April 23, 2018

The Clock Doesn't Tell the Whole Story

“Everyone is given the same 24 hours in a day.”

Well, of course, right? How can you argue with such a simple “truth”?

You can’t at face value, but the meaning behind the statement merits further examination.

Think about how this statement is most commonly used.  I most frequently hear it when people try to prod others into being more productive with their day. 
It’s often paired with the example of how some uber-entrepreneur invents some world-changing smartphone app before most of us finish our morning coffee.
“Look at Erin.  She gets more done in a few hours than most of us accomplish in a full day.”
Be. Like. Erin.

The underlying message is we’re not worthy because we don’t make as much of a difference with our 24 hours as others do with theirs … and remember, we all have the same 24 hours in a day.

Except that we don’t.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.

I am self-employed. I am single. I don’t have kids. I don’t have pets.

These four facts are the basis of a 24-hour day that undoubtedly is very, very different than others.  For the most part, I have almost complete control over my day unless I am speaking or facilitating for an organization or participating in the occasional conference call to plan upcoming client work. In general …

I get up when I want.
I work when I want.
I don’t have to attend many meetings.
No one checks when I punch in or out.

This is the epitome of privilege.  This is what genuine freedom of choice looks like, and it is a freedom that people possess in widely varying degrees.

We may each start with the same 24 hours in a day, but what is important to acknowledge, understand, and appreciate is how many of those hours are genuinely available for our discretionary use.  And that’s where the clock starts to tell time differently.   

When I was an association executive I found it very helpful to ask my board chair to tell me about his/her typical day.  You can learn a lot about others by getting a sense of how their 24 hours often unfolds and what choices are available to them about how they spend their time.  I’ve since turned that simple conversation into the exercise “A Day in My Life” that I often use as a part of leadership conferences or organizational retreats that I facilitate.

The bottom line is this: we don’t all have 24 hours a day available to us for our use.  In fact many people have very few discretionary hours at their disposal in any given day. This needs to be acknowledged and addressed both at the personal level and the policy level.

If we want to build more effective teams, if we want to strengthen interpersonal relationships, understanding a day in the life of others is a very good place to begin.

This is an update of an earlier post.

April 15, 2018

Before and After: Association Futures

Before there was a headquarters in DC or some other big city
Before there was a staff and an org chart and a policy manual
Before there were copiers and computers
Before there was a magazine, a website, and a PAC
Before there were budgets and bills, dues and donations
Before there were webinars and e-learning courses
Before there was an annual meeting, a trade show, and sponsorship packages
Before there were sections, or chapters, or councils, or components
Before there was a strategic plan, a BHAG, or a set of key result areas

Before there was any of what we now associate with an association, 
there was something much simpler, much truer, and much more important:

People who shared a common interest and cared about connecting with like-minded people.

In the end, that’s really all that is required for an association to succeed.

Spirited people once joined together to create.
Spectators now gather to consume or critique.

Such a shame that the essential spark that started it all
is now so often in danger of being extinguished 
by all that came afterwards.

Perhaps the future for associations (and other organizations)
may be found in their original beginnings, 
reconnecting to the power of purpose.

A great summary of Orbiting the Giant Hairball, a book well worth reading, can be found here.

April 11, 2018

Six Principles for Harnessing Volunteers' Talents

Author Bruce Tulgan (Winning the Talent Wars) asserts, “In the new economy, the best people are the most likely to leave. Why? Because they can.”  

Perhaps this is why management guru Tom Peters says we must be obsessive about P.O.T., the Pursuit of Talent. While Tulgan and Peters are both talking about paid staff in the new economy, associations and other organizations would be wise to note the relevance of their thinking for recruiting, developing, and rewarding volunteers. When competing for volunteer time and talent, organizations need to have compelling value propositions to offer. 

We are told this is the era of Me Inc., the Brand You, the Free Agent Nation, a time when everyone is taking his/her personal portfolio of talent and auctioning it to the highest bidder. Volunteers, however, have always been free agents. Organizations have never been able to hold volunteers hostage as corporations hold employees with their stock options, vested pensions, and so forth.

Sure some volunteers in the past “toughed it out” in unfulfilling positions because they were the generally accepted stepping-stones to more significant leadership roles. But volunteers have always been free to walk. The difference now is more and more of them may do just that, taking their talent portfolio to volunteer opportunities (and organizations) they find more meaningful, challenging, and rewarding.

