Saturday, February 28, 2015

Linking Strategy and Execution

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Every year some of the association community’s most innovative strategies and plans in which untold hours of volunteer and staff time have been invested lie unused and likely even unread on some shelf collecting dust. Then, as time goes by and memories grow vague and leadership changes, someone else calls for a planning session--and wise old veterans shake their heads at the futility of going through this process yet again. Sound familiar? It should, as this is a process that happens to virtually every organization at one time or another. This phenomenon even has a name: “SPOTS”—Strategic Plan On Top Shelf!

There are six common causes for SPOTS:

1. The plan is devoted to fixing current problems rather than addressing the future of the organization

There is nothing more frustrating than when a strategic planning session “gets into the weeds”—focusing on specific fixes to operational issues. Such situations are uncomfortable for everyone. The volunteer leaders wonder (sometimes out-loud) why their time is being taken to fix problems that the staff should be able to fix themselves, while the staff chaffs at this unwanted meddling and wish (though rarely out-loud) they could exchange these nitpickers for the visionary leaders they need! The best way to avoid this scenario is to be sure at the outset that both volunteer and professional leadership understand the distinct but inter-dependent roles they fill in governance and operations. When everyone knows their role and has a feel for the critical differences between strategy and tactics, then the stage is set for proper and productive strategic planning.

2. The initiative lacks the support and commitment of the leadership and/or the constituents

The French “Sun-King” Louis XIV was famously quoted as saying “the state…is me!” Not to say that boards of directors consider themselves absolute monarchs, but perhaps there is a touch of sentiment in many association boards that they do embody the association. Legally of course boards of directors do shoulder absolute responsibility for the association, but boards of directors also are or should be representative of broader constituencies. In this context, association leaders should take time to survey where these constituencies are headed and to make sure the association has a good sense of their needs and how these can best be served. Plans are non-starters that are not perceived to be relevant to the membership at large. The best approach to ensure relevancy is to survey membership before the planning begins, then to report back to them how the plan takes their concerns into account.

3. No one is responsible for implementation or evaluation

It is easier by far to come up with great ideas than it is to work out the “how, when and who” of how they will actually be accomplished. No planning is complete—no matter how self-evidently brilliant the ideas--until this has been done!

4. The operational plan is unrealistic or without focus or direction

If you agree “there is no such thing as an idea that cannot be written,” then you can understand that there is no such thing as an operational plan that is not grounded in tactics that are well-reasoned, directed and supported by sound financial and logistical planning.
It does not inspire leadership or constituency to move the organization forward.
All plans—particularly ones that seek to launch new initiatives—require effort if they are going to succeed; and this in turn requires some sort of enthusiasm on the part of those who need to make them work. If this underlying enthusiasm is lacking, then either the plan or the implementers need to change!

5. There has been no “reconciliation” of these new initiatives with currently budgeted programs

Great plans almost always require hard choices because they will inevitably need to draw from resources that are currently being used for other programs. This means that the job is not done once the initial planning has been completed—because all of these new ideas need to be reconciled with current utilization of resources. Choices always need to be made. If this part of the process is not observed then the status quo will invariably continue.

6. The organizational structure inhibits change or otherwise does not supply the supporting framework these new ideas need to be implemented

Too often planning groups fail to consider their association’s current structure and whether it is suitable for carrying out the plans they have just devised. This is in fact a critical issue. Organizations have certain “rubber-like” characteristics. They can be bent into different shapes, but then after time return to their original shape—and ways of doing things. If new plans containing new approaches have any chance of success serious consideration needs to be given to the structure of the organization that is intended to carry out these plans. It rarely works to put new wine into old wine skins.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Power of Story Telling

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Walking through the souk in Marrakesh, Morocco one day I saw dozens of circles of people sitting on the ground surrounding speakers who were variously sitting or standing while keeping eye contact with their audiences and gesturing vigorously. Some circles were dominated by children who would laugh and squeal at what they heard while other circles were dominated by sober, intent adults. Some circles were large and some were small. I asked our guide what all of this represented. “They are story tellers,” he said. “Each circle represents a different story being told and whether a circle is large or small is a reflection of a story teller’s abilities.” This is the Marrakesh version of American TV channels—only if you want to change channels in Marrakesh you move to another circle!

But story telling of course is not particular to Morocco; don’t we all remember as children having an adult read a story to us at bedtime or even perhaps during the day if we were lucky? Perhaps you have passed this tradition on to your own children with the same spellbinding effect.

