Friday, November 21, 2014

Advancing More from Retreating: Eight Tips

It's been fashionable for some to rename staff or board retreats as advances, presumably to signal the gathering's intention and desired impact.  I'm a firm believer in the power of language, but am a bit skeptical that a new name alone changes outcomes.

What does increase the odds of advancing more from any retreating you do are better design principles for the actual event.  Here are eight tips gleaned from my experiences designing and facilitating dozens of retreats for various stakeholder groups.

1. Design the retreat in the context of a larger menu of ongoing activity.
Too often, retreats are designed as isolated events. They need to be seen as a part of the larger context of how things get done in an organization: other professional development gatherings, planning calls and conversations, staff or team meetings, et al. How does/will the retreat honor the past, engage with and build on the present, as well as explore and create the foundation for the future?

2. Build desired follow-up and action planning components into the overall design.
Instead of asking at the end of the retreat for a few people to volunteer, review what happened, and plan next steps, be more intentional about weaving action planning into the planning and pre-work. If you have clarity about the context for your retreat and the output you want to produce, you can then back into what needs to happen during the event and any pre-work in order to produce it.  At minimum, keep an emphasis on answering so what, now what? throughout the retreat.

3. Involve a cross-section of the org in its planning and execution and everyone in contributing their ideas.
While particularly true if using an external facilitator, this principle also is relevant for retreats that internal team members may lead. A retreat should not feel like something inflicted on its participants, an intervention done to them. The experience should be co-created to build ownership for the outcomes, and the entire experience should be one that is done with the participants and in support of them.

Beyond the representative team convened to design the event, everyone attending or having a stake in its outcome should be surveyed to help frame the content of the gathering. Finally, whenever possible, involve participants in the actual presentation and management of the event … from coordinating meals and breaks to facilitating exercises and discussions. And be intentional about reaching out beyond the "usual suspects" to invite individuals to do so.

4. Focus on doing what is more difficult to accomplish in the workplace/typical workday.
The idea of the retreat is to step back from the daily demands and do what otherwise is unlikely to be done as efficiently or effectively. Honor this purpose by not making the retreat agenda a laundry list of unrelated backburner issues and action itemsReally hone in on an answer to this design question: what, if accomplished during the retreat, would dramatically accelerate the individual and organizational progress we need to achieve and enable us to be/do with each other more effectively?

5. Spend time digging deeper and thinking more about systems.
While it's fine to talk about tactics and micro-issues at a retreat, the special nature of the gathering begs that you dig deeper.  Drawing on the iceberg model, make sure your conversations don't merely remain at the results or events level. Look for patterns and organizing systems or mental models that really need attention if desirable forward movement is to be institutionalized and sustained as a result of the retreat.

6. Invest in the power of peer relationships and conversations.
As part of your initial design, consider what percentage of retreat time would ideally consist of individuals talking with each other (in pairs, small groups, the large group as a whole) instead of being talked at by other individuals, particularly those in charge. This simple metric is a good accountability check for the various content segments and formats you build into the retreat agenda. Simply having relaxed time to converse with colleagues and get to understand them more (both as people and professionals) is almost always mentioned on retreat evaluations as a highlight.

7. Have everyone take a task or get on a team.
It's tempting to involve only a small portion of retreat participants (maybe your initial planning team) in managing the output, but that limits the potential and pace of what will occur.  Instead, identify meaningful action items and tasks and have every individual opt-in and claim ownership for at least one of them.  Everyone needs to own the whole of helping the organization/entity get better, so make sure your action planning and follow-up involves them in doing so.

8. Don't make it more than it can be.
If I had to assert the #1 reason why retreats sometimes turn out to be ineffective or unsatisfying it is that those involved expect them to be more and do more than is realistic for any one block of time. This is why the first design principle matters so much: successful retreats never begin as "one-offs" into which disproportionate energy, attention, and resources are poured.  The best retreats are ones intentionally designed and utilized as part of a much more comprehensive framework for enhancing individual and organizational relationships and efforts.

Planning a retreat and need more insight?
  • Here's an article I wrote on planning memorable staff retreats.
  • Get format or activity ideas from Gamestorming or Thiagi's newsletter.
  • For more personal support, I'm happy to do a one-hour "think out loud with you" consult on your retreat design in exchange for a $200 Amazon gift card to further my professional reading.
  • I also can design and facilitate your retreat, but am doing a very limited number while on book-writing sabbatical in 2015.