So how do organizations attract and reward talent-rich volunteers in this age of Me, Inc.?  

Tulgan offers "a new set of organizing principles for employing people in the new economy." These principles appear below along with my commentary on their relevance to volunteers as opposed to employees. 

Talent is the show. 
Talent is the show when it comes to volunteers. Organizations need their talent, and volunteers are looking to further develop and/or share theirs. You would be well served to revise your recruitment brochures and methods to focus on recruiting talent regardless of an individual's age, tenure, and so forth. Learn what talents people can share and what talents they can teach others. Then match them with the work to be done. 

Staff the work, not the jobs. 
Spend less time monkeying with the organizational chart. Identify the work you hope to have volunteers do, find individuals whose talents match the work, and then create the structure to get the work done. A few talent-rich people with lots of time could fill what you might now list as multiple leadership positions. The work matters, not the positions. Structure should never be an end in and of itself. It exists only to facilitate the work being done and should be changed freely as needed. 

Pay for performance and nothing else. 
We need to break the practice of rewarding volunteers just for showing up. If volunteers do not see serving the organization and its mission as a privilege instead of a right, you need to help reframe their thinking. Volunteers who do nothing more than take up space should be cordially invited to the door. Organizations need clear performance standards for volunteers, and these should be articulated as people join your team. Reward results and performance … nothing else! Make results the criteria for more prestigious positions in your organization, not simply lengthy do-nothing tenure. 

Turn managers into coaches. 
If you have recruited for talent and provided an appropriate overview and training, your volunteers now need coaching. Being micro-managed is one of the many pet peeves of volunteers (ironic that this is a frustration shared by staff). If I am smart and talented, I need to know the rules of the road, the desired end results, and the deadlines to be met. Then I need you to get out of my way and let me show what I can do. Think athletics: when you deal with superstars, you coach more than manage. And if you are not recruiting superstars for your volunteer opportunities, you should be developing those volunteers you are recruiting into superstars. 

Train for the mission, not the long haul. 
Don’t assume your most talented volunteers have any intention of being around for the long haul. Focus on connecting their talents and interests to the organization's current mission and vision. If they stick around for more involvement beyond their initial contribution, great. Just don’t organize all your recruitment and training efforts to create volunteer "lifers" for your organization; it probably won't happen as much as you might hope. 

Create as many career paths as you have people. 
To be attractive to potential volunteers, we need to have flexible and fluid opportunities to leverage their time, interests, and talents for the good of the organization. How ridiculous is it that many organizations still turn away willing and capable volunteers because “no positions are available at this time.” 

Projects and positions should always be available if the right candidates/talents present themselves. After all, the work is never done. Try thinking of what your organization would look like if every individual sought a meaningful volunteer opportunity. Then organize yourself to let that become a reality. With any amount of luck, it just might.

This is an update of an earlier post.

April 6, 2018

Ideological Control, Operational Autonomy

From where I stood at the counter I could see signs for the restaurant's employees that someone probably believed they had posted away from the public eye. I couldn't completely make out the first few, but they seemed to represent steps in the customer service process. The final sign was in my direct line of vision and was the one that captured my attention: Customize Your Hospitality.

Great advice indeed. Whether the motivation for offering it was an insightful shift manager or someone tired of the incessant "You want fries with that?" mockery regularly seen in situation comedies, it was a useful instruction.

What I like most is that it balances expectation of a core value commitment (all employees will be hospitable) with autonomy for individual personality and creativity (customize what you say and do). Similarly, Disney expects all of its employees (cast members) to "create a little magic" but leaves it to their good judgment and discretion about how to do so. The goal is a strong culture committed to a shared why, not an unquestioning cult executing the same how.

It's what Jim Collins and Jerry Porras describe as ideological control coupled with operational autonomy, and it's a powerful approach. I often use a Hoberman sphere to illustrate it.  The closed sphere represents the organizational core (values + principles) you wish to preserve, and the open sphere shows how that core has ample room for individual contributions to it, ones that reflect (and are informed by) the shared values and purpose.

In his most interesting book, Whoosh: Business in the Fast Lane, author Tom McGehee, Jr. explores this dichotomy through his framework of compliance vs. creation. Compliance companies or cultures use policies, procedures, and rules to ensure consistent and standardized responses. Creation companies and cultures use principles and values to produce inventive responses.

