Saturday, June 27, 2015

Helping Your Board to Be More Effective: Five keys for high-level governance

By Virgil Carter, Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Despite the great diversity among non-profit organizations, we all seek effective governance by our boards.

A critical starting point is to recognize what a vital resource time is. Recruiting new board members is challenging because volunteers are concerned about drains on their time. Governing well is critical because a board’s time together is limited. Thus, how you and your board use your time matters.

No one wants to be associated with a governing board that is unsure of its role, unproductive, boring, or contentious. Effective (and enjoyable) governing boards tend to be forward-looking, and provide the maximum effective (and enjoyable) leadership, especially when time is limited. Effective boards tend to focus on the one role that they, and no one else, can fulfill: organizational strategy and priorities designed to fulfill the organization’s mission. What are strategic boards? Strategic boards spend the majority of their time identifying broadly important outcomes, setting priorities, ensuring needed resources and monitoring the way the staff and other volunteers implement major initiatives designed to achieve the desired strategic outcomes.

Here are five steps volunteers may take for an effective, productive, and rewarding governing board.

1. Define success. Establish and practice a shared definition of organizational success. No matter how well an organization may perform in any 12-month period, if it can’t perform effectively year in and year out, it can’t really be called a successful organization. Thus, success has a lot to do with organizational consistency and continuity over time.

2. Understand your core assets. Every organization has core assets. Typically they include: 1) knowledge, 2) community, and 3) advocacy. These are the resources for an organization’s accomplishment of its mission. Volunteers and staff must be strategically focused on the welfare of core assets that cause members and customers to value the organization.

3. Think the unthinkable. Ours is a rapidly changing world in which we face unprecedented competition. To remain both up-to-date and competitive, focus on and prepare for the unthinkable—both opportunities and threats. Effective boards consider the one thing that would most revolutionize their organization and the one thing that would most jeopardize it. Thereafter, boards focus strategically to realize the opportunity and
head off the threat.

4. Set priorities and monitor them. Resources are always finite—there are never enough. So develop strategic priorities and communicate what is truly important. To maintain a strategic perspective, boards must think in terms of what is important, not how to achieve results. The staff and others of the organization’s operational side are the ones to be held responsible for executing the action.

5. Establish a respectful staff partnership. The professional staff of an organization offer important resources—so important that it may be impossible for a board to be truly strategic without them. For example, staff members may have access to knowledge, contacts, and resources that may be unknown to a board. The staff is uniquely positioned to help develop and implement a definition of organizational success that’s built upon consistent performance, year after year.

Effective boards are both enjoyable and productive where it matters most: achieving the organization’s mission.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Caring and Giving In

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

The world and everything that is in it belongs to those who care the most.

How is that for a breathtaking statement? But think about it for a moment, isn’t it true? In the competition for scarce opportunities, how many opportunities fall into the hands of those who don’t care? It happens in lotteries and fairy tales perhaps, but otherwise not often in real life.

In these stressful times, we are seeing things we have rarely seen before—boards of directors giving up on organizations that were placed in their care by deciding to close up shop or to merge their organization into another. Like a person or a favorite pet it is difficult to see an organization die.

But unlike human and animal life organizations do not have a finite lifespan. Theoretically they could go on forever; so any organizational death is premature. In effect a decision to terminate an organization’s existence represents a failure of sorts, of those who were responsible for guiding it.

So what?--failures happen, and when they do sometimes the wisest course is to graciously admit defeat and to move on in the least painful way possible. But these are difficult times. Nearly every organization is suffering and during a time that requires creativity and fortitude I feel sorry for organizations that are being led by individuals with a low threshold for pain.

The late psychiatrist Scot Peck expounded on his thesis in his best selling book, A Road Less Traveled, that many if not most of his patients were people who found themselves in great emotional and even physical misery because of their fear of confronting problems or challenges they had encountered in their lives. I think the same may be true for the leaders of many organizations—that rather than change the way things are done when they clearly are not working, they choose instead to “stay the course” and ignore the obvious until it can be ignored no longer--thereby precipitating the death of the organization they supposedly care for so much.

Is this too harsh? Perhaps for some organizations it is; but I think it might bring relief to all leaders to remember to put things in their context. Winston Churchill did this so well in his famous “Never give in” speech which I have excerpted below:

  • But we must learn to be equally good at what is short and sharp and what is long and tough…. 
  • Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense…..
  • Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days…..and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable….
Some time ago we wrote an article that was published about an association that showed this courage—“Be Sure You’re Right, then Go Ahead.” This type of courage is inspiring and could well make the difference between looking back at this time as the time when your association ceased to exist, as opposed to the time when your organization’s leadership proved they truly cared.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Opportunities in the Face of Declining Membership

How to Survive While Dealing with Industry Consolidation
By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Like the animated cartoon figures that keep on running on thin air over and past a cliff, until they suddenly realize there is no longer any ground underneath them, assns often continue functioning in a "business as usual" mode until they realize their traditional membership support is not coming back.

While it is funny watching the expression on cartoon figures' faces change the instant before they drop like rocks, it is not so funny watching the decline and fall of assns. As an assn leader who might be faced with declining membership due to mergers and acquisitions, what, if anything, can you do to avoid this fate?