Friday, October 17, 2014

10 Favorite Facilitation Quotes

"A facilitative leader brings discipline into maintaining and deepening their capacity—whatever that may be —to be engaged. Engagement is easy when there are no distractions, nothing else demanding your attention, and none of the internal anchors prevent us from committing. Of course, it is precisely in those moments of distraction and difficulty that the discipline is required."
The Nine Disciplines of a Facilitator by Jon C. Jenkins and Maureen R. Jenkins.

"The main aim of the facilitative leader is to leverage the resources of group members."
Facilitating to Lead! by Ingrid Bens

"The facilitator's job is to support everyone to do their best thinking. To do this, the facilitator encourages full participation, promotes mutual understanding, and cultivates shared responsibility."
Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making by Sam Kaner, et al

"When people who attend experience that their presence is truly wanted and valuable, and that their unique gifts is necessary for the best outcome of the gathering, the possibility for authentic engagement, leading to success, is greatly enhanced."

The Art of Convening, by Craig and Patricia Neal with Cynthia Wold

"But the essence of Humble Inquiry goes beyond just overt questioning. The kind of inquiry I am talking about derives from an attitude of interest and curiosity. It implies a desire to build a relationship that will lead to more open communication. It also implies that one makes oneself vulnerable and, thereby, arouses positive helping behavior in the other person."
Humble Inquiry by Edgar H. Schein

"Perhaps one of the most difficult things for a facilitator to do is to allow someone to struggle. To rescue people from the struggle immediately shuts off an opportunity for them to learn and grow. Supporting and encouraging them through the struggle is much more rewarding for everyone involved."
Facilitation by Trevor Bentley

"The more present we are as individuals and as organizations, the more choices we create. As awareness increases, we can engage with more possibilities. We are no longer held prisoner by habits, unexamined thoughts, or information we refuse to look at."
—a simpler way by Margaret Wheatley & Myron Kellner-Rogers 

"It is a misuse of our power to take responsibility for solving problems that belong to others."
Stewardship by Peter Block 

"Any thoughts about the future that do not strengthen our capacity to be in service to the group are harmful. When we get ahead of ourselves, predicting what might occur, we take ourselves out of the present—the only place where we can have a positive influence."
Standing in the Fire by Larry Dressler 

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Investing in Better Discussions to Produce Better Results

Take a moment and think about your days at work so far this month.
  • How many formal meetings do you think you've attended?
  • How many conference calls have been on you schedule?
  • How many informal discussions have you encountered?
If you calculated the total number of minutes you've spent in either informal or formal meetings, calls, and discussions, what would be your best guess?

No doubt it is hundreds and hundreds of minutes totaling many, many hours and reflecting a sizeable percentage of the work hours you clocked.

Now, the really important question: how much time do you and your colleagues spend on getting better at those discussions, working on making better decisions, becoming more efficient and effective in your work with each other?

Typically organizations invest little to no time in the professional development that would help their team members get better at something that consumes a sizable percentage of their working hours. True at the staff level.  True at the board or committee level.  True at the chapter or component level.

If you do nothing else this month, take 10-15 minutes with colleagues to collaboratively explore one very critical question: what are small changes that we could make in how we meet and make decisions that would better leverage individuals' time and contributions?

Trust me.  People already have answers for that question and already think about it on their own or talk about it with other workers.

And if you want to make a one-time professional development investment that will enhance the quality of discussions, decisions, and results in your organization forever, join 15 other association and corporate professionals at a one-time Art of Facilitation Train-the-Trainer event in Washington DC on October 22, from 9-3:30 p.m.

Participants will receive all the materials (content outlines, slides, and handouts) to teach facilitation skills to their colleagues at work and to volunteers in your association.  We'll spend the day experiencing sample content first-hand and discussing how to teach and facilitate it in your own future efforts.  You can register here:  I highly recommend sending a pair of participants if you can so that you have more than one individual equipped to do future training.