Neither is inherently good nor bad. You have to determine the right mix of compliance and creation for the business you are in, the members or customers you serve, and the desired results for each activity or effort in which you engage.

Take flying for example. Southwest allows its flight attendants some creativity in the standard announcements where almost every other airline seems to view that task through the lens of compliance: same message every single time. Which approach captures your attention more?
Yes, the safety videos in recent years have changed this a bit, but look how look it took for that to happen.   When it comes to maintaining the plane, however, I'd prefer mechanics who are more compliant than creative with maintenance procedures.

So many institutions and organizations are trying to elicit more engagement and passion from their members, customers, volunteers, and employees, yet still operate with an overall organizational culture that demands too much compliance.

We need more organizations to consider a staff and volunteer selection principle like this one from design and innovation consultancy IDEO (among others):  hire (select) for cultural contribution, not cultural fit.  This allows for unity (in a shared commitment to core values) and diversity (in individual perspectives on amplifying and applying them).

Engagement and passion come from the heart. The heart is inspired when individuals have the chance to create, not just comply, something Dan Pink affirmed in his book on motivation and performance, Drive. If people don't get to inject a little of themselves into the work they do, is it any wonder that they will feel disconnected from the work itself and potentially the organization they serve?

 Bottom line?

People are capable (and in most cases willing) of giving so much more of themselves than we ever ask them to share. Talk with your colleagues about how to further strengthen the ideological clarity among everyone in in your organization, as well as opportunities to reduce unnecessary compliance in operational efforts.

This is an update of an earlier post. 

April 1, 2018

We Are All Emerging Leaders

How might our personal and professional development efforts change

if we viewed everyone as an emerging leader? 

This is the question I’ve been thinking about recently as I have seen more organizations establishing emerging leaders programs, and I've been invited to help design them or speak during one of their sessions.

While any additional commitment to lifelong learning is generally a good thing, I wonder how the categories and containers we create for our programming efforts might enhance or impede our ultimate objectives. Emerging leaders and future leaders efforts are usually targeted at individuals who meet any of the following criteria:
  1. are young in age; 
  2. have minimal experience (usually a few years) in the given profession or organization; or 
  3. hold more entry-level or intermediate positions within an organization’s hierarchy.
This all seems to make sense … catch promising stars at an early stage of development and then accelerate it with a significant professional leadership conference. But what comes after you’ve been pegged as an emerging leader? After attending the retreat or conference, what might we now call you … Arrived Leader? Fully Emerged Leader?

What happens all too often in organizations is that graduates of these significant experiences are leftto their own devices until they meet any of the following criteria: (1) are older in age; (2) have significant experience (usually 7-10 years) in the given profession or organization; or (3) hold more significant positions within an organization’s hierarchy. At this stage we classify them as Senior Professionals or Executive Professionals and again offer them some specialized education.

What occurs (or doesn’t occur) between these two time periods concerns me because we don’t offer enough challenge and support to help individuals continue their path of lifelong learning and development. You’re either coming on to the scene or a scene senior. That’s not going to cut it if we expect to retain top talent and fully engage their wisdom, creativity, and insights for the good of organizations and the stakeholders they serve.

Emerging leaders is really an unfortunate misnomer when applied as described above. In reality, emergence is an ongoing state of personal and professional development. It’s “cradle to grave,” an expression I recently heard a colleague use. The critical issue is not what type of leader you’ve become, but what type of leader you are becoming.
We simply must break free of the episodic notion of leadership development all too common in most professions and organizations. So what is to be done?  Organizations need to:
  • embrace a more expansive view of leadership development;
  • chart multiple cradle to grave pathways for their profession that are inclusive and flexible;
  • help individuals assess their developmental needs at any given point on the pathways they have chosen, and
  • then connect them to appropriate learning experiences and opportunities.
Let’s hope such a leadership development philosophy more fully emerges in the years ahead, and may all of us do what we can to ensure that it does.

March 26, 2018

Metabolizing Motivation and Progress: We Wait Too Long

By the time you're ready to give them a plaque, the volunteers are burnt out.

By the time employees qualify for a sabbatical, their creative juices have run dry.

