OMG! Why didn't you tell me?

Here’s an awkward question for you.

How does your organisation react to known issues which recur on a regular basis? Not an easy question to answer, is it?  So, just to be really difficult, here are a couple more for you to consider:

How long does it take to acknowledge that there is a problem?

How long does it take to decide to deal with it?

Does your organisation prefer to do nothing and hope it will go away?

Do you have a quick look and decide the ‘fix’ is too difficult or too expensive?

Or do you take the time to really understand what is happening, why it is occurring and have a robust conversation about how to deal with it and, more importantly, prevent it happening again?

We’d all like to think that the last option is the one we would choose but a great many organisations put up with the discomfort because they believe it is either going to be too hard or too messy.  

In one of the places I worked when I was newly married there was a fairly unremarkable office chair.  Not particularly comfortable, not particularly smart or tatty.  It was OK for my day’s work.  But it had a reputation and new occupants never learned about a so-called ‘jinx’ until a particular event occurred.  No-one was ever given a heads-up or advance warning, people just watched and waited.  And that, as you will see, was a little unfair.

Some months later I was settled into a really enjoyable role and making it my own, enhancing services and innovating as I went.  Then I discovered that I was pregnant.  Not surprising you might say for a young married woman.  However, it wasn’t exactly in the plan at that point so I wasn’t looking forward to explaining the situation to my boss.  His response absolutely astounded me.  Don’t worry about it, he said with a smile, the last four people who have used that chair have all become pregnant.  And everyone else in the department started chuckling and saying they wondered how long it would take for the chair to do its work.  Excuse me???

Leaving aside the amusement value for my work fellows, with hindsight my story raises an important question about what organisations know collectively and how much is passed on as accepted behaviour during induction processes.  My visits to a wide variety of organisations these days seem to indicate that ‘known issues’ are often tolerated for quite long periods – even the old wives’ tales.

Now the most important aspects of any induction process are to tell people what to expect and how to behave when working for your organisation. Keeping secrets from them is not, therefore, going to do anyone any favours.  You might say that folklore isn’t covered by a formal induction process and that may be so but unless and until a new employee understands the organisation’s culture and ways of working, they are going to find it hard to fit in and/or do their job effectively.

From the organisation’s side, it makes sense to aim to prevent losing staff for foreseeable reasons.  After all, you have to invest in bringing them up to speed until such time as they become useful parts of the team. It also makes absolute sense to ensure that there is consistency in inductions for all levels of staff – give or take the context and content of the role. 

What other things are foreseeable if they happen time and again? 

Perhaps knowing that the work relations in a particular department continue to be poor.  This can cause real headaches.  But there is always more than one way to tackle something of this nature.  There may be a single cause or perhaps the staff are uncomfortable because of the dynamics between the team members or because the personality or work traits of the person in charge of the department leave something to be desired.

Or are you receiving lots of complaints relating to a particular activity or service you provide?  Have you taken a long hard look at the process from the consumer end, how are they being treated, how long are they waiting, are you communicating well enough, is the final product worth waiting for?

If you know you have a problem in a particular area, why wouldn’t you expend some energy to fix it or change something which will eliminate the issue, i.e. get rid of the ‘jinxed’ chair? 

Not all organisations are good at being so objective.

This is where a fresh and unbiased pair of eyes can help.  Asking someone who doesn’t know the organisation’s history can be a distinct advantage by being totally objective.

It can be awkward to face up to problems which have been around for a while.  So if you would like to discuss any of these ideas further or need assistance with finding a way forward, then do contact me.  It’s probably not going to be as difficult as you think.

Ask them ‘Why?’

A recurring theme in organisations I’ve been working with lately is how to deal with the challenges posed in keeping board members on track and on message.

Try this illuminating exercise.  Take a minute to mentally review all your current and previous board members.  Can you identify one particular characteristic that they might share, the one common denominator which brought them onto your board in the first place?  I’d be willing to bet that in the majority of cases it will be their passion for their profession, their cause or for your organisation in representing that one thing that is so important to them. 

So, they choose to become involved in the hope of doing some good or, perhaps, encouraging what they see as necessary changes.  Once they are embarked as working board members, the challenge for any organisation is to maintain that passion and to channel it for everyone’s benefit.