Can't make it to DC on October 22?  Thinking you might like to offer this type of program for your chapter leaders, board members, or maybe just your staff?  Interested in hosting a similar train-the-trainer opportunity and helping market it to other associations and organizations in your immediate area?  If you said yes to any of these future options, contact me about your interests.  While on sabbatical in 2015 writing, Say Yes Less, conducting facilitation trainings is one of the few programs I will be presenting along with a limited number of keynotes.

P.S.  It's easy to collaborate with another association or two and jointly bring me in for a facilitation workshop and share the costs.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Behind the Scenes: Calibrating Content for Different Session Lengths

Same topic; different session lengths: 10 minutes, 60 minutes, 20 (then 25) minutes.

That's the situation I have experienced for my keynote presentation on lifelong learning, Life's A Great Teacher: Are You A Great Student?
How do you calibrate content and format to fill containers of such different sizes? I thought you might enjoy a behind the scenes tour of what I did and what I learned.

Always prepare various content bundles regardless of session length
If you don't speak often, this may seem particularly challenging, but I always prepare several different bundles of content no matter how much time I have been given.  Why?  Because things happen: lunches run late, the speaker before you eats into your time, participants get really engaged in a discussion and use more time than you had planned, you move through a content segment faster than you had anticipated, etc. Case in point, ACPA HEd talks were planned as 20 minutes, but shortly before taking the stage I was told I could take longer because another speaker was running late.

So I always prepare content outlines for (1) the time I've been assigned, (2) about 10-15% less time, and (3) about 10-15% more time. I identify content milestones for where I want to be on the clock at certain points in my presentation and then make real-time refinements based on how time is unfolding: i.e., shorten or expand a segment, skip a few slides, change the reporting out from an exercise to use less time. Because I outline both more and less content, making adjustments on the fly is less stressful than it otherwise would be.

This only works if you prioritize the content most important to participants, plan alternative presentation formats should you need to use them, and create a slide deck with alternative slides you can skip to as needed.  The latter is particularly challenging in keynotes if your deck is being run from a central AV station away from the stage instead of your laptop.  In this case I won't be able to punch in a new slide number and skip around. So I spend time with the AV staff to prepare them to do so should I call out "could we go to slide 53 please"?

Use more time for application and exploration, not just more presentation
Some people see longer session lengths and think "Great I can talk more."  You could, but the time might be better spent involving participants in their own exploration of the most critical content you share.

When taking content from a 10-minute TEDx talk to a 60-minute general session keynote, I first carved out the key conversations I thought participants would value and then crafted some participant interaction formats that honored both introverted and extroverted learners. I also reflected on how the TEDx talk was delivered at a quick pace that I wanted to slow down. These changes produced an initial content outline that clocked in around 40 minutes.

What to do with the gift of 20 extra minutes? Now I reviewed the core content delivered in the TEDx talk and looked for potential enhancements to add into my longer presentation. While 10 minutes let me sufficiently raise awareness of what people need to think about as lifelong learners, it didn't let me get very specific about what they need to do about it. So I used my remaining extra 20 minutes at AFA to introduce a new presentation segment offering specific habits for people to try on in pursuit of lifelong learning.

Use the visual to sustain the value
Participants in all three of these conferences were fairly heavy social media users, so I turned to Twitter to see what people most commonly shared as takeaways.  At TEDx, the Edward deBono quote about a box of 64 crayons was shared very frequently. At AFA, not so much. Preparing for ACPA, this troubled me a bit because as Mary Catherine Bateson says, "Our species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories."

Reflecting on why something would stand out at one conference and get lost at another, the answer became obvious.  The deBono quote was used at about the 3-minute point in both the 10-minute and 60-minute presentations, but in the longer version it is followed by 57 minutes of content instead of 7.  No wonder it got lost.

deBono's box of crayons/one blue pen metaphor tells a great story about the practice of lifelong learning, so I wanted it to be a core takeaway from my ACPA HEd talk. And because I wanted to include the additional AFA content focused on practical application, I now had a shorter talk that was going to cover a lot of ground in a less interactive format.  Yikes!  Of course, the longer exercises I used at AFA had to go, but I also had to leave people with a strong roadmap of the broader range of content I was covering.

My solution was to distill the core points of my talk into a final slide, add in the box of crayons and blue pen visuals from the 3-minute mark slide, and frame it with a T to remind people of the example I shared about how IDEO draws on T-shaped professionals in their highly collaborative culture.

When that slide went on the screen and I saw smartphones fly into the air to capture it, I knew this was a winner. Reviewing the Twitter feed after the event confirmed it was the most frequently Tweeted point from my talk.

Bottom line?

Honing content is an interative process, one that requires preparing for multiple presentation scenarios. As I've said before, it's important to prepare to present, but make sure you also prepare to be present.  Our 100% presence is the greatest gift we can offer as a session unfolds.

Life's a Great Teacher, Are you a Great Student? is one of the keynotes I will continue to deliver (In varying lengths of course) during my extended sabbatical in 2015. If you'd like to bring it to your conference, let me know.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Management Misdemeanors: 10 Crimes Against Increased Volunteer Engagement

Unfortunately, you don't have to look too far to find organizations regularly committing management misdemeanors that get in the way of them engaging the volunteers they say are so important to them. Keep yourself out of jail by making sure your group isn't caught doing any of these common 10 crimes.

1.  Not asking at the onset
Hard to believe, but not being asked is still one of most common reasons people say they don't volunteer. I've long believed that membership applications for any organization should also ask "Check all of the following ways in which you would be interested in contributing to our efforts." Make it clear that when you join you are welcomed (expected) to contribute in some way that is consistent with your interests and availability.

2.  Asking only once a year
While some volunteer responsibilities probably do require a specific application and review timeframe, many do not, yet they are still swept up in the same volunteer ask.  My interest in contributing doesn't only come alive once a year, so neither should your ask. If there isn't a prominent "Volunteer Now" button on your organization's home page, you may be missing out.

3.  Not responding
 What's worse than not asking or asking only once a year? Not responding to people who say they want to contribute.  Shame on organizations who essentially smack down the hands of volunteers who have raised them. This is even more critical for organizations having chapters or components as other volunteers may be the ones tasked with responding to expressions of interest.

Before making the ask, make sure you have the necessary response infrastructure in place. In addition, invite a few prospects to beta test your process and offer you feedback.

4.  Weak online resources
Yes, please do spend an hour explaining how to fill out the travel expense reimbursement form after you made me give up a weekend to fly across the country for volunteer orientation ... not!

 It is neither affordable or preferable for every volunteer to come to an in-person training. Micro-volunteers in particular want easily accessed online training and support, but it also is valuable for anyone taking on more significant leadership positions in your organization.

Create a simple resource center organization by "how to" categories that reflect volunteer responsibilities and then provide short text narratives and accompanying slide decks or videos. Look to eHow or other similar sites as an example.

5.  No metrics for success
Hopefully your organization has qualified and quantified its goals for employee recruitment, development, and retention.  Are volunteers an integral part of your workforce? If so, you had better do the same for them.  Without clear success metrics for volunteer engagement, you can't develop tactics to achieve specific results. So obvious, but still so absent in so many organizations.

6.  Inadequate evaluation
Try this on for size: anyone who volunteers should evaluate their experience. How novel ... get feedback from those doing the work.  This should be the norm, not the exception, with the type and amount of feedback solicited scaled appropriately for the type of volunteer involvement individuals experienced.

Do include a few common questions/ratings across all evaluations, ones tied to the success metrics you've established. A generic one to include would be the NetPromoter question: would you recommend volunteering in our organization to others?

7.  No tracking of interests or contributions
I don't care if it is as simple as the old school technique of having my name on an index card with all of my volunteer contributions noted in pencil, you've got to track individual efforts. If your organization has a sophisticated association management system or customer relationship management software that you aren't also using to record volunteer contributions, you're actually committing a felony on this one.  Tracking should not only include what I've done, but also information I've shared with you that could be useful for future volunteer engagement invitations: my interests, my availability, my knowledge and experiences, my resource networks, et al.

8.  Insufficient feedback, appreciation, or recognition
If all you can afford to offer is a standard thank you email and a certificate at least make them the best damn generic feedback and appreciation I get all year, OK?  But you'll cultivate more individual commitment and loyalty by offering priase and recognitin that is unique and specific whenever you can.

I've written before about an excellent American Society of Associations note sent to volunteers that combined shared appreciation (look what all of you helped us do) along with individual praise. Being able to do both is the gold standard to which we should all aspire.  The Leadership Challenge by Barry Posner and Kouzes lists "encouraging the heart" as one of the five practices of extraordinary leadership, so let's make sure we are doing more of it for more people and in more meaningful ways.

9.  Limited or limiting opportunities
Not every potential volunteer contribution in your organization rises to the level of serving on your profession's journal advisory board or a comparable responsibility that requires a limited number of individuals carefully screened to ensure the highest levels of knowledge and integrity. Be careful to not arbitrarily limit the number of people contributing to the success of your organization or the number of pathways they can take to being engaged. Some people probably want to ascend to your board of directors while others want to be involved as often as their hectic schedule can manage. We need both.

10.  Requiring membership before volunteering
I know this has long been the accepted path in so many organizations: join, then get involved. Much of the research on Millennials suggests that the gateway to their membership may first come through a meaningful volunteer/service experience with your organization. Why not try that approach for anyone, regardless of their generational cohort: "bait" us by connecting us to other professionals and involving us in some work we find meaningful.  Doing so might "hook" us so that we want to hang around for more as a member.


To help keep you and your colleagues out of jail, I've created a group exercise and simple one-page self-assessment of these 10 crimes. Download it in PDF form here.

Looking for more ideas on volunteer engagement?
Check out The Mission Driven Volunteer by Peggy Hoffman, CAE and Elizabeth Engel, or two series of blog posts I wrote previously: (1) volunteer involvement resources, or (2) questions to help you cultivate volunteer engagement.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

7 Simple Upgrades to Improve Conference R.O.I.

You know the old adage, "don't let perfect be the enemy of good."

It's tempting to hold off on making improvements until you've got just the right enhancements ready to really rock the return on investment (ROI) a participant gets from attending your workshop or conference.

But while you toil away to build the perfect, your participants often find an immediate good and register for another event.

Don't let that happen.  Here are seven simple upgrades you can make to improve your conference ROI right now.

1. Connect people at hosted tables.
Meals are often one of the more intimidating moments for a conference-goer who may not know any (or many) participants. Help them get connected by offering individuals the chance to sit at a hosted table. Who serves as hosts? Thought leaders in your profession, people speaking at your event, and board members or other prominent volunteer leaders—all are natural candidates.  Make sure to seat people at 60" rounds to facilitate conversation among everyone at the table and do prepare your hosts to help people introduce themselves and get comfortable.  If you're worried about not having enough hosts, make the seating opportunity available to a more limited audience who would really value it; i.e., first-time attendees.

2. Use lightning rounds or "sneak peaks" to preview content.
Having too many good sessions to choose from is a great problem for a participant to have, but it is still a problem.  A possible solution?  Offer a lightning round of sneak peaks in which speakers summarize their session content in two or three slides and just a few minutes.  Think of this as a turbo-charged Ignite or Pecha Kucha round with the emphasis on previewing concurrent sessions that will occur in your conference.  Schedule these presentations during coffee or breakfast and people will start their day with a smorgasboard of key takeaways and a better sense of which sessions they want to explore in greater depth. Bonus: capture these speed talks on video for easy dissemination and post-conference marketing (look at what you missed). Double-bonus: if required during the program submission process, these lightning round slides actually could be used to help with selection.

3. Let people opt-in for more challenging learning formats or experiences.
Conference designers often lament that they have great ideas they want to try, but that their entire conference community would never go for them.  So don't focus on the masses.  Make whatever innovative learning format or experience you want to try an option that is limited to an "exclusive" number of attendees.  Instead of trying to win over the unwilling, you now have a great pilot group of the self-selected.  What you learn from this smaller group no doubt can help you decide if (and how) to implement your innovation to a larger audience in the next iteration.

4. Follow general sessions with discussion and application.
You've brought in a big name keynoter who wows the audience with her compelling content and interesting suggestions for their work.  But are you converting all that positive energy into practical implementation?  Most conferences don't.  Schedule a round of facilitated discussions for relevant audience segments immediately following the session (or do so at tables if a meal occurs next) so that participants can connect with like-minded peers and explore the "so what, now what" aspects of applying the general session content. Since not everyone may be interested in following up on the general session, be sure to make other learning opportunities available.

5. Enable on-site volunteering.
We've known for some time that micro-volunteering is increasingly compelling to potential volunteers, but far too few conferences enable that commitment in real-time and on-site. By offering an expansive menu of simple tasks you make it easy for newcomers (or the less involved) to increase their connection to your community while making a meaningful and very manageable contribution. 

6. Offer an Idea Fair and incent participation.
All attendees hope to get a few new ideas to use in their work, so make it easy for them to do so.  How? Offer a nominal incentive (reg discount, entry into a drawing for free reg, etc.) for attendees to contribute one simple idea in the style of a science fair poster session. Provide a Google Docs template for them to complete and have them tag their idea from a limited number of categories you provide before uploading the file to a Dropbox folder. Print all of them out and have volunteers (see #5) hang ideas similarly tagged in a prominent space that will have regular foot traffic (exhibit hall, pre-function area outside general session rooms, et al).  Now you have an on-site idea gallery, but you also have the electronic versions of all these ideas for your future publication and dissemination. Go one step further and let a panel of volunteer judges create awards that are attached to the winning ideas.

7. Showcase attendee talents.
Few moments are as memorable as when you learn that the brilliant professional you admire is also an accomplished musician, artist, poet, singer, etc.  So many individuals in your conference community likely possess unknown talents. Make it possible for them to share them.  An attendee talent show is the obvious idea, but many more opportunities exist: let individuals "guest DJ" with their favorite playlists before general sessions or meals begin, have members serve as entertainment at meal functions or awards programs, and let members be busker entertainment in the hallways between sessions or at the registration area as people arrive.

What is another easy-to-implement conference upgrade you have found successful?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

What do you think?

Four seemingly innocent words that so often unleash such mayhem when expressed: what do you think?

I witnessed this phenomenon in a retreat I recently facilitated. A staff member, eager to get feedback from board members, posed that simple question: "What do you think?"

We've probably all learned the shortcomings of close-ended questions, but I'm not sure as much attention is paid to the possible pitfalls of open-ended questions.

Asking, "what did you think?" is an invitation for completely unfiltered, unstructured, and unfocused input or feedback.  Anything goes ... and just about anything is what you'll get.

If that's what you seek, more power to you.  But if you have a decision to make, you probably need more specific reactions, ones this open-ended invite may not elicit.

In my retreat example, responses ranged from tactical criticism to strategic input, from commenting on one specific element of the proposal to questioning the project's overall intent.

After letting participants offer their wide-ranging thoughts for a few minutes, I gently asked the staff member posing the question: what direction do you need from the board in order to make a decision?

Some basic criteria were put forth, and board members tailored their subsequent input accordingly.  In a relatively short time the staff member had what she needed and we moved on to the next agenda item.

As human beings, we aren't always helpful with a carte blanche invitation to share our thoughts. Fortunately, some simple adjustments in the way we have discussions can more quickly gather the input we need and make the decisions more effectively.
  1. Many organizations find Edward deBono's Six Thinking hats to be a useful and easy-to-implement framework to help a group focus their deliberations on a specific idea or question and get maximum input in minimum time. This is called thinking in parallel.  Some do a compressed version of deBono's six-stage process that is called PNI, asking what's positive, what's negative, and what's interesting for the item under consideration.
  2. Determining decision-making rules or criteria in advance of recurring types of decisions provides continuity in process and can help minimize potential political or personality battles that might erupt around one specific decision and its potential consequences. An example would be a board or management team that determine specific thresholds or results that automatically move an idea into a pilot stage or cause an existing program to be evaluated for whether or not it should continue. Decision-making can be enhanced by simple if-then statements or by established criteria which all participants use to rank or evaluate options
  3. When asking for ideas or input, frame your question more narrowly to help respondents focus their responses to what you need.  Doing so means you first have to ask yourself: what feedback or input would I find most helpful?  Once you have clarity you can invite others to share accordingly. Edgar Schein's book, Helping, is a wonderful resource for this area.
  4. Narrowing the input sought is a common approach innovators use, as constraints are known to help inspire fresh thinking and new solutions. Rather than opening up a general call for ideas, they invite ideas that meet a limited number of specific criteria already identified as critical to the innovation envisioned.
  5. You can also use a limited number of criteria as a constraint to help quickly reduce the number of ideas or options that are then discussed in greater detail.  Think of a hiring process in which only candidates who have a college degree and a minimum of three year's relevant experience move on to the next round of review.
  6. Create evaluating forms for workshops or programs that gather the input you need to inform the subsequent decisions you will make. Evaluation forms often are too generic because the future use of the feedback they solicit has not been fully considered.
  7. Distinguish between making an adequate decision versus an optimal decision. Sometimes the
    input we need is to determine if something is "good enough" to be shared or released, but all of the deliberation is about making the product perfect … even though that is not the goal.
  8. Finally, don't forget to be inclusive in how you invite the input you seek. Asking for verbal feedback on-demand biases extroverted feedback and may minimize the amount of ideas you gather from more introverted individuals. Giving time to consider the question and allowing people to share input in written form as well as verbal are simple adjustments you can make to honor their participation.
Asking for feedback or input is helpful, but what you receive in return won't be of much help if you don't tailor your request or frame the discussion more thoughtfully.

So, what do you think?

P.S.  If you're looking for a guide to evidence-based decision making for associations, this PDF resource from Mariner Management & marketing and Spark Consulting is a good read.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

You Have to Invest to Get a Return

We don't have enough time.
I don't think we have the resources.

These are the increasingly common cries I hear from individuals and groups make about changes they want to make in their organization's culture or on a specific project, or when talking about new initiatives to explore.

And my increasingly frequent response (after offering some empathy for their plight) is one simple question: Do you envision that changing anytime soon? The answer is generally no.

So people have great aspirations.  But since they don't have the resources to do everything they envision, they opt to do nothing, leaving them feeling frustrated.

I get it. I really do.
I often feel the same way.

But here's the simple truth: we have to make in investment if we hope to get any sort of return. 
Doing nothing yields nothing.

Financial planners have long advocated the power of dollar-cost averaging: making consistent purchases of stock or bonds regardless of marketing conditions.  Over time, the average of those routine incremental investments often produce healthy returns.

But we want to time the market, buying low and selling high, both in financial terms and in change management.

It rarely works.

So here are two powerful change management investment questions we all need to ask routinely:
  1. What is the most significant step forward we can make right now with the limited resources we have available? 
  2. What are micro shifts in behavior, culture, process, etc. we can make right now that slowly will start to contribute to a different workplace and different ways of doing things?
You have to get in action if you want a piece of the action.
Start doing something, anything.
Start doing it right now.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

When the Charge No Longer Holds

My laptop battery drains much more quickly than it once did.  And while I haven't actually timed it, I think it also takes significantly longer to recharge to 100%.  At some point, I fully expect it to give out and need replacement.

As human beings, we're not that unlike a laptop battery: over time our inspirations or aspirations may lose their power to get us charged and we may tire and perspire more quickly as we do our work.

The brilliant designer Stefan Sagmeister gave a popular TED Talk in 2009 on the power of time off. Every seven years he closes his design studio for one entire year.  It's a deep dive in both personal and professional renewal, one he sees as essential to remaining a leader in creative work.  For the past decade I've thought of giving myself a year off Sagmeister-style, but it never seemed to be the right year.

This year, despite doing programs and keynotes that have garnered some of the best reviews in my 20+ years of speaking and facilitating, I know my battery is about to give out. Work that once energized me is now draining. It takes significantly longer between engagements to recharge the presence, empathy, authenticity, creativity, patience, and curiosity that I believe has been at the core of my effectiveness.

Bottom line?  I'm tired.  Emotionally, physically, and perhaps more importantly, intellectually.

So for my birthday this year, I'm giving myself a special gift: a permanent sabbatical.

Permanent sabbatical?  Is this new age code for retired? Well, sort of.

Do we ever get to retire completely nowadays? I don't think so. The Rolling Stones keep touring, and don't get me started on how many times Cher has bid farewell.

What I am retiring from is the active pursuit of any new work.  While I have grown increasingly selective the past few years about taking on new work (in 2014 I have said yes 19 times and no 13), my default position is still "take on new engagements."

For 2015 and beyond, my default setting is now no.
And most emphatically no to any strategic planning processes.  

What I am wholeheartedly saying yes to and what I now see as my full-time "work" moving forward is reading, writing, exploring, tinkering, conversing, thinking, creating, and sharing. In other words, a permanent sabbatical.