First you should be reassured that your assn is far from being alone when it comes to declining membership. This nearly universal decline in membership, for trade assns and professional societies alike, is due to four overriding trends:

1. Over the past two decades, a globalizing economy has led to increased levels of mergers and acquisitions in virtually every economic sector. Companies are seeking increased efficiencies and are trying to better position themselves to serve and compete in new markets.

2. Technology is changing at an ever-increasing rate causing whole industries to disappear. Computer leasing is one industry that was thriving in the 1960s, ¹70s and ¹80s when computers were huge and expensive. Now that computers are pocket-sized and affordable this multimilliondollar subsector of the leasing industry disappeared virtually overnight. However, technology is also creating new industries (such as in healthcare with the MRI and PET scan equipment manufacturers and users).

3. As a communications vehicle, the easy to use, inexpensive, and instantaneous Internet has made networking, education and training, business transactions, marketing, and the exchange of ideas affordable and available to virtually everyone. Faced with this reality it is not unusual that the value and relevance of traditional association membership should be increasingly called into question.

4. A generational aversion to "joining" borne of watching the upward and downward ties of loyalty dissolve between employer and employee. Many younger staffers believe that loyalty does not pay and financial security is based on networking and having and maintaining the skills set and credentials needed to be relevant in a rapidly changing economy. Among many in the younger generation there is perceived to be no intrinsic value in joining an association; you buy what you want and move on, even if it means paying a nonmember price.

These trends have certainly created a changed scenario for the association world, but not a totally bleak one. Despite what is happening to the majority, some associations are actually seeing their membership grow. Some associations have indeed benefited from these trends and increased their membership by pursuing niche strategies. Others seem to have resisted the laws of physics and have grown their programs, publications and finances despite declines in membership.

The niche approach includes growth through acquisition - picking off competing associations that have fallen on hard times - or by creating a new associations to serve the needs of a new growth sector in the economy. This approach is not long-term focused - tactical, not strategic. A strategic perspective is needed if an associations is to enjoy any sort of security beyond the next few years. Managers must realize that while the four long-term trends present undeniable challenges, each also present "critical opportunities" (I use the word "critical" because, to adapt a phrase from "The Godfather," these are opportunities you can't refuse!):

1. Business consolidation is a reality that will continue for the foreseeable future. Rather than pinning their futures on diminishing membership numbers, associations that are thriving are seeking to make themselves indispensable for what they can do that for-profits cannot.

Associations can serve as liaisons between government or the public-at-large and private sector interests; compile industrywide statistics on business, social, human resource, and other economic trends; design and promote professional and manufacturing credentials; and serve as a resource for continuing education and training.

Some associations, seeing declines in their traditional US market, are designing globalization strategies of their own - taking their considerable store of intellectual and financial resources into fast growth markets abroad where sister societies have yet to take root.

2. The pace of technological change will only continue to increase, as will its impact on business and professions. Associations that have adapted best to this have made the change part of their culture. They annually undertake top to bottom strategic planning, and identify emerging trends.

3. The Internet's impact simply cannot be underestimated. Assn publications are now available through the Internet. Education and training programs, virtual conferences, and networking through list servers and chat rooms are also important services associations can provide. Online testing and certification services are likely to follow. If your association is not on this train, it should be!

4. Associations that are growing the fastest are measuring growth by users/consumers of products and services and not members. Rather than trying to fight this trend of declining membership loyalty, successful associations have defined themselves according to the market they serve and taken steps to ensure they serve it well.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Six Ways to Build Successful Teams

By Virgil Carter, Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Building successful, lasting teams is anything but easy. It takes committed leadership to build great teams. Team building requires “a keen understanding of people, their strengths and what gets them excited to work with others”, according to a Forbes article some years ago.

Team building is an art and a science and “the leader who can consistently build high performance teams is worth their weight in gold, say the article’s authors. Here’s six ways successful teams are built to last:

1. Be aware of how you work: As the leader of a team, you must be extremely aware of your leadership style and techniques. Hold yourself accountable, make course-corrections when needed and modify your approach if necessary to assure that you’re leading from a position of strength and respectability.

2. Get to know the rest of the team: Take the time to get to know your team and encourage camaraderie. Understand how your individual team members think, and what is required to motivate them to work together and excel beyond what is normally expected.

3. Clearly defined roles and responsibilities: Each team member’s responsibilities must be interconnected and dependent upon one another. It takes talent and experience to evaluate people not only on their ability to play a particular role—but even more so on whether they fit the workplace culture and will be a team player.

4. Be proactive with feedback: Feedback is the key to assuring any team will stay on track and improving daily. Lead with proactive feedback as the greatest enabler for team continuous improvement.

5. Acknowledge and reward: Be sure to give teammates the proper acknowledgement, respect and reward. This helps the team’s work to bring them greater satisfaction and makes the work more purposeful.

6. Always celebrate success: Take the time to step-back, reflect and celebrate successful accomplishments, as well as what has been learned during the journey. Leaders are only as successful as their teams. Great leaders know that with the right team dynamics, decisions and diverse personalities, everyone wins in the end.

For the full article, go to: