST HAVES which were – on the whole – missing. And that’s not at all surprising, given the day-to-day pressures under which these incredibly dedicated people were working. 

There is no prize for guessing that these included things I’ve talked about here unendingly: 
* Trustees / Directors with the right level of skills and commitment who aren’t just turning up occasionally and expecting the organisation to be grateful 
* Good governance structures to protect everyone; staff / clients / service users / volunteers 
* Appropriate governance processes, procedures and policies to ensure that the right things get done at the right time and protect the organisation legally and financially.

I’ve already signed up to do the same again next year but, if you have an issue which your board needs to tackle or which can’t wait, then I’d love to help. 
Just give me a calland we will work out your next steps.

Two Tips for Forward Planning

I know a lot of people plan their blog posts in advance. I do try and do the right thing but I need to confess that my blogs are mainly triggered by something I see or read about. My brain then seems to find an analogy that would be really useful in trying to explain something that I want to share. It’s just the way my brain is wired.

I have spent a lot of time over the years helping other people to plan their way forward and when I’m in a mentoring situation it is certainly one of the tools which helps my clients to find results. In fact, the wonderful Sam and his team (https://silvercompassdigital.com/) who help me to deal with the software that I find impenetrable have been attempting to get me to forward plan my blogs for a while now. I’m sure that doesn’t make me a bad planner because I do plan other stuff, just not this area of my professional life.

So, if I want to try and make some headway with this issue, it is very obvious to me that there are two styles that would oppose each other in trying to get me to plan my blogging. 

One – put it down on paper, in advance, which would create a series approach but would risk that the next offering on the list always gets bumped because I want to say something else when I have one of my ‘relevance’ moments. 

Two – continue with my ‘Inspiration File’ which is, in fact a document folder called ‘Possible blog posts’. This is a long list because those analogies keep on striking and that’s what makes the words flow.

Reading this over, it looks as though I might have made my decision. What do you think? If you have a third alternative, do let me know as I’d be happy to give it a try. 

If you would like to chat about any of these issues or think that a mentoring conversation would be useful then I’d love to help you. So, 
do give me a call.

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.