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.

Mirror, mirror on the wall

When we look in the mirror we see what we have always seen.  It’s familiar and comfortable and we accept it as normal.  Things seldom change radically, everything looks normal. To our eyes nothing changes, even though we may have aged and things may have become a bit slack round the jawline or gone south a bit.  And we have all probably experienced that ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall’ moment when we are a bit optimistic about what looks back at us because self-criticism is hard isn’t it!

So what does your organisation see when it looks in the mirror?  Do you ever look?  Why would you look?  What would tempt you to look closer?

Because that’s what a governance, strategic or procedural review or audit is designed to do.  It holds up a mirror for your organisation to look into and then reflect on what is happening.  The really clever bit here is that this mirror talks back and tells you the truth.  So why would you not try it and see what can be achieved?

Logic says that all organisations must evolve.  So if you have an inkling – or maybe a huge gut instinct – that your mirror is not quite telling you the truth then we would be happy to look a little deeper with you.  Your first call to us will discover whether it is indeed review time and, even better, is free-of-charge.

It is simply not possible for everything to be the same as it always was but we know the future can and should be much better.  

Great governance - what are you waiting for?

As the old year fades into memory, the Third Sector as a whole realises that the issue of less than great governance is a price that no organisation should be prepared to pay.  In fact, as last year’s very public examples demonstrate, having less than optimum arrangements does organisations no good at all.  It can make them stagnant and internalised and can impede the important work they want and need to carry out on behalf of members, those they represent or those they exist to help.  More than a few organisations, or their controlling boards, suspect that things could be better but haven’t tackled the problem yet.  So what should they be doing right now?

The answer is to agree that this is the year they get it right.  In most cases, all that is required is a review and, potentially, a small refresh or adjustment.  Governance reviews should ideally happen every couple of years but sadly many organisations will admit to a dozen or so years having passed since the last one.  Granted, in some cases, something a little more root and branch will be the conclusion but it’s still no reason to put off starting to look at how things are going.

Unfortunately, results aren’t achieved by wishful thinking.  It takes a serious ‘stand-up-and-be-counted’ moment for a Chief Executive or a board member to insist that the work must start today.  It is so easy to put off in the general busy and worry of day-to-day business.  It is too easy to adopt Scarlett O’Hara’s attitude of ‘I’ll think about it tomorrow.  After all, tomorrow is another day’.  We had plenty of examples, both minor and horrendous, of the results of that attitude last year.  It is worth remembering that members of governing bodies must accept overall responsibility for proper administration of their organisation as well as having a responsibility to act  in the best interests of the organisation at all times.

Starting something that has the potential to create significant change can be very intimidating.  But you might find that it’s not really that bad at all. We also know that having only internal voices in the conversation can limit your thinking.  So just pick up the phone and talk to someone external and completely unbiased who will be able to help you make a start.  

"Susie’s knowledge, her perception and ability to translate into a new Corporate Governance environment which should stand for the next ten years, was exemplary. The Board and Management of FSDF will continue to seek Susie’s advice from time to time on specific issues, but believe that given the quality of work already completed, that will be on rare occasions.”                                                  - Chris Sturman FCILT, FRSA, Chief Executive, Food Storage & Distribution Federation

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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