November 16, 2017

So what happens next?

What is an easy-to-implement member or customer communication that might significantly enhance their experience and satisfaction?

It answers one important question: What happens next?

This type of communication—email, letter, or other form—is already used in some circumstances.  Common occurrences include after registering for a conference or placing an order online.

Many more opportunities to fill the information void exist.  Here are just a few noteworthy ones.

What happens  next when I …
  • Submit my application to volunteer?
  • Accept a volunteer responsibility?
  • Hire you to provide a service or product?
  • Provide feedback, particularly if critical?
  • Contribute an idea for consideration?
  • Register for an event as a first-time attendee?
  • Join your organization?
  • Sign up for your customer loyalty program?
Human beings are fickle. We often create negative narratives when we lack updates about what is happening:  Did they get my feedback? If so, why have I not heard back from them? Do they not care about my concerns? Did they not do anything with my feedback? Should I even bother to offer my opinions in the future?

Because the people managing any process know what happens next, it is easy to forget that those we serve do not necessarily possess this same understanding. Making this information explicit and communicating what happens next helps manage member or customer expectations. 

Doing so may increase their satisfaction with our efforts and their affinity for our organization while also reducing calls and online inquiries for information we probably should already have provided.

Now that is a win-win worth pursuing.

October 31, 2017

A Few Odds and Ends

A quick post to share some insights and opportunities that may be of interest.

Ideas for Conference Design

In the past few months, I have been asked to share tips and techniques for more effective meeting and conference design, a topic I regularly write about myself.  Here are links to two Q&As that contain what I hope is good counsel. 

Meetings and Conventions Magazine
Insights and Ideas from Design Pioneers 

Meetings Today-Fridays with Joan
Mixing Up Our Meetings  

Have a meeting or conference design you want to refresh for relevance and return on investment? I regularly offer ideas via affordable consultation calls, as well as facilitate more in-depth half-day or full-day design sessions with staff and/or volunteers.  Let me know if I can be of help.

Does Your Organization have an Effective Operating System?

You probably do not think a lot about the operating system that makes everything possible on your computer, tablet, or smartphone other than when we are told it is time to do a periodic upgrade.

Organizations also have operating systems that work in the background and enable daily activity.  Not quite organizational culture and not really a traditional strategic plan, an organizational OS consists of those core elements that should (this is the operative term) inform every discussion and decision made.

I recently led a full-day conversation with an association board of directors and key staff to clarify, refresh, and make their OS more explicit.  We used Simon Sinek's Golden Circle (watch a five min. version of his TEDx Talk) as our model, crafting language to articulate the organization's WHY, WHAT, and HOW, the latter being represented by several guiding principles.  We also combined the WHY and WHAT for a more traditional mission statement.

What these association leaders created offers timeless and enduring thinking for ongoing exploration, each element almost begging for staff, volunteers, and board members to raise questions about how it applies to both short- and long-term decisions.

For additional inspiration and conversation, we drew on this excellent article and its framework for unconventional strategy. A must read!

Does your organization have an effective operating system, one that everyone understands and applies with great clarity and consistency?  If not, the new year is an excellent time to create conversations that produce a needed upgrade.

Chicago Opportunity: December 7-8, 11

While in Chicago, I have some limited daytime availability on Thursday, December 7 and Friday, December 8, as well as early morning on Monday, December 11.

If a 90-120 minute workshop on a topic of your choice or a consultation session of similar length is of interest, I can offer you a greatly reduced honorarium and you will incur no travel expenses.

You can express your interest here.

Looking Ahead to 2018

While continuing my writing sabbatical, I am scheduling a limited number of 2018 speaking, facilitation, or consulting engagements.  While always happy to custom-design sessions on a variety of topics, I am particularly excited about these three possibilities ...
  1.  A new keynote/general session based on my current writing project, Say Yes Less: Why It Matters and How to Do It 
  2. A keynote/general session based on my TEDx Talk on being a better lifelong learner
  3. Teaching staff and volunteers to be effective facilitators in half-day or full-day sessions. 
If I can be of service to you on these or any other topic in the new year, now is the time to get on my calendar.

September 25, 2017

Detours and Dead Ends

My former neighborhood is at the edge of a four-lane city road, a one-way street heading west that is a major feeder directly into downtown.  I remember once when the road was closed for construction and drivers were detoured to the south.

At the next available intersection where you could turn to head downtown, drivers found the road also closed and they were detoured further to the south.

And at this next intersection you would find yourself dead-ended, unable to head straight any further, and forced to turn on to a one-way road heading east ... out of the city.

So hundreds of cars daily that want to go west are detoured multiple times to a road where they can only go east.  No signage directs you to another westbound road: just generic detour signs and traffic cones blocking your path.