Unfortunately, the reasons they got involved in the first place can, over time, be heavily outweighed by the demands of the role if the extent of their responsibilities or the expected commitment becomes blurred in some way.  That blurring can take many forms but frequent examples include:

·         Lack of clarity in what precisely they are being asked to contribute

·         Lack of clarity in their precise role and responsibilities

·         No exact definition of how much time they are being asked to contribute

·         Lack of clarity in where authority for any and all decisions is held

·         Regularly asking board members to carry out operational tasks or roles because staff resource is too low.

These excessive or unclear demands on board member time and personal resource, coupled with fuzzy expectations, can leave them uneasy or unsure of what they should actually be doing.  This can, of course, lead to misconceptions and miscommunications and, at worst, a view that someone is interfering inappropriately.  Just to offer a word of caution – ‘negative passion’ can be expressed in destructive ways. If an individual feels stymied or frustrated then the results can be unpredictable but are often the exact opposite of what you really want to be happening.

So do you believe that your board still has balance or have things become skewed in some way?  It can be a very uneasy feeling if you believe that you are not getting the best out of your board.  So here is something simple for you to try, either next time your board meets or perhaps as an offsite exercise.

Ask them why they remain on the board and why they are still happy to offer their time and commitment.

This might also be a good time to remind them about their official role and responsibilities and ensure that they have sufficient training to deliver against expectations - from both your and their perspectives. 

These exercises can provide some interesting daylight moments. Finding someone who is involved for unexpected reasons could explain any difficult ‘politics’ that the board might be experiencing; or why a particular individual never turns up or doesn’t read board papers in advance of meetings. If this clarity doesn’t provide sufficient impetus for improvement then you might consider performance reviews – but that’s for another day.

Either way, you will have a great opportunity to express how extremely grateful you are for their continuing contribution.   A little appreciation goes a long way.

If you would like to discuss any of these ideas further or need assistance with implementation, then do contact me.  I’d love to help.

Change, however small...

This blog post is written in my alter ego of "Wise Owl" guest blogger for the MemberWise Network Blog.   These articles are written with the Chief Executives, senior managers and staff of non-profit organisations in mind.

At this time of year we all see and receive endless numbers of tweets and blogs reminding us that this is the time of year to make resolutions which will make us better, happier, healthier in the coming year.  The inferred threat is that we will only be successful if we do it all NOW.

There is some very well-meant advice at the heart of these reminders, the belief that we can look forward to improvements of all kinds if we, as individuals or organisations, can implement change.  However, that is where most good resolutions come apart because most of us, quite naturally, find altering the status quo incredibly threatening and are consequently quite resistant to the idea.

The most interesting element of making changes that is often left unidentified is that improvements can be found by making the smallest of changes.  Our resolutions and our need for change need not be about promising ourselves or our colleagues that fundamental differences will happen following sweeping changes.  The most valuable change can happen with only the slightest effort and following the smallest adaptation. 

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Get rid of the blockage for 2014

This is the first of two 'turn-of-the-year' posts written in my alter ego of "Wise Owl" guest blogger for the MemberWise Network Blog.   Both are written with the Chief Executives and senior managers of non-profit organisations in mind.


Consider these two quotes – they are among my favourites:

The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.    - John Foster Dulles

The definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. -    Albert Einstein

And now, thinking about your own association or membership organisation, what might your answer be to the following two questions:

1        Is your association / organisation suffering from an issue which is impeding its progress or from a seemingly insoluble problem which you know needs to be resolved?

2        Do you want to go through another year without resolving this issue?

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Governance is about skills too!

This is the second of two 'turn-of-the-year' posts written in my alter ego of "Wise Owl" guest blogger for the MemberWise Network Blog.   Both are written with the Chief Executives and senior managers of non-profit organisations in mind.



We learn today that, following recent shocking revelations about the activities of those at the top of the Co-operative Group, former Treasury Minister Lord Myners has been appointed as an independent non-executive director to the board.  He will bring his extensive experience in business and public life to the problems the organisation is currently dealing with and will head up its review into the way the organisation is run.  In an interview he tells us that, in real terms, the various parts of the group are functioning well but concerns remain over the governance standards and structures which have evolved over time including the make-up of the board, appointment processes and how it is chaired.  There is, he says, a realisation that they need to modernise and that legacy issues have contributed to current issues.

For those of us working in non-profit organisations, did this ring a few recognition bells?  

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