What is it about stories that fascinates us so? Perhaps it is in our genes. Perhaps Darwinian selection winnowed out all those humans who would not or could not listen to what they were being told!--but regardless of the cause, in the end we all like a good story. Stories appeal to both sides of our brains—the rational and the emotional; and the result is that we can often easily recall the details of the stories we were told decades after the fact.

Story telling transcends cultures, languages and generations. It offers an almost magical way of capturing attention and creating a lasting impact. Come to think of it--what a wonderful communications technique this is!

As we who are or have been involved in corporate communications concentrate on boiling down messages to “just the facts”--terse little, forgettable sound bites--maybe it would behoove us once in a while to go back to our childhood roots and find what we need to put our messages into the form of a good story. Who knows, you might end up creating messages that people remember a generation from now!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lobbyist Registration Requirements - A Brief Overview

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Regulating private sector influence over the democratic policymaking process is a constantly shifting landscape in the US as policymakers and public interest advocates seek to maintain the integrity of the process and limit the influence of money while not infringing on the Constitutional rights of citizens to make their views known to policymakers. Rules are constantly being made and revised as gaps or unintended consequences become exposed (usually by the news media) so even veteran lobbyists need to periodically re-read these regulations in order to be in compliance. Penalties can be severe with financial fines and even prison time as punishment for those who make mistakes or who purposely ignore the law.

Most organizations and their employees that depend directly or indirectly on the government are not allowed to lobby or make political contributions at all. Employers have strict restrictions on soliciting their employees to make political contributions. And until the relatively recent controversial Supreme Court, there were absolute limits to the amount of financial contributions wealthy individuals and businesses could give political candidates.

Mark Twain once noted that “mankind is the only one of the animal kingdom that blushes or needs to.” To that point, the best constraint on undue political influence on the democratic process is simple transparency a requirement for lobbyists to list themselves publically according to whom they represent, what their purpose is, and how much they are getting paid to do that work. This is how the European Union got started in regulating their lobbyists and is how the United Kingdom regulates itself. In fact with this level of transparency in the UK, they even allow Members of Parliament to be paid lobbyists as long as their payments are publically disclosed.

Here are the links below to the four entities in the US Government that share responsibility for monitoring and regulating lobbying in this country. FARA is run by the Department of Justice to monitor foreign money being spent in the US to influence public policy. This was a program started just before the Second World War and is still in force today.

These are not perfect regulations but they have made the policymaking process in the US more transparent and somewhat more honest than it used to be. I recall hearing stories of dinner parties hosted by lobbyists a generation ago where Members of Congress could expect to find hundred dollar bills under their dinner plates. That sort of activity does not happen anymore. While money still plays a huge role in politics, at least the common citizen is more aware now of who is being paid what, by whom, and for what purpose and that does make a difference in determining how people vote and perhaps why.

The biggest conflict of interest remaining for Congress that has not been addressed to-date is their ability to buy stock in companies that are affected by their legislation. In the private sector this would be considered “insider trading” and is illegal, but not so for the US Congress.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Do You Have A Vision For The New Year?

By Ann Rosser, Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

How do you know where you are going without a vision? Without a vision, you have no direction – no road map.

A vision reflects purpose, direction and potential. Every vision should honor the past, but prepare for the future. Most importantly, a vision must be “lived”. If your personal or organizational vision is not lived every day in every way, it will be hollow and empty.

“Would you tell me, please which way I ought to go from here?” she asked.
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” was the reply.
“ I don’t much care where---“ she said.
“Then, it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

- Alice in Wonderland

Creating A Vision
Creating an effective vision is not a simple task. To be effective, a vision should be succinct, clear and exciting. It should guide you or your organization while leaving wide latitude to pursue new opportunities.

Coaches help individuals and organizations create a vision. They serve as a sounding board and ask meaningful and “difficult” questions to get to the honesty and clarity needed for an effective vision.

Since a vision will guide you and/or your company into the future, it is critical that is well crafted and meaningful. To make it powerful and useful, you have to work hard on editing it down to its bare essentials. In other words, it must be boiled down to what is memorable and poignant.

A vision is the first step to leadership. All true leadership begins with self-leadership. Others will not see you as a leader until you see yourself as one. Leadership is not inherited or a personality type –it is a choice.

Ask yourself this question: “What is keeping me from doing, being and giving all that I want and am capable of?”

Stop fearing failure and Just Start ----- Create Your Own Compelling Vision

A thought for reflection:

“I have missed more than nine thousand shots in my career. I have lost almost three hundred games. Twenty-six times I have been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

- Michael Jordan