I have a handful of questions I've wanted to sit with more deeply for some time.  Along with turning 600+ blog posts into some meaningful electronic publications suitable for sharing, exploring these questions will now be my work:
  • Saying yes less is the only sustainable choice for both individuals and organizations, but seems incredibly difficult for either to do so. What would change that?
  • Is it possible to have (and what might become possible if we had) rising tide leadership that engages individual talents for a greater good while sufficiently engaging their potential self-interest and competitive drive?
  • What are the fundamental tools and techniques that will help anyone present better and move from delivering content to facilitating connection and conversations?
  • Why do so many boards seem to be so ineffective despite all the training, resources, and support so readily available?
  • Fundraisers and philanthropists have been talking about the huge transfer of wealth beginning to occur as Baby Boomers retire, but what about the transfer of expertise, wisdom, and insight? Few seem to be talking about the need to ensure it happens.
  • Honesty in individual and team relationships is too often still seen as risky. But the real risk is when we make decisions based on incomplete information because people fear speaking their truth.  How do we create more open and honest relationships and organizational cultures where transparency and ongoing feedback are seen as normal and are welcomed wholeheartedly?
  • How is it that speaker programs still lack the diversity that is increasingly omnipresent in the world around us? Can I do anything to help accelerate the long overdue change in this area?
No doubt my time spent sitting with these questions will produce content I want to share: definitely in writing, possibly in speaking. So I probably will do so at some point in some way. But hey, I'm permanently on sabbatical so I make no guarantees.

I do envision holding a few public "train the trainer" programs like my Oct. 22 Art of Facilitation event in which I help others take content I have honed over the years and put it into play in their own organizations. Just because I won't be using it doesn't mean it shouldn't be put to great use.

Finally, I'm happy to say yes to a very limited number of opportunities for which my intellectual battery currently remains fully charged. Learn about those here.

So, I'm retiring. Sort of.
But permanently on sabbatical? Most definitely.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The One Skill Everyone Needs

At its most basic, facilitation makes it easier to get things done.

Effective use of facilitation skills helps build better relationships and discussions which then yield better decisions, greater commitment, and hopefully, improved results.

But we still think of facilitation as a specialist role, usually an individual brought in from the outside to help a group.  And that makes sense for specific types of discussions or sessions where a true neutral third-party as a facilitator will be a catalyst for better outcomes.

But when that person leaves, the need to help gets things done remains yet the facilitation skills needed to do so do not.

That's a problem I've seen repeatedly in my more than 20 years of being that third-party facilitator.  So for many years, I've presented in-depth facilitation skills training programs to help more insiders gain the competence and confidence to do on a daily basis what outsider facilitators come in and do on an episodic schedule.  Looking back, I'm thrilled that these programs have helped thousands of individuals adopt the values, skills, and beliefs of facilitation and become more capable at individually putting them in play in their own work and organizations.

But given the VUCA environment (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) most of us find ourselves nowadays, the need to exponentially increase the number of people adept at facilitation is very high.

I want to help.

So during International Facilitation Week, October 20-26, 2014, I am going to do something people have asked me to do for years: conduct a facilitation skills Train-the-Trainer program.  The goal?  To provide individuals all of the content outlines, facilitation tips, slides, handouts, and other support material they need (along with the knowledge on how to use them) that they can then use to teach their colleagues (staff, volunteers, members) to be facilitators.

If you believe that your organization has unrealized potential to have better discussions and make better decisions, I believe this program will provide you the tools and support necessary to help make that happen.

This inaugural effort will be held from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. in Washington DC on October 22, 2014, and attendance is limited to 25 individuals in order to ensure everyone gets personal attention for their specific needs.  If interest is strong it is possible I will do similar programs at other locations in 2015, but that's not guaranteed.

If you think you'd like to attend, please complete this simple form to request an invitation.  Invitations will be sent to all who do so on August 1 and you will have two weeks to register before I publicly share the registration link with all others.

I've tried to price the program to reflect the value I believe the materials and training offer, as well as keep it reasonable enough to allow smaller organizations to access its benefits.  If you'd like to attend, but can't quite make the full registration fee, talk to me and I will see what we can do.

As I've said before, anyone can ... and everyone should ... engage in facilitative contributions in both their personal and professional lives.  I am excited to have this opportunity to hopefully make that possible for thousands of more people beginning this fall.  I hope you'll join me.