If this isn't a metaphor for bad organizational change efforts, I don't know what is.

People have a path they have learned over time that gets them to where they need to go, that gets their work accomplished.  Change is introduced, the path is closed, and individuals are asked to take a detour.  Insufficient direction is given, workarounds are also closed off, and ultimately they have to go backwards in order to get to where they want to go and they're unsure how long it will take to get there.

When you're trying to bring about change, make sure the detour you force others to take doesn't end up being a dead end.

September 20, 2017

Breaking the Mold of Waiting to Be Told

In a blog post entitled "The relentless search for 'tell me what to do'" guru Seth Godin writes:
If you've ever hired or managed or taught, you know the feeling.

People are just begging to be told what to do. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think the biggest one is: "If you tell me what to do, the responsibility for the outcome is yours, not mine. I'm safe."

When asked, resist.
Godin is correct that resisting the temptation to tell people what to do is required. But it also is important to consider why people feel the need to seek such direction. Equally if not more culpable are the managers or bosses whose mindset and actions foster a Wait to be Told culture.
  • It's hard to assume responsibility for decisions you're not allowed to make.
  • Always having to get someone's approval to act inhibits you exercising initiative.
  • You lose your desire to innovate if your new ideas are always rejected at the top.
  • It is tough to know what to do if leaders fail to articulate and reinforce understanding of mission, vision, and strategy.
Too many managers still operate from a command and control paradigm, one that fosters the very "tell me what to do mindset" Godin bemoans.

No doubt some prospective volunteers or employees come into an organization wanting to be told what to do. Perhaps their past experience with ill-conceived management is the real source of that expectation.

Until our organizational cultures advance the real sources of individual motivation as addressed in Dan Pink's new book Drive—autonomy, mastery, and purpose—we should expect little to change.

If you want more people exercising initiative, here a few simple steps to take.
  • Ensure proper orientation of new employees and volunteers, including a evaluation question at the end: What additional information/support do you need in order to feel like you can effectively do your work?
  • Clearly articulate upfront permissions to act—across the org and in specific roles—and the expectation that people do so.
  • Examine all organizational processes and policies to see where unhelpful permission-seeking may be required. Revise as appropriate.
  • Regularly ask individuals: What is getting in the way of you taking more initiative in your work.
  • When in your eyes individuals seek your approval or permission unnecessarily talk with them about what cased the to do so and coach them accordingly.
Here are four vignettes reflecting staff members at different stages in their work with an organization. They can be used as a discussion prompt in a meeting or workshop focusing on initiative. 

August 22, 2017

A Few Insights on Facilitation from a Twitter Q&A

Every so often I invite people on Twitter to send me questions they have about facilitation. I, in turn, Tweet out my replies.  Below are four questions and my answers from my most recent Twitter outing on Friday, August 18. Unlike a typical text post, this one contains all the relevant information in slide images.

Do you have questions about facilitation or program design?  

If so, I offer one-hour telephone consultations. Your investment ranges from $250-$350 depending on the complexity of your needs and the amount of prep time I will incur.

I also do custom-designed half-day and full-day facilitation training sessions for staff and volunteers, a program you can also cosponsor with other organizations to share the costs.

You can schedule workshops or consultations by completing this simple form.

August 9, 2017

Time to Consider a Capital (Human) Campaign

Almost every major nonprofit institution will embark on at least one capital campaign during its lifetime, soliciting significant financial contributions for new buildings, programs, or their endowment.

It's time for any organization that solicits volunteers' time and talent to do the same.  Except instead of raising money,ask for pledges and commitments of time, talent, and leadership.

First, create a compelling vision of the meaningful and bold accomplishments that will be achieved if the goal for volunteer contributions is met.  Make the case compelling, crafting a vivid story bringing to life what this massive influx of time and talent will make possible.  Think like the renowned Chicago architect Daniel Burnham who famously said:
"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big."
Second, just as with a major fund-raising campaign, have a quiet phase in which you solicit major contributions and matching challenge grants from lead donors and prominent individuals to model the way for the masses.

Third, recruit individuals to serve as team captains, each pledging to reach out those in their circles of influence and to obtain a certain level of commitments and contributions.

Finally, go public with the campaign, sharing your goal for the results you want to achieve and inviting individuals to pledge their commitment to help make the vision a reality.

Too many organizations fail to fully imagine what might be possible from a broader and deeper contribution of time and talent from those who care about their purpose or cause.  And if we never make the ask, individuals can never make the gift of their ideas, insights, and labor to making major achievements possible.

The community is always resource-full.  We just need to be more resourceful in engaging it.

August 2, 2017

A Dozen Ideas for Better Conferences

Revisiting and refreshing some conference design fundamentals can often enhance the value the experience provides to participants. Based on doing exactly that with several organizations this year, here are a dozen (in no particular order) opportunities calling for your attention. In exploring these areas, remain vigilant about your own possible implicit bias ... designing elements that you would like, but your participants might value less.

1. Right after registration check-in is an underutilized opportunity.
Planners spend a lot of time ensuring an efficient registration experience, but often spend no time designing what comes next.  I've checked in and now have a bag full of stuff ... now what? Consider creating a transition space where people can sit, get organized, and get connected.  Components could include light refreshments, welcome ambassadors, a genius bar, a resource area, award winners on display, and more.

2.  General sessions beg to be followed by learning labs.
Many conferences fail to realize an appropriate learning return for their big bucks investments in general session speaker fees and stagecraft. Even the most compelling keynote speech has limited shelf life if application is not examined with like-minded peers. College courses often have lectures followed by intimate learning labs and conference general sessions can do the same. Labs could be organized by job functions, organization size or budget, specific questions or issues, and more. Better yet, also build content application moments into the general session design to make that experience more active and useful.

3.  Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) still receive too little support.
SMEs comprise a large percentage of the presenters at many conferences and still need much more support to move from delivering information to facilitating learning. A basic support menu should include an online resource center, webinars, before and after session design examples, peer coaching, and special attention related to diversity and inclusion commitments.

4.  Create conference core values to infuse identity and intention into your choices.
If I was to watch your conference in action or examine any of its artifacts (marketing, program guides, apps, et al) would I immediately sense how it is different than a competing organization trying to attract the same audience? Applying clearly articulated core values can increase the odds your conference experience has a distinct identity, one amplified and extended in participants' word-of-mouth marketing. I'll address this topic in-depth in my next post in this series.

5.  Attend to the flow as you sequence conference elements.
A great conference experience is subtly orchestrated by carefully sequencing individual conference elements (and individual segments within them) for their effect on learning, connections and community, energy and attention, cognitive overload, and much more. In your design, be sure to consider how moving any individual element affects the overall flow as well as these individual factors.

6.  Some major conference welcoming events are anything but, particularly for introverts. 
A good welcoming event is like curb appeal for a house for sale ... it draws you in and makes you want to see more or it sends you running away.  Every conference has a diverse array of participants in terms of: demographics; interests and needs; connection to your industry or profession, your organization, the conference community; dietary restrictions and preferences, and much more. Create some mock participant profiles that reflect these differences and then consider your welcoming event design through the eyes of these individuals. Dig deep into your design to create a more inclusive welcome. And a big missed opportunity? Making me feel welcome if I happen to miss the big welcoming event.

7.  Design for the ramp-up (pre-event) and the reflect and reengage (post-event) with as much intention and attention as you give the event itself.
Gather folks involved in your conference design and ask each one to write down the percentage of design time and resources allocated to (1) before the event, (2) the event itself, and (3) after the event. After everyone shares, discuss the distributions and what participant value might be created if the time and resources were allocated differently. Too often, what happens before and after receive too little attention and remain too focused on logistics. Both should be about enhancing the learning and connectedness/sense of community your participants acquire.

8.  Enable sharing to spread the conference value far and wide.
What if every attendee is thought of as a learning ambassador, someone who will need to go back and teach others all that was learned from your conference? How might you support them in doing so? Creating shareable snack-size content excerpts (pictures with headlines and takeaways, prepared Tweets and social media status update options with built-in content takeaways, and video session highlights or executive summaries are just a few of the possibilities.

9.  Set yourself up to succeed. Place little bets.
Test your boldest or riskiest ideas where you can learn what works without fear; i.e., a limited attendance or invite only session, a track of conference experiments, an optional experience. Every conference design benefits from experimenting with new ways to support participants' intentions, as well as refreshing the value of longstanding program elements before they become tired and less desirable.

10.  Build learning into your marketing and communications.
Include links to additional resources (ones you offer, as well as a curated and annotated list of external sources that you create) in your online registration materials and session descriptions, as well as registration confirmations and other communications. Do not limit learning to the conference or any sessions themselves.

11.  Connect content to application through the learning experience.
Content without context, reflection, exploration, and application is merely noise that may raise awareness at best. That is not enough. We must help participants understand the implications (so what?) and applications (now what?) of any content covered. Increase the ratio of signal-to-noise in your content and session design and help every presenter do the same by providing at minimum, a list of easy-to-apply hands-on learning formats.

12.  White space is your friend.
Every conference schedule needs breathing room and white space by design. It is why musicians have silence between the notes and wine tastings include palate cleansers between samples. A good conference design does the same.

This is the fourth post in a summer series on the craft of conference and program design.

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