By the time enough money is available for a perfect product, the market has moved on to new interests.

We know that eating several small meals a day keeps our body's metabolism running more efficiently, yet we still skip breakfast, grab a bite for lunch on the run, and then gorge ourselves at dinner, only to lapse into a post-meal coma ... I mean, nap.

Our organizational choices are often just as shortsighted, always saving for the big day instead of making incremental contributions to what we know matters most.  So let's try …
  • thanking volunteers every week
  • offering annual sabbaticals to all staff, one day for each year of service
  • providing mini-grants quarterly or semi-annually
Small contributions now.
Immediate value gained.
Rewards compounded over time.

What other micro-investments might be worth pursuing in lieu of saving up for one big day, a day that may never come or be too late? Where can you get in action today to start stimulating forward progress and momentum?

March 21, 2018

Innovation Requires Diversity

There are no coffee refills in France ... or at least not like what we are accustomed to in the States.

For Americans visiting for the first-time this might seem like caffeine heresy:  What?  No carafe of stale coffee dropped off at my table?

No.  Instead of on-demand consumption, they offer on-demand creation, bringing you a fresh cup of coffee when you are ready for it.  The quality of the product is paramount to them.  What seems wrong to some seems only proper to the French.

And it begins to make you think differently about coffee, about customer service, about product quality, about timing, and more.  Or it does if you're someone like me.

Thinking differently.  It's one of the many core elements of innovation, one Franz Johansson nicely addresses in The Medici Effect.  He suggests innovation results from stepping into The Intersection, a place were ideas from different fields and cultures meet and collide, often igniting fresh possibilities and new discoveries.  In this TEDTalk drawn from his new book, Where Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson echoes Johansson, stressing that many innovations results from combining seemingly disparate ideas or taking an idea or concept from one industry and applying it to the product or service of another.

But you can't think differently if you're not exposed to difference.  So here are a few simple ways to jumpstart fresh thinking and fresh perspectives.

Consume different media.
This is perhaps the easiest personal practice.  Simply scan publications, television programs, blogs, and web sites that address topics and feature perspectives that differ from your own.  Your field trips can be intentional and focused (I'm going to spend an hour today immersing myself in media women consume) or random using web site generators like StumbleUpon, following the top 20 or so search results for a broad category like "quality," scanning Twitter hashtags of interesting shares, or randomly grabbing 10 magazines off the rack at your local library, newsstand, or bookstore.

Connect with different people.
It's great to develop a network of peers from your profession or industry.  Doing so may cause you to accidentally bump into some fresh thinking because each of your colleagues brings his/her individuality into your relationship.  But you also want to hang regularly with a group of folks who don't do the work you do, ones whose livelihood depends on a different set of skills or values.  Talking about your ideas or concerns with them automatically elicits a different response because they don't look at your situation with the same mental models or lenses that you do.

Expose yourself to contrary opinions.
Over time our belief systems can harden into rigid walls powerful enough to reject any alternative viewpoint that tries to get past them.  That's a problem.  Author Meg Wheatley writes about the importance of allowing our belief systems to be disturbed.
"We won't necessarily have to let go of everything we believe and know, but we do have to be willing to let them go. We have to be interested in making our beliefs and opinions visible so that we can consciously choose them or discard them."
If we cultivate our ability to listen and understand the very viewpoints we find irrational, ridiculous, or untenable, we'll make our mental models more permeable and open to the fact that what is true for us, often is not true for others.

Collect interesting questions.
The answers we get depend on the questions we ask.  In his book The Design of Business, author Roger Martin suggests that innovative thinking often occurs because someone approaches the same problem but with a different initial premise.  A more diverse group of individuals is likely to ask a more diverse set of questions, resulting in a more comprehensive exploration and understanding of a situation.  As you interact with others, pay attention to the questions they pose, particularly ones you would be unlikely to ask.  Collect those questions and file them away for future use.

We can't think differently if we're not exposed to difference.  Such an obvious statement, but still one filled with great potential for individuals and groups.  How are you cultivating your own exposure to differences and what strategies (beyond hiring) might organizations want to consider?

P.S. I regularly present on this topic both in abbreviated TEDTalk formats (20-30 minutes) and more traditional lengths (60-180 minutes) that include audience engagement components. Contact me here if I can do so for one of your upcoming conferences.